Spain to launch trial of four-day working week

4 day working week

Spain could become one of the first countries in the world to trial the four-day working week after the government agreed to launch a modest pilot project for companies interested in the idea.

Earlier this year, the small leftwing Spanish party Más País announced that the government had accepted its proposal to test out the idea. Talks have since been held, with the next meeting expected to take place in the coming weeks.

“With the four-day work week (32 hours), we’re launching into the real debate of our times,” said Iñigo Errejón of Más País on Twitter. “It’s an idea whose time has come.”

From New Zealand to Germany, the idea has been steadily gaining ground globally. Hailed by its proponents as a means to increase productivity, improve the mental health of workers and fight climate change, the proposal has taken on new significance as the pandemic sharpens issues around wellbeing, burnout and work-life balance.

Leftwing parties in Spain – where a 44-day strike in Barcelona in 1919 resulted in the country becoming one of the first in western Europe to adopt the eight-hour workday – have seized on the idea. “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,” said Errejón. “I maintain that working more hours does not mean working better.”

While the exact details of the pilot will be hashed out with the government, his party has proposed a three-year, €50m project that would allow companies to trial reduced hours with minimal risk. The costs of a company’s foray into the four-day work week, for example, could be covered at 100% the first year, 50% the second year and 33% the third year.

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

Tejero estimated that the pilot could get under way as early as autumn, ushering in the first national initiative to reduce working hours since France began moving towards capping the work week at 35 hours in 1998. “Spain will be the first country to undertake a trial of this magnitude,” said Tejero. “A pilot project like this hasn’t been undertaken anywhere in the world.”

The party has suggested the pilot be guided by a panel of experts – including representatives from government, workers unions and business lobbies – who will also help analyse the results.

What Más País is hoping to see is an echo of the experience of Software Delsol, the southern Spanish firm that last year became the first in the country to implement a four-day working week. “They saw a reduction in absenteeism, productivity went up and workers say they are happier,” said Tejero.

A source with Spain’s industry ministry said talks over the pilot project were in their initial stages. At this point everything is up for debate, from the cost of the pilot to the number of companies involved and the timeline, she added.

The idea has faced opposition in some quarters, with one of the leaders from the country’s main business associations describing it as “madness” in the wake of the country’s worst recession since the civil war. “Getting out of this crisis requires more work, not less,” Ricardo Mur of CEOE told a forum in December.

As Spain inches forward with the fledgling pilot, its progress is being closely tracked in the UK and around the world. “My understanding is that this would be the first-ever national level pilot of the four-day week,” said Joe Ryle of the 4 Day Week Campaign. “We’re calling on governments across the world to follow the Spanish example in paving the way for the four-day work week.”

He described a reduction in working hours as long overdue. “Clearly the way that we work is making people stressed, burned out, overworked and causing massive workplace and mental health issues,” he said. “The four-day week would be good for the economy, good for workers and good for the environment. What’s not to like about it?”