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Spain seeks time zone change

中国日报网 2013-10-21 10:11

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Spanish lawmakers want to shift the country back a time zone and impose more healthy, family-friendly working hours: a tricky job in a land known for siestas and late-night partying.

A typical Spaniard's working day? "Start at 9 am, stop at 2 pm to eat until 4 or 5, then start again and work until about 8 pm," said Nuria Chinchilla, a specialist in work and family life at Spain's IESE Business School.

"No one expects you home before 9 pm."

Some warn this lifestyle - which dates from around the 1940s when poor Spaniards would work two jobs to make ends meet - is harming their personal lives now.

It leads to a lower quality of life, less time spent with the family and lower birth rates, more accidents at work, and more school dropouts because children go to bed too late, the economist said.

Her words echo warnings in a report recently approved by the parliament, which called for Spain to turn back its clocks, jumping west an hour to the same time zone as Britain and Portugal.

Although it lies far to the west of Europe in a line with those countries, mainland Spain has been in the same time zone as central Europe since 1942.

Ignacio Buqueras, chairman of the commission that drew up the report, said Spain needs a "rational timetable ... eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for other activities".

"The fact that Spain for more than 71 years has not been in the correct time zone causes us to get up too early and sleep on average one hour less than the time recommended by the World Health Organization," said his report.

Shifting the time zone would give Spain "more time for the family, for training, for personal life and leisure and would avoid wasted time during the workday," the report said.

The report proposes that the government promote a more regular working day, "with a maximum one-hour break for lunch, preferably from 1 to 2 pm, which would also make the midmorning coffee break unnecessary".

Buqueras said that most public offices ignore existing regulations that require them to finish the working day at 6 pm - though some are starting to change.

Madrid town hall has imposed a 5 pm finish since 2010 - reining it in from 7 pm previously. This has led to "savings of about 30 percent in the electricity bill for the lights and computers", said spokesman Nacho Garcia Salgado.

In the private sector, the big energy company Iberdrola has imposed working hours of 7:15 am to 3:30 pm, where the day used to last until 6:30 pm.

That leaves workers "the afternoon free to attend to their personal lives", said Angeles Alcazar, the company's social projects manager.

Since then, "accidents at work have decreased by 10 percent" and productivity has risen, with500,000 work hours estimated to have been saved.

"There is still much left to do," Alcazar said.

Proponents of change say prime time broadcasts should be brought forward, particularly films and football matches, which sometimes kick off as late as 11 pm.

The shake-up would be particularly difficult in the current economic crisis, when "for economic reasons, salaries are being cut and workdays are getting longer", said Angels Valls, a researcher in labor relations at the business school ESADE.

"It is a cultural matter, and the historical roots are hard to change."

(中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑)

About the broadcaster:

Lance Crayon is a videographer and editor with China Daily. Since living in Beijing he has worked for China Radio International (CRI) and Global Times. Before moving to China he worked in the film industry in Los Angeles as a talent agent and producer. He has a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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