But in doing so, these workers’ groups are proposing echoing the jornada partida—the split working day—which allows people to take a break, have a long lunch, or enjoy a siesta (Spanish for nap). This daily structure has long proved controversial in Spain. The system means many employees in Spain take a two-hour lunch break during the hottest part of the day, but as a result, they end up working late into the evening. Around 30 percent of Spanish employees work until 7 pm, and 10 percent are still at their desks at 9 pm, according to the most recent government survey on working hours, done in 2010.
Typical working hours in Spain still follow that pattern, says Marta Junqué, coordinator at Time Use Barcelona, an association that campaigns against the jornada partida, adding that people in Spain usually start work around 9 am then take a two- or three-hour break at lunchtime, before returning to work for a second shift between 4 pm and 7 pm. It’s a misconception that this schedule was designed to avoid the heat, Junqué says. “The reason that Spain has this schedule is because when we had a dictatorship with Franco, most people needed two jobs to survive, one in the morning and in the afternoon.”
For years, there have been concerns in Spain that this is not the best way to do business. In 2016, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tried to abolish the long lunch break, to bring the country’s working hours more in line with its neighbors. There are also concerns that the system is not ideal for work-life balance. “In Spain, people spend around 12 to 14 hours outside their home,” says Junqué. “They might only be working eight hours with a pause in the middle, but most people don’t have the capacity to go home [during their lunch break] because they live far away from where they are working.”
But unions in Belgium and Germany believe longer lunch breaks would ensure that workers stay safe during the heat. At temperatures above 24 degrees celsius (75 fahrenheit), workers are not only at risk of heatstroke, the risk of workplace accidents also rises as people begin to feel lethargic, says Claes-Mikael Stahl, deputy general secretary of Brussels-based NGO the European Trade Union, which is campaigning for the European Commission to introduce a law that would set a uniform, maximum temperature limit for work.
Right now, advice across the bloc varies wildly. For outdoor work, the maximum temperature is 36 degrees Celsius (97 Fahrenheit) in Montenegro, 28 (82 Fahrenheit) in Slovenia, and 18 (64) in Belgium, while some countries, like France, have no temperature cap at all.