Could the working day finish earlier?

New proposals could see Spanish working day finish at 6pm


The Spanish government is proposing a cross-party pact to work toward amending the working day so that it ends at 6.00pm. Speaking sfter an appearance before a Congressional commission, the Employment Minister, Fátima Báñez, told reporters: “Somebody has to take the first step and so I am asking business associations and labour unions for their support.”

Báñez’s proposals, the latest installment in a long-running national discussion on working hours seen by many in the country as outdated and family-unfriendly, were outlined in the Popular Party’s election program for the 26th June elections.

They would require the support of labour unions and employers: at present, collective-bargaining agreements mean that the country’s 40-hour week is flexible in so much as workers can put in more hours during a certain period, making up for them at a later date.

The employment minister also said that rationalising Spain’s working day would also require addressing the issue of returning the country to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT): although a third of Spain’s land mass lies within GMT, it is on Central European Time.

Báñez accepted that moving Spain toward a more compact working day would mean difficulties for smaller businesses: “Companies in some sectors, and particularly small enterprises, would have to negotiate models to make this possible,” she said.

Many Spaniards still spend a long time at their place of work compared to their European neighbors, arriving early and then taking an enforced long lunch break before returning to work until 8pm or later.

Aside from talking about rationalising the working day, Báñez also mentioned the need for more flexible working hours that could also include working from home. The pact signed with emerging centre-right party Ciudadanos this summer also included proposals to extend paternity leave to four weeks.

However, the Socialist Party’s (PSOE) spokesman on the Congressional Employment Commission dismissed Báñez’s proposals as a “joke”.

“There is nothing wrong with talking about balance [between work and personal life],” he said, but added that Spain faces more pressing problems, such as the 4.9 million people without work – 19 percent of the working population – and the country’s rate of temporary and short-term working contracts, which is the highest in the EU.

Temporary work has grown since 2006. Contracts lasting a week or less made up 14.7 percent of all those signed in 2006. The following year that proportion grew to 15.1 percent, and has continued to rise ever since. In 2015, the figure for Social Security affiliations tied to contracts lasting less than a week was 24.4 percent.

But Báñez said that there had been a 3.24 percent increase in the number of people signing up to the Social Security system, saying that the time had come to address the issue of improving the “quality” of employment, which included job stability, “better salaries” after several years of lower wages in real terms, and work-life balance.