Venezuela public sector workers to get Fridays off until drought ebbs

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela specified on Thursday that public sector employees, save those in the food industry, would receive Fridays off until a drought stops hurting hydropower generation.

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With the OPEC country reeling from a power crunch, President Nicolas Maduro said this week that Fridays would be considered holidays for the next 60 days.

The leftist government’s official gazette said the move applies to government workers and excludes the food sector.

Venezuela’s grave economic crisis already has grains, meat, dairy and vegetables running short. Lines of hundreds sometimes snake around supermarkets, so a four-day work week in that sector would likely have worsened the scarcity.

Still, Maduro’s measure has sparked ridicule from his political opponents, who say it will aggravate an acute recession and demonstrates he is not governing seriously.

“Just because Maduro doesn’t work Monday to Friday, Saturday or Sunday, doesn’t mean we Venezuelans are like that,” said opposition politician Maria Corina Machado. “What we want is to keep working, and for you, Maduro, to go.”

The opposition, which won control of the National Assembly in a December election, is pursuing a multi-pronged approach to remove Maduro from office this year.

Some public sector employees fretted the measure would throw off their routine without significantly saving energy in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves.

“This decree is illogical,” said Luis Miguel Lopez, who works for the wealthy opposition municipality of Chacao in capital Caracas. “People are going to be at home consuming energy all the same.”

Maduro’s rambling and sometimes expletive-laden late-night speeches, as well as his recent suggestion women cut down on use of hair dryers, has irked many Venezuelans struggling to make ends meet and desperate for a solution to the crisis.

Experts say stronger energy investment, maintenance and diversification would have better protected Venezuela from the El Niño- induced drought which is hitting much of the Andean region.

Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, Eyanir Chinea and Daniel Kai; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Alistair Bell