Here’s why a four-day working week trial in Spain has not been a runaway success

·5-min read
Here’s why a four-day working week trial in Spain has not been a runaway success

Trials of four-day working weeks have been hailed as successes, with employees given the opportunity largely jumping at the chance to have an extra day to themselves.

However, that isn’t the case at the Spanish telecoms firm Telefónica, where large numbers of workers are rejecting the offer.

Susana Lopez (whose name has been changed for this article) told Euronews Next she decided not to join the four-day working week proposed by the multinational company because it was frowned upon in her department.

"Among my colleagues, it was seen as contradictory to want to grow within the company and to take advantage of this flexible working day," she said.

Without that pressure, she would have accepted it, though. "If I were 40 years old and knew that I no longer had the possibility of career growth, I would have taken it 100 per cent," she said.

On Friday, with just hours to go before the deadline to join the pioneering four-day workweek proposed by the company, only 1 per cent of employees had opted for it.

Out of a total workforce of 18,000 workers in Spain, the company limited the quota for joining to just 10 per cent, a maximum of 1,800. Of this number, for the moment, only 200 have asked to make the flexible week their working reality.

Four-day week, four-day pay

One of the key reasons for the low uptake of the offer is that, unlike other four-day week trials, this one requires a sacrifice on your salary.

By moving to a 32-hour week – eight hours a day from Monday to Thursday – the staff would be removing five and a half hours from their current working week, which comes with a proportional reduction in pay.

The company is offering a 20 per cent bonus to compensate for this, but it still means a salary adjustment of approximately 12 per cent less than before, according to Jaume Álvarez, head of the Comisiones Obreras union in Barcelona.

For Comisiones Obreras, and another union, the UGT, this compensation still doesn’t make the four-day week offer very attractive.

"We are asking for at least 30 per cent,” said Diego Gallart, spokesman for the UGT union at the company.

“Even so, I don't think it's purely a salary issue. In general, the feeling of Telefónica's staff is not one of economic hardship. Their salary levels are high. It is possible that for some, the wage factor does come into play, but not for others," he added.

Gallart said the temporary nature of the measure may also be affecting take-up. The proposal is an extension of a pilot test that began last October and that saw some 150 workers sign up.

This year it will run from September 1 to December 31. After these months, the company will decide whether to keep the scheme.

"This is not the best way to announce the measure because management has not guaranteed that it will be maintained in January. If you don't guarantee it, people don't change their lives just for three months," said Gallart.

‘What about my pension?’

In addition to this, older employees are concerned about their social security contributions.

Within the company, there are other plans that are more attractive to these workers, such as an ”incentivised leaving plan” that is proposed from time to time.

To join this plan, whereby workers can take early retirement at age 65 while maintaining 68 per cent of their salary, employees need to have 38.5 years of contributory service.

"If they join the four-day working day, it will take them longer to get those years of contributions because they are working fewer hours," Gallart said.

‘The panacea that everyone wants is unrealistic’

Javier Graña, a Telefónica worker in A Coruña in northern Spain, decided to try the four-day working week and signed up for the scheme as soon as it was introduced by the company.

"I felt the need to have more time available for the important things in life," he said.

He was also convinced by the fact that it is a voluntary scheme, and employees can still opt out at a later date. Two of the three people in his team have decided to try it out.

Even so, Graña admits that, although he ended up accepting the four-day week, the reduction in salary was a major factor in considering whether or not to join the scheme.

"As a worker, the first thing is to have the full information and see if you can afford it. I don't think the compensation is much, given that the work I don't do on Friday will be waiting for me on Monday".

However, Graña assumes that the current offer is only the first step and that conditions will be improved in the future.

On this point, the unions disagree: "I don't believe that a four-day working day without a reduction in pay will ever be implemented. We understand that the panacea that everyone wants is unrealistic", said the UGT spokesman.

"If there were no pay cuts, we would be talking about other figures, there would be slaps in the face for joining the programme. Obviously companies are not willing to take this on and, knowing the Spanish business community, it is very difficult for this to happen,” he added.

“I see it as very complicated for an employer to voluntarily lose thousands of productive hours without reducing the wage bill".

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