Spain to launch trial of 4 day working week - is it sustainable?

Monday, 15th March 2021, 3:18 pm
Updated Monday, 15th March 2021, 3:18 pm
A four day working week could be on the horizon for many Spanish residents (Photo: PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

The Spanish government has agreed to a proposal from leftwing party Más País which will see a trial of the four day working week for companies interested in the idea.

Earlier this year, Más País announced that the Government had accepted its proposal for the idea. Since then, talks have been held, with the next meeting expected to occur within the coming weeks.

Iñigo Errejón of Más País wrote on Twitter: “With the four day work week (32 hours), we’re launching into the real debate of our times.

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“It’s an idea whose time has come.”

‘Working more hours does not mean working better’

Around the world, the concept of the four day week has been gaining traction. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also suggested that employers should think about implementing the four day week “if that’s something that would work for your workplace”.

Spain was one of the first western European countries to adopt the eight hour workday following a 44 day strike in Barcelona in 1919.

Errejón said: “Spain is one of the countries where workers put in more hours than the European average. But we’re not among the most productive countries.

“I maintain that working more hours does not mean working better.”

‘No loss of salary or jobs’

While the exact details of the trial are still to be ironed out, the Más País party has suggested a three year, €50 million project that would allow for companies to try out the reduced hours with minimal risk.

So for example, a company’s involvement in the four day week would be covered at 100 per cent for the first year, 50 per cent for the second year and 33 per cent the third year.

Héctor Tejero of Más País said: “With these figures, we calculate that we could have around 200 companies participate, with a total of anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 workers.

“The only red lines are that we want to see a true reduction of working hours and no loss of salary or jobs.”

‘First country to run a trial of this magnitude’

Tejero explained that the pilot could kick off as early as autumn. The move would see the first national initiative to reduce working hours since France moved towards capping the work week at 35 hours in 1998.

“Spain will be the first country to undertake a trial of this magnitude. A pilot project like this hasn’t been undertaken anywhere in the world,” Tejero said.

Tejero explained that what Más País is hoping to see as a result of the trial will be similar to the results of that of Software Delsol, a southern Spanish firm that became the first in the country to implement the four day working week last year.

Tejero said: “They saw a reduction in absenteeism, productivity went up and workers say they are happier.”

Could the UK follow suit?

Last year, research organisation Autonomy published a report that found that a four day week would lead to more people spending more money on their extra day off - something that would kickstart Britain’s economy post-pandemic.

Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy, said: “As firms across the country continue to suffer, bold economic strategies are required to support the economy now and forge a recovery process that prioritises secure and decent work.

“Instead of propping up an already failing economy, the Government could act to save jobs and create more desirable working patterns for the future.”

‘Many benefits of the four day week’

Earlier this year, The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), and other trade union groups, called on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to introduce a national subsidy for companies when switching to a 32 working week, with no loss of pay.

A motion passed at the SNP conference in November stated that an independent Scotland should consider a four day working week as part of a wider review of working practices.

Joe Ryle, of the 4 Day Week Campaign, said: “A four-day week with no loss of pay is backed by a big majority of Scots, SNP members, the trade union movement and Scottish businesses, so Nicola Sturgeon has no excuses for not acting.

“Shorter working hours are the best way to share work more equally across the economy during a recession and would bring many other benefits such as improved mental health, a better work-life balance and a boost in productivity.

“Nicola Sturgeon should listen to her own party members and set Scotland on the path to a four-day week.”

‘Work to live, not live to work’

In 2019, the Labour party said that it could introduce a 32 hour working week, with no loss of pay, in the next decade.

At the time, John McDonnell, then Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: “It’s not just about a fulfilling life at work, we should work to live, not live to work.

“As society got richer, we could spend fewer hours at work. But in recent decades, progress has stalled and since the 1980s the link between increasing productivity and expanding free time has been broken. It’s time to put that right.

“So I can tell you today that the next Labour government will reduce the average full time working week to 32 hours within a decade.”