Spain to trial four-day working week using EU's coronavirus recovery fund

27 March 2021, 17:51 | Updated: 27 March 2021, 19:12

People sit at a bar's terrace in Madrid
People sit at a bar's terrace in Madrid. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Spain has announced plans to trial a four-day working week using money from the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund.

A three-year pilot project among companies interested in the idea will use €50 million (£36 million) from the fund.

The money will compensate some 200 companies as they resize their workforce or reorganise production workflows to adapt to a 32-hour working week.

READ MORE: When can I travel to Spain and will I need a vaccine passport?

It will go towards subsidising extra costs accrued by the employers in the first year of the trial, and then reduce the government's aid to 50% and 25% each consecutive year, according to a blueprint by the Mas Pais progressive party, which is behind the initiative.

The only condition is that the readjustment leads to a real net reduction of working hours while maintaining full-time contract salaries, explained Hector Tejero, who represents Mas Pais in the Madrid regional assembly.

Mr Tejero said: "It's not using the European funds for Spaniards to work less - it's about seeing how we can improve productivity and competitiveness of our companies."

Arguments in favour of the move also cite benefits for the overall economy.

A mass shift to a three-day weekend would lead to more consumption, especially in entertainment and tourism, a backbone of the Spanish economy.

Reducing work hours from 40 to 35 per week in 2017 would have resulted in a 1.5% GDP growth and 560,000 new jobs, a study published earlier this year in the Cambridge Journal of Economics found.

Salaries would have also increased nationally by 3.7%, especially benefiting women who more often take part-time jobs, the research said.

Software Delsol, in southern Spain, invested €400,000 (£290,000) last year to reduce working hours for its 190 employees and has since then reported a 28% reduction in absenteeism, with people choosing to go to the bank or see their doctor on their weekday off.

Their sales increased last year by 20% and no single employee has quit since the new schedule was adopted.

Critics say, with a pandemic-shaken economy, it is not the best time for the trial.

With a 10.8% GDP contraction last year - its worst since the Civil War in the 1930s - Spain has suffered from intermittent lockdowns and the near-total freeze in international travel.

Some experts say the priority should be fixing the country's labour market, marred by one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe and precarious low-paid jobs.