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Spain puts off burning all of its 'bridges'

November 5, 2012 |  9:49 am

Spain has put off a promised reduction of its number of pubic holidays and a rewriting of the work calendar because of objections from interested parties such as the Roman Catholic Church and unions
MADRID -- As Spain's economy sputters, the 2013 calendar is helping the country do what its politicians can't: cut down the number of public holidays.

In a move to boost productivity, the cash-strapped Spanish government announced earlier this year that it would eliminate Spaniards' beloved puentes, or "bridge" weekends. That's when a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday and, to make a long four-day weekend, workers take off the Monday or Friday in between. Many employers tacitly acquiesce to an extra vacation day, and some close their offices altogether.

With Spain's economy ailing, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called the puentes a luxury his country simply can't afford. So with some exceptions, such as Christmas or New Year's Day, most holidays will be moved to the nearest Monday, creating a three-day weekend instead.

But the government has been mired in negotiations with the Roman Catholic Church, regional governments and labor unions -- all of which want their holidays celebrated on fixed dates, regardless of the day of the week. So despite an agreement with Spain's largest business federation back in January, the calendar of public holidays was not altered in time for the start of the school year two months ago.

By lucky coincidence for the government, most of Spain's 2013 holidays fall on Monday, Friday or weekends anyway, saving politicians the headache of rejiggering the calendar for now. However, two "bridge" weekends will remain, with more in certain regions.

The holiday shuffle will commence in earnest in 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría announced Friday. She outlined possible compromises: The Catholic Church, for example, may agree to celebrate All Saints' Day (traditionally Nov. 1) on a Monday, in exchange for having the Day of the Immaculate Conception fixed on Dec. 8. Unions are pushing for Labor Day to remain on May 1, in accordance with most of Europe. Disagreements persist over at least three other holidays.

Spain has an average of 14 religious and municipal holidays per year, 40% more than the United States. Germany has between eight and 11 public holidays, depending on the federal state. France has between 11 and 13, again depending on the region.

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-- Lauren Frayer

Photo: A swimmer on the beach last week in San Sebastian, Spain. Credit: Juan Herrero / EPA

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