Hit by Covid, Spain starts four-day work week experiment

After years of ready tables, Danae De Vries is one step nearer to attaining her lifetime dream of changing into a theatre coach.

Ironically, she owes that to the pandemic. It was after final 12 months’s brutal lockdown that shut the Spanish financial system down for weeks that the house owners of a small restaurant chain in Madrid provided De Vries to chop her weekly work schedule by someday.

Already struggling to make ends meet in a metropolis that has seen rental costs spiral, the 28-year-old was hesitant at first – after which enthusiastic when she was informed her wages would stay untouched.

“Now I have time to work, to see my family and friends, and to find enough time to study,” she mentioned. “It’s marvellous to have time, to not rush everywhere and find a bit of inner peace.”

A happier and extra motivated De Vries can be higher for her boss María Álvarez, the entrepreneur who turned her two-restaurant enterprise upside-down when she proposed rotational four-day week shifts. Álvarez, a mom of two toddlers, and her startup companion at La Francachela had each struggled to maintain the enterprise going with no childcare help.

“There was a feeling that society had turned its back on families, that we had been betrayed,” defined Álvarez. “As business owners, we had to come up with some solutions for our businesses, our employees and also for our personal lives.”

Photo: AP

Experimenting with chopping again one workday per week is about to go nationwide in Spain – the primary nation in Europe to take action. A 3-year pilot venture might be utilizing 50 million euros ($59 million) from the European Union’s large coronavirus restoration fund to compensate some 200 mid-size firms as they resize their workforce or reorganize manufacturing workflows to adapt to a 32-hour working week.

The funds will go to subsidizing all the employers’ additional prices within the first 12 months of the trial after which cut back the federal government’s support to 50% and 25% every consecutive 12 months, in response to a blueprint by the Más País progressive occasion that is behind the initiative.

The solely situation is that the readjustment results in an actual internet discount of working hours whereas sustaining full-time contract salaries, defined Héctor Tejero, a lawmaker with Más País within the Madrid regional meeting.

“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,” mentioned Tejero.

Arguments in favour of the transfer additionally cite advantages for the general financial system. A mass shift to a three-day weekend would result in extra consumption, particularly in leisure and tourism, a spine of the Spanish financial system.

Reducing work hours from 40 to 35 per week in 2017 would have resulted in a 1.5% GDP development and 560,000 new jobs, a examine revealed earlier this 12 months within the Cambridge Journal of Economics discovered. Salaries would have additionally elevated nationally by 3.7%, particularly benefitting ladies who extra typically take part-time jobs, the analysis mentioned.

Software Delsol, in southern Spain, invested 400,000 euros final 12 months to scale back working hours for its 190 staff and has since then reported a 28% discount in absenteeism, with individuals selecting to go to the financial institution or see their physician on their weekday off. Their gross sales elevated final 12 months by 20% and no single worker has give up for the reason that new schedule was adopted.

Critics say {that a} pandemic-shaken financial system shouldn’t be the very best situation for experiments. With a ten.8% GDP contraction final 12 months, its worst for the reason that Nineteen Thirties Civil War, Spain has suffered from intermittent lockdowns and the near-total freeze in worldwide journey. Some consultants argue that the precedence ought to as an alternative be fixing the nation’s dysfunctional labour market, which is dragging one among Europe’s highest unemployment charges and is marred by precarious, low-wage jobs.

ESADE Business School’s Carlos Victoria additionally warned towards the one-size-fits-all strategy of the proposal. “There are probably industries or economic areas in which a reduction of working hours won’t necessarily lead to productivity gains,” the financial coverage researcher mentioned.

But Más País argues that it is best to attempt first and determine later find out how to scale it up – or whether or not to do it in any respect.

Still, not all unions are totally backing the plan, conservatives have been defensive and CEOE, the principle Spanish enterprise affiliation, has to date provided a lukewarm response to the venture.

Nevertheless, a minimum of half a dozen firms have already reached out expressing curiosity, in response to Tejero, who mentioned the pilot will not be launched a minimum of till September, when and if mass vaccination helps revive the financial system.

“In Spain, we have moved from presenteeism, where people had to be at the office for a very long time, to be in front of the computer, at home, for an even longer time,” mentioned La Francachela’s Álvarez. “People are increasingly angry because remote working in itself is not going to solve our problems from a broader perspective.”

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