Catalonia looks to ‘humanise’ working day

Artur Mas says Catalonia could be as economically strong as Austria, Finland, Denmark or Portugal. Picture: Getty Images
Artur Mas says Catalonia could be as economically strong as Austria, Finland, Denmark or Portugal. Picture: Getty Images
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CATALONIA’S pro-independence coalition is proposing to “humanise” the working day by offering employees more flexible hours in a bid to further distinguish the self-governing region from the rest of Spain.

Under plans by the two-party coalition, Convergence and Unity (CiU), Catalan workers would be offered a flexible timetable between 8am and 7pm, with the option of taking just half an hour for lunch if they wanted to finish earlier.

It would be a decisive break away from the “irrational Francoist timetable” that exists across the rest of Spain, according to a government spokesman.

Spain, like some other southern European countries, has a long working day. Staff start work at about 8am, take a break for breakfast at around 10am and typically enjoy a lunch that can last for two and a half hours. They go on to work until 8pm.

“The time has come to decide if we want to make a major change in the timetable that governs our social and day-to-day life,” a government spokesman said, adding that the legislation might be ready by July.

Under the working arrangement practised in other parts of Spain, workers are put under increased stress and are less productive, according to Catalan research. Spaniards also work on average 300 hours more a year than ­Germans.

A pilot study at a Barcelona brewery, in which workers were offered a flexible timetable between 8am and 7pm, with some choosing to take half an hour for lunch, has been well received by staff and led to a 10 per cent rise in productivity, according to management.

The government spokesman said that any legislation shouldn’t be seen as an imposition but as “a democratic gesture”. The point is not to impose timetables but to facilitate “a new culture of time”.

In recent years the school timetable has changed in many Spanish regions, with children starting at about 8am and finishing at 2.30pm. However, many children are still at school from 8.00am-5.30pm, with a two-hour lunch break in the middle. Spanish school hours are well above the European average while returning some of the poorest results.

As yet the government has not suggested that an independent Catalonia would further distance itself from Spain by reverting to its natural time zone, a topic that is debated every spring when the clocks go forward.

Geographically Spain falls within Western European Time but in 1942 Franco joined Central European Time in solidarity with Hitler, putting the nation out of kilter with western Europe and neighbouring Portugal. It is 40 years since Franco died but no-one has yet turned the clocks back.

Meanwhile, Catalan president Artur Mas has visited the United States trying to drum up support for the Catalan ­independence project ahead of regional elections in September.

“Emancipation and self-determination are things that are well understood here in the United States because you freed yourself from Britain and were clear that the road ahead was the road of freedom,” Mas said in New York last week.

Later, at a meeting at Columbia University entitled Catalonia at the Crossroads, Mas alluded to Barack Obama’s slogan “Yes we can”, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement and the American War of Independence in a discourse that covered both Catalonia’s antiquity as a nation and its economic viability as an independent European state.

He said that Catalonia could be “as economically strong as Austria, Finland, Denmark or Portugal”.

“Obama said the most powerful word in democracy is ‘we’,” Mas told the audience of up to 300, most of them Spaniards and Catalans. “The Declaration of Independence begins with the words ‘we the people’. We Shall Overcome was the anthem of the civil rights movement. We believe in the power of ‘we’ in democracy. We will vote on 27 September and we will decide our future.”

He also quoted Obama when he said that “freedom and self-determination do not belong to any one culture, they are universal values”.

After pointing out that the Catalan parliament is as old if not older than Britain’s, he moved on to the more recent past.

He said that while all of Spain had suffered under the Franco dictatorship, “Catalonia also suffered a cruel attempt at cultural annihilation”.

“Spain is a young democracy which still has some tics left over from our pre-democratic past,” Mas added.

While in New York he gave an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek in which he said he hoped to avoid a unilateral declaration of independence after 27 September by “leaning on the biggest European countries” to convince Madrid to reach a negotiated settlement.

Mas ended his New York visit at the 9/11 memorial. His visit to California was cancelled after the death of governor Jerry Brown’s sister, whose funeral coincided with Mas’ planned visit to San Francisco.