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The need to rationalize Spain’s public holidays

A balance needs to be found between workers’ rights and business competitiveness

There are years, and this is one of them, when Spain’s fickle national holiday dates line up two within the same week: Tuesday is Constitution Day, and Thursday, the Immaculate Conception. And as is the tradition, many people will take the entire week off to go skiing, catch some winter sun, or head out to the countryside. The result is a virtual nationwide shutdown for nine days.

Gridlock on one of Madrid's exit roads at the start of a long weekend.
Gridlock on one of Madrid's exit roads at the start of a long weekend.Samuel Sanchez

Successive governments have talked about the need to find a balance that allows people a national holiday while at the same time not paralyzing the country, particularly in a month like December. When Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took office in 2011, he promised to address the issue. So far he has done nothing, despite the willingness of both business groups and labor unions to follow the practice of other countries and move most holidays – whether religious or civil – that fall mid-week to a Monday so as to avoid disruption. But in Spain, there seems to be a clear lack of will in this regard.

Some years, Spain shuts down in December for nine days

Furthermore, the Church has shown itself unwilling to collaborate: many of Spain’s public holidays celebrate saints’ days; but in the final analysis, the responsibility lies with politicians. This country’s national, regional, and city authorities need to work together to preserve the country’s productivity while respecting people’s right to a break. At the same time, the interests of a hospitality sector that clearly benefits from long breaks also need to be taken into account.

 English version by Nick Lyne.

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