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Q&A: How Spain's left wants to slash working hours without cutting pay

The Local Spain
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Q&A: How Spain's left wants to slash working hours without cutting pay
Pedro Sánchez and Sumar's Yolanda Díaz have suggested a reduced work week as part of their investiture proposal. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

As part of their proposed coalition deal, Spain's Socialists and hard-left Sumar have agreed to reduce the number of working hours per week for employees without reducing salaries. This is what you need to know about the scheme, including its feasibility.

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What is Spain's left-wing coalition proposing?

The current 40-hour working week in Spain was established on June 29th 1983, just over 40 years ago.

Now, the left-wing formation of Sumar and PSOE that's aiming to win the investiture vote to keep Pedro Sánchez in power another four years are proposing a reduction of the work week from the current limit of 40 hours to 37.5 in two years, crucially, without cutting salaries.

READ ALSO: Spain's Socialists and hard-left Sumar reach coalition deal

If it goes ahead, the plan will be conducted in various stages. In 2024, the working week will be reduced by only an hour and a half, to 38.5 hours a week or 7 hours and 42 minutes a day. It will not be until 2025 when the time maximum weekly hours will be 37.5.

The hope is that doing so would improve the work-life balance of millions of workers and that it will have the potential to revolutionise the country's productivity.

Q: How many workers could this affect?

A: A reduction in working hours will directly affect more than 8.4 million workers. This is the number of employees currently protected by collective agreements in which weekly working hours exceed 37.5, according to statistics by the Ministry of Labour.

In reality, the potential scope could be greater, however, because according to the Active Population Survey (EPA), in Spain there were 17.2 million employees in 2022.

READ ALSO: Spain's Socialists and hard-left Sumar reach coalition deal

Q: How long do people in Spain currently work?

A: Even though the current maximum legal working week is 40 hours (up to a maximum of 1,826 hours per year), the majority of employees in Spain in fact work fewer hours than this. The average agreed upon by several pacts in September 2023 is 38.4 hours, but other sources such as the Eurostat Workforce survey place the real average working day of Spaniards at 37.7 hours per week.

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Q: What effect would this have on the Spanish economy?

A: Reducing the length of the weekly working day while maintaining salaries could have adverse effects on the economy. It could increase labour costs, which have already grown considerably in some sectors in recent years, following increases in the minimum wage and the increase in social contributions introduced by the pension reform.

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Q: Will it affect Spain’s employment rate?

A: Spain already has a high unemployment rate, one of the highest in the EU, and critics of the new proposal argue that reducing the working week could in fact increase joblessness further. Experts warn that the measure would increase companies' labour costs and point out that not all companies would have an easy time adjusting to the new reality. Many people in Spain already work far fewer hours than they want and if labour costs increase, employment could suffer.  

Q: How might reducing working hours work in reality?

A: Even though the legal maximum working week will have been reduced, the government may have a difficult time preventing companies from adjusting salaries, even if it is by other means. For example, they may start offering lower salaries to new hires or limiting raises. Therefore, it could lead to lower salary growth in the coming years, warn the experts.

Spain currently has an average productivity rate of 0.3 percent compared to the EU's 0.9 percent.

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Q: How likely is the proposal to happen?

A: Even though PSOE and Sumar have come to an agreement on this issue, it doesn’t mean that it will necessarily pass. A potential new Sánchez government will still have to get backing from several parties in order to pass the legislation, including the Basque Nationalist Party, which already has several pro-business affiliations.

Q: How does Spain compare to other EU countries when it comes to working hours?

A: Out of the EU countries with larger economies, Spain is one of the countries that works the most hours per week.

According to data from Eurostat the 37.7 hours per week that Spanish employees work on average is above 37.3 in Italy; 37.2 in France; 36.6 on average in the EU; 35.3 in Germany and 35.4 in the Netherlands. The idea is that by lowering the legal maximum weekly working hours, the actual hours will also be reduced.

Q: Have any other EU countries successfully reduced working hours?

A: Yes, one of the most notable cases is that of France, which reduced its work week from 39 to 35 hours in 2000.

READ MORE: Why is France’s 35-hour week such a sacred cow?

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