Since the era of the Franco dictatorship, Spain has been the westernmost country to use the Central European Time (CET) time zone.
This stems from a decision made by then dictator Francisco Franco in 1942 to move the country forward one hour (and out of the GMT time zone), so that the country’s clocks would be aligned with those of Nazi Germany. Even after Franco’s death and fall from power in the 1970s, the time zone was never changed back.
The change in time zone had a profound effect on the Spanish working day, giving rise to the Siesta (or afternoon nap) and extended breaks of two to three hours during the working day. Campaigners claim that because the country’s clocks don’t align with the times at which the sun rises and sets, Spanish workers are in a state of ‘permanent jet lag’ due to the fact that Spaniards generally sleep on average one hour less than their counterparts in other European countries. This is worsened by the fact that Spaniards work longer hours and finish later in the evening than workers in most other European countries (normally around 7 to 8pm).
That could all be about to change, however. Under new proposals announced by the country’s Labour Minister Fátima Báñez, the country’s time zone will again be moved back one hour to GMT, the same as in the UK and Ireland. The end of the country’s working day would also be brought forward to 6pm under the new plans, bringing it in line with the policies of most other European countries – meaning the days of siestas and extended afternoon breaks could well be numbered.
Although the plans have yet to be approved by parliament, the centre-right minority government’s plan is likely to get the approval of the Socialist Party (the main opposition in parliament) as well as the smaller Ciudadanos party, meaning they are likely to be passed. Government representatives are also currently engaged in discussions with both businesses and unions to gain their support and strike a deal.
A review conducted by the government’s National Commission on Working Hours in 2013 found that the move could also have other benefits, including a decrease in the breakdown of marriages and an increase in both birthrates and general quality of life. The use of CET has also been linked to other problems within Spanish society, including stress, work accident rates, absenteeism and a high percentage of school dropouts. It has also been suggested that the long working hours expected from Spanish employees may have led to the apparent gender imbalance in the country’s workforce.
Spain is by no means the only country to have changed its time zone for political reasons – North Korea recently moved its clocks back by half an hour simply to move them out of sync with its Southern neighbour and Nepal is the only country in the world to have a time zone set to 45 minutes past the hour.
Adjusting to a new time zone will also demand wider cultural changes. As Spanish newspaper ABC asked in 2013, ‘can you imagine eating at 1, leaving work at 6 p.m. and being in bed before 10 p.m?’.