The Eurocadres blog
An opportunity we cannot miss
The reduction of working hours has been a traditional demand of the working class and constitutes a necessary and fair request considering the evolution our working world has undergone in recent decades, the economic results achieved and the unequal distribution of these results.
More importantly, it represents an important evolution for the promoting of a new labour and production model, which generates more and better quality employment, and which is particularly relevant after the negative socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising cost of living for workers throughout Europe.
Reduced working time becomes a central element in combating one of the most prominent problems of our labour market: the high rate of structural unemployment suffered by thousands of Spanish families, regardless of the economic cycle. In addition, a shortening of the working day would allow for a better reconciliation of work and personal life, as well as favouring the adoption of healthier habits and lifestyles.
UGT proposes to reduce the legal full-time working week to 32 hours per week (down from the current average of 37 hours per week) without any reduction in salary. Europe’s Professionals and Managers have been at the forefront of this call to action, often working well in excess of the average weekly working time, with some frequently pushing the boundaries of the maximum 48 hours per week as outlined under European law.
This change to our working time is an ambitious but realistic action. The development of this proposal, linked to the maintenance of wage levels and other complementary measures, requires a consensual and progressive process of negotiation and implementation, so that beyond the legislative changes involved, social dialogue and collective bargaining become essential instruments to ensure the effectiveness and enhancement of the positive effects of this measure.
Historically, the limitation of working time is a basic right that is the result of successful trade union demands. Our achievement in securing the 2003 European Working Time Directive cannot be overlooked, but in an much-changed world of work, European legislation must be updated. Article 2 of the European Social Charter calls on governments to set reasonable daily and weekly working hours, which can be achieved through progressively shortening the working week.
This link between labour productivity and working time has been completely broken for about three decades, with workplaces showing progress is no longer identified with an improvement in working and living conditions, an increase in labour flexibility being seen as the basis of a fictitious competition, and the burden of any adjustment being placed on people. Professionals and managers are consistently a much-maligned group, with reduced labour flexibility and overbearing workloads commonplace. Stress and other psychosocial risks have become endemic within European workplaces, with excessive working times a contributing factor.
On the national level for UGT, Spain needs to take a step forward, as ambitious as it is fair, to break the stagnation experienced in recent times through reducing working hours without reducing wages, which should be addressed through Social Dialogue.
It would therefore serve as a lever to recover employment and promote a new, fairer and more sustainable production and labour model, offering a way out of the crisis in line with the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 agenda (SDG 2030), by promoting full employment and decent work (Goal 8); and the European Pillar of Social Rights, in the defence of stable and quality employment.
The COVID-19 crisis has also highlighted the need to address with some urgency the challenges associated with the process of digitalisation of the economy, which may pose a threat to employment and employment conditions. The expected productivity gains in many sectors should serve to make the proposal to reduce working time even more meaningful. However, as technology is not neutral, it will be necessary to put the governance of this process at the centre of the policy agenda and ensure the social partners play a key role in shaping the future of work, ensuring a transition that will lead to improved employment and quality of life for all.
Paula Ruíz Torres
Vice-President of Eurocadres