Spain seeks volunteers for four-day workweek

(Bloomberg) – Spain is about to ask hundreds of companies to participate in one of the largest tests to find out if a four-day workweek can be implemented without hurting the economy.

While initiatives elsewhere have been largely small-scale and initiated by individual companies, the president, Pedro Sánchez, has agreed to allocate 50 million euros (US $ 59 million) to 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 experiment. The party’s leader, Íñigo Errejón, expects about 200 employers to voluntarily sign up for the trial, which is scheduled to begin in the fall.

Errejón said in an interview in Madrid that a hundred years have passed since the last time the working day was shortened, that is, when he earned the right to eight hours. He added that in the last 100 years we have continued to produce more with fewer hours of work, and yet this ability to produce more thanks to technology has not generated more free time for people.

Errejón, 37, defended the 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 it is possible to have greater flexibility in the workplace.

However, he recognizes that he is facing an uphill battle for this to become more than an experiment. Sánchez accepted the pilot test in January on the condition that Más País vote in favor of the Administration’s spending plan under the European Union’s recovery fund. Since then, ministers and other top officials have said that a four-day work week is not a political priority.

Joaquín Pérez Rey, Secretary of State for Employment of Spain, said that the important thing is not how many days are worked, but the balance between work and personal life, and that this will not be resolved with one day less.

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The idea of ​​a four-day work week is catching on in some parts of the world. Unilever Plc is testing in New Zealand, and Japanese lawmakers are discussing a proposal to grant an additional day off. German technology company Awin began cutting hours while maintaining wages and benefits last spring, saying that sales, employee engagement and customer satisfaction increased.

Spain’s challenge is that it has long been plagued by high unemployment, low productivity and one of the highest proportions in Europe of workers on precarious and temporary contracts. The Bank of Spain described the labor market as “dysfunctional”.

Under Errejón’s program, employees will receive the same salaries despite spending fewer hours. Unless they significantly increase their productivity, companies will pay their workers more for doing less.

Government funds compensate companies by covering the cost of hiring additional workers or installing new technologies, but only temporarily, to ease the transition.

Errejón says that this trial will at least provide valuable information for researchers. But he’s also optimistic that he can lay the groundwork for a four-day week in sectors where the pilot shows that both companies and workers benefit.

Original Note: Spain Seeks Volunteers for Nationwide Test of Four-Day Workweek

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