By Humphrey Carter
FIRST it is smoking, now the Spanish government wants to crack down on week-day siestas with new regulations which could prove to be one of the biggest shake-ups in Spanish society for decades. The long lunch break, often followed by the now-shunned cigarette or cigar and siesta which has typified Spanish life for centuries, is going to be shortened for government workers in order to keep pace with child-care needs and the working schedules of the rest of Europe. The two to even three-hour lunch break is to be reduced to just the one for government workers from Sunday and the private sector is being encouraged to follow the government's lead. According to the Spanish study group the Fundacion Independiente, the working day in Spain is too long with people having to leave home early in the morning and not returning home until between 9pm and 10pm. Ignacio Buqueras y Bach, president of the Madrid-based Fundacion Independiente which has been leading the push for shorter working days says that many people are realising that there is a need for change in Spain and that the country's working hours need to be more aligned to the rest of Europe. The foundation has discovered that there is growing support for the government initiatives with many people complaining that the traditional working schedule increases the pressure and stress on working parents trying to combine their professional careers with their family life. From a business perspective, there are a number of companies which believe that the time has come for Spain to be more compatible with its European counterparts and economies. What is more, the study group has found that the siesta-driven long days actually has a more negative effect on production than positive.
Spaniards are apparently sleeping an average of 40 minutes less per night than the European average, reducing productivity levels and increasing accidents. Also, long gone are the days when many parents were able to pop home and see the family for lunch.
Commuting, traffic and people working further from home means that many people find it difficult and very time consuming to make the trip home at mid-day. The government's new hours are going to be 9am to 5pm with one hour for lunch.
The private sector is being left to reach its own conclusion but some sectors are expected to introduce changes as the new rules are primarily aimed at improving productivity in the workplace. The Spanish work more hours per week than their European counterparts but often achieve much less in relation to time spent at work.

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