Venezuela Advises Government Employees To Only Work 2 Days A Week
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
We're going now to Venezuela. The country's been dealing with an economic and energy crisis that only seems to be getting worse. Yesterday, President Nicolas Maduro ordered all of the country's civil servants to work just two days a week - only Mondays and Tuesdays. The government hopes that will save energy. Reporter John Otis has been following the situation from Bogota, Colombia, and he's with us now. Hi, John.
JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.
MCEVERS: This seems like a pretty drastic step. I mean, we've known about Venezuela's economic crisis for a while now. Bring us up to speed on the energy crisis.
OTIS: Well, Kelly, the El Nino weather effect has caused a year-long drought, and that's drastically lowered water levels in the main hydroelectric dam, which provides about two-thirds of Venezuela's electricity. Critics also say that the government's failed to upgrade the electrical grid. And one other thing - electric subsidies mean that people pay just pennies a month for their electric bills, so that deprives the government of money to invest in the system. Now, the upshot of all this is that the government has ordered nationwide power rationing, except for in Caracas. And now, it's trying to save energy by giving state employees five-day weekends. And the idea is that, you know, you won't be using power at public buildings. They'll all be shut down, and that may save energy. However, it's not really clear that this is going to work because a lot of these public employees might just go home and turn on their TVs and computers and hairdryers.
MCEVERS: And, of course, while this is happening, the price of oil has been going down all over the world, which is really hitting Venezuela's economy hard. What effect is that having?
OTIS: Well, that's very much the case. In fact, some analysts say that the government has been so concerned about the economic crisis and the falling oil prices that it's failed to address the problems of the drought and the power supply until it was just too late.
MCEVERS: Oh, wow. How many people are going to be affected by the two-day work week?
OTIS: A lot of people will be affected. There's about 2.8 million workers in the socialist government. That's way up from the previous government. And they make up about one-third of the Venezuelan labor force. Now, the problem is that they're getting these five-day weekends at the same time that the government is urging the people to work harder to overcome this Venezuela's severe economic crisis. And, you know, that's just not going to happen if they're staying home.
MCEVERS: How are people in Venezuela reacting to this?
OTIS: You know, on the one hand, people have more free time. But on the other hand, when you go home, you never know when the power's going to be on or off, so it's going to be hard to - you know, it might be hard to relax at home if you don't know that TV's going to turn on or off. And also, the country - because of this severe economic crisis we've been reporting on, state workers - they just don't have a lot of extra cash to go to the beach or to go on vacation and to use all this free time. You know, they have a lot of time - free time now to sit around and complain about power outages.
MCEVERS: I mean, President Maduro has already been facing a lot of criticism from the opposition party. Is this crisis putting him in more trouble?
OTIS: It is putting him in a lot more trouble. In fact, the political opposition is trying to organize a recall referendum in an effort to boot him out of office. His term ends in 2019, and the opposition wants him out long before then.
MCEVERS: That's reporter John Otis in Bogota, Columbia. Thank you.
OTIS: Thanks very much, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.