the debate on the four-day “Belgian” week in Spain

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Belgium’s proposal for a four-day working week has revived the debate on this option in Spain. Those who hid behind the fact that the hours worked could not be reduced without reducing salaries, see it as a much more interesting possibility than the one proposed by the pilot project of the Valencian Community, and there are even workers who have indicated to Xataka that they would like to try the Belgian model. The unions, on the other hand, emphasize that it threatens the well-being of the workers and that they will fight for the reduction of the working day.

The problems of the original model. The proposal of the Valencian Community, which establishes that a four-day working week can only be considered if the time worked is reduced to 32 hours per week without reducing salary, has faced much criticism from businessmen and experts, who consider that the The Spanish labor market does not have such a wide margin of productivity as to reduce the working day and maintain wages.

The same report commissioned by the Valencian Community from several universities to study the feasibility of the project pointed out that the extension of this model is complicated in the current business context in Spain, and pointed out that it would be more convenient to explore intermediate ways of time flexibility or the adoption of technological tools that pave the way towards the still distant goal of 32 hours of work per week.

The Belgian model. Vicente Budi, director of the Interuniversity Institute for Local Development and professor of Economics at the Jaume I University of Castellón, one of the authors of the aforementioned report, explains to Xataka that the Belgian model could be useful for some specific sectors, just as the 32-hour model can be for others. Because the important thing, he points out, is to understand that each sector has its own characteristics and must meet the demands of its workers based on them. Therefore, rather than speaking in a general way of a reduction in hours worked, he considers that the important thing is to give workers greater flexibility.

“Everything that has to do with flexibility is the way to go, that the professional can choose the starting time, change shifts or reduce the rest of his split day. Because we cannot compare a sector such as education with that of commerce, industry or agriculture”, he points out.

Unions agree, in part. Both the General Union of Workers (UGT) and the Workers’ Commissions (CCOO) agree that each sector has to attend to its particularities to advance in the conciliation of its workers, but they consider that the flexibility of their working day must be accompanied by mandatory a reduction in the time worked per week.

“The Belgian model does not imply any intermediate step, because an intermediate step would be to go to work 38 or 35 hours a week, and there include a debate on how the days are distributed. But what Brussels is proposing is to stay as we are, with the only option being to concentrate everything in four days. That is, accumulate ten hours of work, to which we must add the time for travel and food, which would add 12 or 13 hours depending on how far we live from work. That in no case benefits conciliation ”, he explains to Xataka Carlos GutierrezSecretary of Studies and Trade Union Training of the CCOO.

Unproductive. The unions also point out that the Belgian model would harm the companies themselves, since people who work ten hours a day would greatly reduce their productivity at the end of the day as they are already exhausted. That is why they consider that allowing workers to rest more, with shorter working hours, would also benefit companies.

If you lower your salary, it is not a four-day work week, it is a reduction in hours: the controversy over the cuts that confronts companies and unions

The reduction of the working day, non-negotiable. For all these reasons, the unions explain to Xataka that in any measure to improve the conciliation of the workers, they consider the reduction of working hours non-negotiable. Although CCOO and UGT differ their requests. While from Commissions they assure that they would be willing to study intermediate reductions, sources from the General Union of Workers assure Xataka that they are going to fight for the 32 hours.

What the unions are proposing. Therefore, what the unions propose is to debate the maximum working day established by the status of workerswhich is currently 40 hours per week, and after obtaining a general improvement that each sector agrees on what is best for them in the collective negotiations between the representatives of the workers and employers.

Why reduce the day? The unions consider that the productivity of workers has increased considerably in recent decades thanks to technology, and that it will continue to do so in an increasingly digitized world. For this reason, they consider “social justice” that part of the benefits of this greater work performance be distributed among professionals with days that allow them to rest more and reconcile better.

The promoters of the pilot project in the Valencian Community, for their part, consider the four-day working week as a way of improving the performance of the company while improving the quality of life of the worker. Since, they point out, when the employee is more rested he performs more in less time.

The CEOE is silent. Xataka has contacted the Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations (CEOE) to find out its position regarding the four-day work week, but the employers have indicated to this medium that they are not going to assess the matter at the moment.

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Belgium’s proposal for a four-day working week has revived the debate on this option in Spain. Those who hid behind…

Belgium’s proposal for a four-day working week has revived the debate on this option in Spain. Those who hid behind…

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