- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2005

MADRID — Who could turn down a two-hour lunch fueled with good wine and the lure of a post-meal siesta?

Spaniards would love to.

Many have schedules chopped in half with extensive breaks, making the workday so long that home is a place they only visit.

Now relief is at hand, at least for civil servants: Government offices are closing earlier and offering flextime to help employees see more of their friends and family.

Many Spanish civil servants work from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., break for lunch, then come back as late as 4:30 p.m. for another three hours. Add commuting time in the morning and evening and workers spend 12 hours away from home every day.

Elsewhere across Europe, most government workers are finished with work and out of the office by 5 or 6 p.m., with lunch breaks averaging between 30 minutes and an hour.

But under a law that went into effect Tuesday, Spanish government ministries will close by 6 p.m. as part of a package of measures designed to help Spaniards balance jobs and families.

When the package was approved earlier this month in a government decree, Jordi Sevilla, the minister responsible for the civil service, said that for him it was “a happy day as a minister, a civil servant and a father of three.”

The half-million Spaniards who work for the central government now will have the option of taking shorter lunch breaks, so long as they fulfill their weekly requirement of working hours, which is 37.5 or 40, depending on the job.

Many Spanish workers — not just civil servants — have work schedules with lengthy lunch breaks, which have been associated with the custom of taking a midday nap, or siesta.

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