Spanish take-up of four-day week pilot falls short of expectations

Workers set up a huge scaffold as a Spanish flag flutters in Madrid

By Belén Carreño

MADRID (Reuters) - A Spanish government pilot programme offering funding to test a four-day working week received less than a third of expected bids, according to an Industry Ministry statement.

Only 41 companies employing 503 workers applied for 2.8 million euros ($3.1 million) out of a total budget of 9.6 million euros, the ministry said.

Despite the lower number of participants, the two-year programme will still allow the government to measure productivity levels.

The scheme, which focuses on companies with fewer than 250 workers in the industrial sector will begin by the last quarter of the year.

Implementing such a programme in the industrial sector is more complicated because of varying shifts and hours worked, said a spokesperson for Confemetal, one of the main employers' associations in the industrial sector.

A reduced working day "must first be agreed in collective bargaining, a very powerful tool in the sector," the spokesperson said, adding that the government had not consulted them before launching the pilot project.

In Britain, employees at 61 companies worked an average of 34 hours across four days from June to December 2022 on full salaries in the world's largest trial of a four-day work week so far. Most participants decided to retain it in what activists hailed as a breakthrough for a better work-life balance.

Among big companies looking at different options is Unilever, the global consumer goods giant which makes Knorr stock cubes and Dove soap and employs 127,000 people.

($1 = 0.9084 euros)

(Reporting by Belén Carreño; editing by Charlie Devereux and Keith Weir)