Anyone who lives in Spain will have experienced the popularity of the Spanish puente (literally ‘bridge’), which results when a Public Holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday and workers take an extra day to make a four-day weekend.

While previously any move to change this tradition might have attracted howls of protest from outraged employees, the currently rocky economic climate has led the Spanish Confederation of Employers’ Organisations (CEOE) to suggest that in the future all Public Holidays should be moved to the nearest Monday or Friday, thereby rendering the time-honoured four day puente extinct, a proposal that has been greeted with a surprising lack of animosity from unions.

The controversy gained ground at the beginning of December, when Constitution Day on December 6th and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th wreaked their annual havoc on pre-Christmas sales and productivity. Senior Vice-President of the CEOE, Arturo Fernandez, stated that, “These puentes mean less productivity and a lot of lost hours,” while the organisation’s Secretary General, José Maria Lacasa, estimated that, “the cost of this week’s puentescould be about 1,200 million euros for individual companies and the Spanish economy as a whole.”

The Employment Secretary of the Workers’ Commission (CCOO), Paloma Lopez, stated that the unions would be quite happy to debate the issue, “provided it is always taken into account that this could negatively affect the hospitality industry and, in the case of agreement being reached with employers and trade unions, other institutions like the Church (as most of the holidays are Catholic celebrations).”

Josep Antoni Duran, the Head of the CiU (Catalan Nationalists) in Congress described the fact that some employees had used the early December puente as an excuse to stay away from work from December 3rd to the 12th as “a scandal” and a luxury that other European countries do not have.

Emphasising the commitment of both the UGT and the CCOO to debate the currently vexed issue, Paloma Lopez added that, with regard to any economic losses potentially suffered because of this issue, the CEOE has never conducted the research necessary to discern whether companies that observe the puente “have benefited more or less.”

With Spanish businesses currently obliged to acknowledge more Public Holidays than almost any other country in Europe, it seems as though the new Partido Popular government will be turning its attention to preventing workers from taking even more days off.

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