Spanish region plans shift to four-day working week

The transition would first be piloted in Valencia’s public sector
Europe Correspondent

The government of Valencia has drawn up a road map to move to a four-day working week that would see working time gradually cut across the economy with no loss of pay.

The Spanish region’s radical new administration commissioned economists to prepare the strategy, amid growing international interest in shortening the working week. It has said cutting hours with no loss of pay would “transform” jobs and enable people to spend more time with their families – as well as raising productivity and employment.

The region’s vice president, Monica Oltra, said last year that she wanted to move to a radically shortened working week, arguing that “any minimally decent economic policy should not think about the next election, but the next generation”. Suggesting the new working week could be 32 hours, she said: “This objective will allow to increase the productivity of the Valencian economy, generate more jobs, favour family reconciliation, and physical and mental wellbeing.”

Ms Oltra added that the approach could also help in the fight against climate change by allowing people to live a less “resource-intensive lifestyle”.

Under the road map outlined in the report, a reduced working week would first be piloted in the public sector in order to “showcase the benefits” of shorter hours, overseen by a transition team keeping track of progress. A “good employer initiative” modelled on a scheme from the US New Deal in the 1930s would then see the private-sector employers sign up to shorter hours, initially on a voluntary basis. Existing subsidies would also be redirected to support companies that lower the number of working hours.

The government would also help to cover any cost of reducing working time at firms while keeping pay the same: covering 100 per cent of the difference in the first year, 50 per cent in the second year, and 25 per cent in the third year.

“The overarching aim of these suggestions is to establish a range of practical work-time reduction policies that bolster and support the practical transition of the Valencian economy to reduced working hours over the period of a decade or less,” the strategy says.

“The policies are diverse but mutually reinforcing: the transition to an economy of shorter working practices must recognise the plurality of working practices and cultures in the economy as a whole. This is in opposition to a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’, often realised in the form of top-down state regulation.”

While politicians in other countries have suggested that working time should be cut, it is thought that the plan comprises the most detailed proposals yet on how a four-day week could be achieved. Finland’s prime minister has previously suggested that she supports a move to a four-day week.

The report, which was drawn up by economists at the UK think tank Autonomy, also recommends that the region develop new public infrastructure to help foster employment. It says community workspaces and facilities, and a common logistics infrastructure for business would help small enterprises thrive by removing overheads and reducing their environmental footprint.

Enric Nomdedeu i Biosca, Valencia’s labour minister, said the region’s government was “deeply satisfied” with the recommendations in the report, adding: “We did not just want to address unemployment, we aspired to go beyond and be able to effectively transform the precarious realities that dominated much of the Valencian labour market.”

The researchers that drew up the road map said the approach could be adapted to other parts of the world.

“It’s greatly encouraging that a regional government such as the Comunitat Valenciana is exploring ideas such as these,” said Will Stronge, director of Autonomy.

“The [Valencian employment department] team are rethinking how public services need to adapt to a changing world of work, as well as the climate crisis; producing an ambitious vision for Valencian services with them was a great experience.

“We believe that the prototype policies and infrastructures that we’ve put forward could form the basis for many other progressive programmes for other municipal and national governments.”