Fabian Mohedano: ‘Seven billion people in the world work to one schedule and we have another, this is incongruous and harms us’
Tempus fugit, so they say, and as mere human beings, although we can do little about the passage of time, the least we can do is to manage it better. Perhaps what that means is changing what until now has been part and parcel of Catalan society, which is living to work rather than working in a way that helps us live. Four years ago, a civil initiative led by a group of experts in various fields put their heads together to come up with a series of initiatives to achieve a reform of timetables that would ensure a more orderly, and consequently, a healthier approach to time. So far, the initiative has managed to entice firm commitments on the part of the authorities, which now form part of a National Agreement for Timetable Reform. This will now also include local administrations in the Xarxa de Ciutats i Pobles per la Reforma Horària, which will hold a “Time week”, to give visibility to the proposal, and also the creation of an Office for Timetable Reform, which will depend directly on the Catalan government’s presidency department, leading to the implementation of the objectives in the agreement with a current deadline set for 2025.
Fabian Mohedano, a specialist in the workplace and a former MP, is the visible face of a movement that attracts more followers every day. It is the desire to escape the burden of timetables tying us down that attracts most people to the cause. We have arranged to meet early in the morning, on a July Monday in a Barcelona that is still free from the crowds, but with the classic feel of the capital in the summer. Mohedano is a well-organised and punctual man who clearly knows what he is talking about. “Timetable reform means talking about improving health, and everyone understands and wants that,” he says, moving on to a number of convincing arguments and irrefutable examples: we have very long working days, we eat late and badly, we enrol our children in extracurricular activities that end not long before it is time to get the fewer hours sleep than we need, and then we are up early again to start a new day. It is a familiar routine, the result of centuries of tradition... or is it? “No, this mess and disorganisation of schedules is not that old. It comes from the second half of the 20th century, in the midst of the Franco regime’s economic development, the manufacturing system and the rise of services, the arrival of multi-employment and overtime, which changed the entire system of working,” says Mohedano. He argues that this is not an unshakeable reality and that it can and must be changed. “The citizen is aware that his or her work schedule is a mess, but is not entirely aware of how this directly affects our well-being and health, and it is within this framework that we must go deeper because we believe that, then, the predisposition and response to change will be immediate,” he concludes.
So what makes now the right time? Mohedano recognises that it is a question that both he and the other participants in the movement have asked themselves, and links it to a time of global change. “Now it’s no longer necessary to compare ourselves with the countries of Central or Northern Europe, because even compared to our neighbours in the Mediterranean basin we go to bed later and lose sleep because we get up at the same time,“ he says. And what influence does sleeping less have? ”Among others, the connection with cardiovascular disease is obvious, because if we arrive home later and have dinner later, then we do not have the recommended three hours before going to sleep. That means the next day, when the ideal would be time for a bigger breakfast, we start to get hungry mid-morning, so if we stop for a coffee and a snack we end up eating lunch later and, well, it all adds up.”
It is therefore a question of applying common sense, and above all, more effective logic. “We have to return in large measure to the circadian cycle, the biological rhythm to which our ancestors were subject, of sleeping when tired and eating when hungry,” Mohedano believes. Yet, such a change would affect the organisation of the whole country. “This is what we have been working on over these four years, looking for the collaboration of different social and economic sectors, and even winning the unanimous backing of all political groups.” And it is this scenario that brought about the National Agreement for Timetable Reform and the agreed objectives to become effective in 2025. “Broadly speaking, it is about compacting work time schedules to leave work earlier, changing mealtimes and synchronising the schedules of companies, institutions and social and cultural players.” It seems easy, but it is not. “We are ambitious, because turning the time factor into a measure of freedom is encouraging, but it also calls for many and at times, very profound changes,” he insists, but reminds us that this transformation demands a balance in the three basic areas, which are school, the workplace and public services.
Case by case, step by step
Let’s take it by case. What do we need to do in schools? “Apply key aspects of how to incorporate lunchtime into school hours and arrange extracurricular activities so they also end earlier.” And at work? “Guarantee the flexibility of working hours and timetable blocks. We are the most rigid country in terms of schedules, and we are obsessed with attendance so that telecommuting is not encouraged.” Public services? “We also need more flexibility and more work on objectives, more compact hours, and the promotion of online administrative procedures.”
“We also have to adapt the hours of commerce and consumption, and raise awareness of our own responsibility, with a more human approach, remembering that behind the cash register there is also a person who wants to be able to enjoy their family and not collapse at 10 o’clock all-year round,” he says, noting that “shopping habits are not immovable and can be adapted with creative formulas, such as setting a few days a week for longer shopping hours.“ I have more questions: are we as humans and creatures of habit willing to adapt to rules that require us to make an effort? I remind him that a siesta or a long lunch in this country are accepted behaviours. He smiles. “There must be a will and, above all, results that prove that our life will be better,” says Mohedano, who reminds us again that we are a rare case in this world. “Seven billion people in the world work to one schedule and we have another, this is incongruous and harms us,” he says. However, Mohedano warns that the proposed transformations will have to be given the necessary time to carry out, and they must be explained to prevent people from thinking that the new model has been imposed, rather than being a committed approach to solving a problem that will make our lives better.
Goodbye to daylight saving?
Daylight Savings Time (DST) was invented in 1895 by the British-born New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson, who thought the idea would give him more time for bug-collecting as well as help rural postmen to get through their shifts in daylight. The idea was scoffed at but in 1916, Austria and Germany adopted the practice to maximise industrial production and reduce energy costs, and it has been with us ever since. Now, an EU survey of four million people suggests that 80% would prefer to see an end to it.