Spain considers a four-day week

Spain’s Ministry of work is ‘loosely’ considering cutting the working week to four days over 32 hours rather than the standard 40 hours over five days – and opinions are divided over whether it would work.
Experts across the board largely believe the idea is a good one, but some have doubts about whether Spain is ‘ready for it’ and how it would work out in practice.
Nuria Chinchilla of the International Work and Family Centre, an expert in work-life balance issues, says what is needed instead is ‘flexibility’ on the part of employers.
“What would be really useful is if companies, as far as they are able, introduced flexible working hours according to their needs; cutting the working week to four days could actually be counter-productive – five days but with less-rigid hours is more sensible,” she says.
Employment psychologist Juan Pedro Sánchez, an expert on helping companies increase productivity, applauds the idea and calls it ‘magnificent’ – as long as the firm’s activity allows it and productivity does not decrease.
“Undoubtedly, having an extra day off would allow us to spend more time on our personal lives and with our families and friends; this said, it’s probably more important for this work-life balance to be found on a daily, not weekly, basis. We mustn’t forget that work and rest are two sides of the same coin: Productivity,” he argues.
Head of workplace health at one of Spain’s main unions, the Labourers’ Commissions (CCOO), Óscar Bayona, says the proposal is ‘interesting on paper’ because it ‘could have really positive impacts on employee health’, but laments that Spain is ‘light years away’ from being able to make it work.
“Labour relations are becoming more and more precarious and working conditions more and more hazardous to health,” he warns. “We work seven million hours in unpaid overtime every week. Millions of hours we’re giving free of charge to our companies.”
Many companies and countries have carried out experiments with working hours to try to improve general employee health and productivity, reduce stress and anxiety, and motivate their staff.
New Zealand-based legal company Perpetual Guardian allowed its staff to cut their working week to four days, with fewer hours but on the same pay – and it turned out to be such an ‘absolute success’, according to the firm, that it now plans to adopt it permanently.
Academic research found that 78% of the 250 employees were just as able to complete their work in four days as in five, and that they were able to manage demands of professional and personal life much easier, leading to stress levels falling by 7% and job satisfaction rising by 5%.
Many unions, academics and experts have been campaigning for some time for different working structures for the 21st century, considering the typical eight-hour day to be ‘old-fashioned’ and that a system which ‘better suits the times’ should be introduced.
At the moment, the idea is still at the ‘social dialogue’ and ‘exploring’ stage, but one of the reasons for its being raised, in addition to better quality of life all round, is that it could lead to more jobs being created.
Unions have long warned that companies who allow, or expect, their staff to work unpaid extra time are reducing availability of jobs, since if nobody worked any longer than they were paid to, the additional hours would need to be covered and new vacancies could be created.
Podemos believes that, in theory, if staff were to work 80% of their usual week, it would create a 20% increase in vacancies as the extra time would need to be covered; although on the flip side, it believes many employees would be able to fit their entire existing jobs into 80% of their current hours, giving them more time to relax, enjoy themselves, and spend time with friends and family.
One of the main drawbacks experts have highlighted, though, is that companies may opt to cut wages by 20% in line with the reduction in hours, and even if this was not permitted by law, would be difficult to police.