Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's government Tuesday announced enforced leave for public sector workers three days a week, meaning they will only work just two days, in a bid 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.
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 on Tuesday 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.
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.
- Recall referendum drive -
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.
Maduro is under growing pressure from the center-right opposition, which vowed to oust him when it took control of the legislature in January after winning an election.
His opponents advanced Tuesday in their mission to drive him from office when electoral authorities gave them authorization to take initial steps seeking a recall referendum.
The National Electoral Board said it would hand over the paperwork allowing them to seek nearly 200,000 signatures needed as a first step towards calling a referendum.
"The country is on the move to achieve democratically what is allowed under the constitution: to hold a referendum this year and then elect a new government of national unity that can get us out of this chaos," said Julio Borges, leader of the opposition majority in the legislature.
Maduro's opponents say he controls the electoral authorities and the Supreme Court, which has blocked several of their bills in the legislature.
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.