Recently we have been seeing more and more countries launch initiatives to test the possibility of implementing a four-day week. We will take a look at Spain and Portugal and other projects underway in Europe.

The implementation of a four-day week is progressively being discussed in numerous countries. Indeed, headlines regarding the approval of laws on the subject in the various different legal systems of our environment no longer surprise us.

Order ICT/1238/2022, of December 9, 2022 , establishing the mechanism for companies to obtain subsidies (only available to small and medium-sized business with a tax domicile in Spain that do not form part of the public sector and which have been performing an industrial activity for at least 3 years) was recently published in Spain. Companies, which are interested in the scheme, must undertake to reduce ordinary full-time working hours by a minimum of 10% a week, without this affecting employees’ salaries.

This undertaking is for a temporary term of two years, as from the time the subsidy was granted and only affects employees on an indefinite-term full-time contract. The management of this reduction in working hours depends on each company and the agreement that has been reached with the employees.

The proposal of the number of workers that participate in the pilot scheme must at least cover a certain percentage of the workforce according to the company’s size. In companies of up to 20 workers, at least 30% of the employees must be included and in companies of between 21 to 249 employees, at least 25% of the workforce.

The order is in fact the first step that has been taken in Spain at a legislative level, in the form of a pilot scheme to assess whether the reduction in working hours to four days is viable.

Portugal has gone one step further and has approved a pilot scheme aimed at all companies and structured in three phases. The first phase is directed at private enterprises, the second at the public authorities and a third phase will consist of analyzing and comparing the functioning and productivity of the companies that have reduced their working hours to four days compared with others who have continued with the traditional five-day week.

In the case of Portugal, the red line marked by the labor unions is clear: specifically, that workers’ salaries would not be reduced, leaving it up to the company’s workers to establish the maximum number of working hours per day.

Other countries apart from Portugal and Spain have also been working on pilot schemes to assess whether to implement the four-day workweek.

In the UK, the experts who have studied the trials have said that one of the benefits observed at companies that have applied the four-day week is a big reduction in staff absence.

Other countries such as Sweden, Belgium, Lithuania or Scotland are also studying this reduction in the workweek and the adaptation of their legal system to make the measure effective.

However, the application of the pilot scheme in Spain creates numerous doubts such as, for example: How does it affect productivity and profitability? Can it be reversed? Can the maximum number of daily working hours be extended? Can overtime be worked? Striking a work/life balance. All of these and other issues will undoubtedly have to be assessed for the future viability of this measure



Carlos Déniz Caballero

Garrigues Labor and Employment Law Department