Caracas, Apr 27: Venezuela's government has announced enforced leave for public sector workers from Wednesday to Friday, meaning they will only work two days a week in efforts to tackle an electricity shortage.
"There will be no work in the public sector on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, except for fundamental and necessary tasks," Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz said on television yesterday. It is the latest drastic measure by the government as it also grapples with an economic crisis that has Venezuelans queuing for hours to buy scarce supplies in shops.
President Nicolas Maduro's government had already cut the work day for the country's two million public sector employees to six hours and put them on paid leave on Fridays until June 6.
His vice president yesterday said the measure would now be extended by two days, apart from the weekend, so they will only work on Mondays and Tuesdays. He added that primary and high schools will also now be closed to pupils on Fridays.
The government blames the power shortage on a drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, which has caused the country's hydroelectric dams to run low. Venezuela is hoping for a lot of rain over the coming weeks to replenish the reservoirs while the restrictions are in place.
Critics say the shortage is the result of economic mismanagement and inefficient running of the energy network. Maduro is under growing pressure from the centre-right opposition, which vowed to oust him when it took control of the legislature in January after winning an election.
Venezuela's economy has plunged along with the price of the oil it relies on for foreign revenues. Maduro blames the collapse on an "economic war" by capitalists. The government also imposed four-hour daily electricity blackouts this week on eight regions in the country.
That raised discontent among citizens who are already suffering shortages of medicines and goods such as toilet paper and cooking oil. Last week, the government also said it was shifting its time zone forward by 30 minutes to save power by adding half an hour of daylight.
Analysts and some politicians have warned that public discontent could lead to mass unrest in the country, which is already ranked by the United Nations as one of the most violent in the world. Anti-government street protests in Venezuela left 43 people dead in 2014.