April 22, 2016 / 1:07 PM / in a year

Venezuela public workers use energy-saving Fridays for TV, shopping

People queue to try to buy basic food items outside a supermarket in Caracas, April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

CARACAS/PUNTO FIJO (Reuters) - Ordered off on Fridays to save energy in crisis-hit Venezuela, many public workers are simply cranking up appliances at home instead.

Or rather than use using their long weekends to relax and go to the beach, they are baking under the sun in lines at shops for ever scarcer products in the shrinking economy.

President Nicolas Maduro decreed a four-day work week for most of Venezuela’s 2.8 million state employees during April and May to reduce consumption during a drought at the Guri dam, which serves two-thirds of national power needs.

Not all workers are taking him seriously.

“Last Friday, I watched TV with air-conditioning on full,” said Angel Aranguren, a 33-year-old engineer from Punto Fijo in the dry and wind-swept Caribbean state of Falcon.

“I don’t know how this measure is going to help the country’s electricity system,” he said. “It’s stupid. They’d be better off working on new energy projects.”

Electricity Minister Luis Motta told Reuters that government moves like the obligatory four-day week were helping compensate for irresponsibly high private power use.

But Maduro critics have mocked the measure, saying he may as well shut the entire country down.

JOINING THE LINES

People walk past the closed entrance of the Prosecution building in Caracas April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Some workers at an opposition-controlled local authority in Caracas were dodging the measure by vacating their offices as mandated but operating mobile units to carry out neighborhood visits.

“A country cannot progress if it doesn’t work,” said Meudys Reyes, who works for the Chacao mayor’s office.

While Fridays off may sound attractive, various public workers said meager salaries did not allow them trips or treats.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Administrative assistant Nohely Martinez, 42, spent last Friday at her mother’s house because hers had no electricity.

“I‘m not doing anything on the free days because I don’t have money and it’s not my day to do shopping,” she said.

Given food shortages and the emergence of illegal re-sellers, the socialist government has implemented a system, by identification cards, to ensure people cannot go into supermarkets every day.

Those allowed to shop on Friday were taking full advantage.

“I‘m up at dawn on Fridays to join the lines,” said lift operator Julietta Jimenez, 33, as she headed out with her parents to scour Caracas supermarkets.

“If I‘m lucky today, that means I’ll be able to relax at home tomorrow with the kids, so I‘m actually in favor of this measure,” she said. “It works for me!”

Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas, Anggy Polanco in San Cristobal; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Lisa Von Ahn

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