Although initiatives elsewhere have been largely small-scale and started individually by companies, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government has agreed to invest € 50 million in a three-year national program.
It is the idea of a small left-wing political party called Más País, which convinced the socialist-led government to implement a 32-hour workweek and then evaluate the experience. Party leader Íñigo Errejón expects about 200 employers to voluntarily enter the test, which is expected to start in the fall.
“A hundred years have passed since we last reduced the workday, that is, when we won the right to eight hours,” says Errejón, in an interview in Madrid. “In the past 100 years we have continued to produce more with less hours of work, and yet this ability to produce more thanks to technology has not generated more free time for people.”
Errejón, 37, was already advocating a four-day work week even before the Covid-19 pandemic, but says it is now more plausible in Spain because the crisis has shown that greater flexibility in the workplace is possible.
Still, he recognizes that he has an uphill battle ahead of him to go beyond an experience. Sánchez agreed with the idea in January, with the proviso that Más País would vote in favor of the government’s plan under the European Union’s recovery fund. Since then, ministers and other senior officials in the Spanish government have said that a four-day workweek is not a political priority.
“What matters is not the number of days worked, but the balance between personal and professional life,” said Joaquín Pérez Rey, Spain’s secretary of state for work and economics. “This will not be resolved with one day less.”
The idea of a four-day workweek is gaining popularity in some parts of the world. Unilever is taking a test in New Zealand, and Japanese MPs are discussing a proposal to grant an extra day off. German technology company Awin started cutting hours while maintaining wages and benefits last spring, and says sales, employee engagement and customer satisfaction have increased.
Spain’s challenge is that, for a long time, the country has been plagued by high unemployment rates, low productivity and one of the largest proportions in Europe of workers with precarious temporary contracts. The Bank of Spain classified the labor market as “dysfunctional”.
According to the Errejón program, employees will receive the same wages, despite working less hours. Unless they significantly increase their productivity, companies will pay their employees more to do less.
Government financing pays off companies, covering the cost of hiring additional workers or installing new technologies – but only temporarily, to facilitate the transition.
Errejón says that this test will provide at least valuable information for researchers. But he is also optimistic that it will be possible to lay the groundwork for a four-day week in sectors where the test shows that both companies and workers stand to gain.
“Thanks to the pilot program, we launched a debate in Spain,” said Errejón. “Before it was something reserved for some innovative companies that decided to implement it on their own, but it was not a national debate. Now it is.”
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