Portuguese government tackles sacred holidays to improve economy

LISBON, Portugal - The government is in talks with the Roman Catholic Church on changing the dates of religious holidays as part of a crackdown on the cherished Portuguese custom of extended weekends, officials said Monday.

The conservative government wants to end the tradition of so-called "bridges" whereby workers also take off a Friday or Monday whenever a public holiday falls on a Thursday or Tuesday.

That brings four-day weekends several times a year — a practice which dents national output. The government says Portuguese productivity stands at 60 percent of the European Union average.

Portugal has 12 public holidays per year, as well as local 'festas' when towns and cities close down to celebrate their patron saints.

The Labor Ministry, which plans to introduce changes to the Labor Law, including more flexible working hours, said it wants to shift almost all public holidays to Fridays or Mondays.

It wants the church's consent to ensure four religious holidays — including Corpus Christi and All Saints' Day — fall on those days, though senior church leaders have already spoken out against the changes.

"It would mean rubbing out society's symbols in the name of economics," Lisbon Patriarch Jose Policarpo said.

Trade unions, too, have indicated they will resist the alterations in upcoming labor negotiations with the government.