Many people might love the idea of a two day work week and in Venezuela this recently became reality for many people. Yet it was not a grassroots movement that asked for more leisure time for workers but rather an attempt by the government to handle the continuing energy shortage in the country.
Venezuela has had to deal with many shortages in the past few years, including food, medicine, water and even toilet paper. While all of these are dramatic, the water shortage also led to a crisis that one might not expect at first glance.
Around 75 percent of Venezuela’s electricity is generated by the Guri Dam and the continuous drought and water shortage has led to a drop of the water level beneath the necessary threshold to produce energy. A threshold lower than 240 meters above the sea level is dangerous, as it can lead to damages to the hydroelectric plant.
The government thus had to implement a strict rationing of water and electricity, among other things, in the country. Tap water rationing in Caracas began in May 2014. The Venezuelan water company Hidrocapital, owned by the state, blamed El Niño for the drought, whereas the opposition blamed the government for not taking control of the situation earlier. President Nicolas Maduro’s explanation, as was to be expected, falls in line with Hidrocapital’s excuse, blaming the drought on El Niño and sabotage by political enemies.
It would be wrong to completely discount El Niño as a factor for the water shortage, as Venezuela is not the only country suffering from drought due to higher global temperatures.
The rationing of electricity has grown more extreme during the past month. In order to save energy, the socialist Venezuelan government announced that public workers would not have to report to work on Fridays, yet that measure did not alleviate the problem.
Two weeks ago, the government took the radical step to begin a countrywide four-hour electricity blackout. Not surprisingly, citizens and government critics have been vocal about their dislike for the procedure.
Last week the government went another step further and announced that public workers would now only have to work on Mondays and Tuesdays for at least two weeks.
Venezuela has been struggling with power outages for many years, despite promises by former leader Hugo Chavez to solve the situation back in 2010.
There has been some debate whether the shortened work week can actually alleviate the crisis, as keeping workers from going to work in means implies that they will not consume energy at home. On the other hand, free days allow people to queue for food – a sad reality in current day Venezuela.
Many Venezuelan citizens currently are thus not only living in households with limited amounts of food, little to nonexistent running water and hours of forced blackout, having to finish their daily chores by the flicker of a candle light.
The work leave is by no means unpaid, so does not mean that the government is saving money, something that would be desperately needed in order to repay foreign debts – despite the government vehemently denying that Venezuela has any debts.
Venezuela’s economy is nearly solely based on it being an oil country and thus has been further devastated by the collapse of the prices for crude oil. Rampant corruption and political mismanagement of the country’s capital have exaggerated the financial crisis. In all likelihood, inflation will rise to 500 percent in 2016.
The situation is not only exasperating for the public, which is obviously becoming more and more restless and upset, but also for the ruling socialist government led by Nicolas Maduro. Maduro has had a weak hold on power for a while, as he also has to deal with a congress that is controlled by the opposition. Political unrest as a result of the rationing is likely to further destabilize his government.