Spain ruling coalition split over four-day work week to fight unempolyment

Emmanuelle MICHEL –

Spain’s coalition government is deeply split over a proposal to shorten the work week to four days to fight high unemployment sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure is being pushed by far-left party Podemos, the junior partner in Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s minority government which has ruled the euro zone’s fourth largest economy since January.
Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, announced earlier this month that the labour ministry was looking into reducing work hours, saying this “could without a doubt favour the creation of employment”.
He was responding during a TV interview to the proposal made by a far-left lawmaker that called for the work week to be reduced to 32 hours from the current 40 hours.
“Work time requires a new concept which dares to challenge, as we do, the laws and customs of the working world,” added Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz, also from Podemos, on Twitter.
The proposal comes as the New Zealand branch of Unilever earlier this month began a trial of a four-day work week for its staff in the country.
Germany’s powerful IG Metall union has also floated the idea.
But in Spain the idea has been met with reluctance from the Socialists, the dominant party in Spain’s first coalition government since its return to democracy in the late 1970s.
Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero said the government “must not lose focus” from its main priority, which is “to return to the growth rates which we had at the start of the pandemic”.
Spain’s heavily tourism-dependent economy had consistently outperformed much of Europe since it emerged from a five-year slump in 2013.
But the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sees the country’s GDP slumping by 12.8 per cent this year, in what would make it the hardest-hit nation among the world’s advanced economies.
“I don’t think this issue is a priority for Spain, given the current levels of productivity and competitiveness,” said Social Security Minister Jose Luis Escriva, in a reference to productivity levels well below the European average, partially due to the large proportion of small businesses.
“I don’t think there is room for that,” he added. But Spain’s second largest union confederation, the UGT which is close to the Socialists, has long called for a four-day work week, with a fifth day dedicated to professional development. — AFP