Spanish siesta falls victim to Europe's debt crisis

Spain's deepening recession and soaring unemployment have signalled the end of the country's traditional three-hour siesta, as new laws are brought in to try to boost ailing retail sales.

Spain introduced new laws this month allowing shops of more than 300 square meters to open for 25pc longer a week.

It is hoped that the relaxed rules will encourage retailers to sell during the traditional afternoon break from 2pm to 4pm.

However, many workers say they have been putting in longer hours for some time. “The three-hour lunch no longer exists, and to tell the truth, it did make you rather sleepy,” said bank clerk Melania Duenas, 34. “Nowadays, people get an hour’s break at most, and those who do tend to come to work with tupperware containers.”

Shops, too, are striving to eliminate the three-hour black hole in the afternoon and new government regulations introduced this month will allow shops covering 300 square metres or more to open 90 hours a week rather than 72 previously, in a bid to revive retail sales, which in May were down 4.3pc from the same month last year.

Old rules drawn up to favour religious observance in a traditionally Catholic country are also being relaxed as shops will also be allowed to open on 10 rather than eight Sundays or public holidays a year.

Madrid has led the way in deregulating retail hours in a drive to lure tourists away from beach resorts or seeing the sights in Barcelona and Seville, and the capital’s 75,000 shops may now open all hours, if they wish, regardless of size.

Local authorities estimate the move will generate 20,500 much needed jobs in a country where one in four are currently on the dole, but small retailers and consumer groups have complained corner shops will be go to the wall and force buyers to drive to suburban shopping centres.

“They will destroy the type of shop which supports the social fabric and neighbourliness,” Francisco Cano, of the Madrid Neighbourhood Associations Federation, said. “The authorities don’t think of the elderly, who need them most”.

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