Spain promises to introduce shorter working week on Labour Day

by Lorraine Williamson
Labour Day

This could be the last May 1, Labour Day, when employees in Spain have a maximum working week of 40 hours. “Even before the summer”, the Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, hopes to have reached an agreement with the social partners to reduce the legal maximum to 38.5 hours in 2024.

This adjustment of the working week, which has been the same for forty years, is a commitment made by the coalition government between PSOE and Sumar. On Tuesday, the First Vice-President and Minister of Finance, María Jesús Montero, claimed the union slogan of Labour Day. “For full employment: shorter working week and better wages”.

Time is running out if the intention is to close the deal before the summer. Negotiations with employers and trade unions started at the end of January. In that time, hardly any progress has been made in the talks.

Although the ministry has taken a discreet position, it agrees with the unions. The refusal, or at least the doubts, come from the employers’ organisation CEOE. Spanish employers prefer that the reduction of working hours should be regulated by contract and by sector and not by law, as the government proposes by amending Article 34 of the Workers’ Statute.

The chairman of the CEOE, Antonio Garamendi, has made it known that he does not agree with sitting down at a negotiating table where the outcome is already certain. The working week will decrease to 38.5 hours in 2024 and to 37.5 hours in 2025. It’s not that simple, he claims: the division of time, leave and time registration are also up for discussion.

Trade unions are in favour of a reduction in working hours

The Minister of Labour knows that she can count on the ‘yes’ from the trade unions. CCOO and UGT have this requirement in their May Day proclamation. Both the Secretary General of CCOO, Unai Sordo, and the Secretary General of UGT, Pepe Álvarez, see the possibility that the pact will be concluded soon.

Cogesa Expats

“It has to become a reality in the coming months,” Álvarez said on Monday during the dissemination of information about Labour Day at Madrid’s Atocha Station. Sordo, for his part, defended that “we need to work fewer hours so that more people can work”.

Number of hours to be worked per year

The average agreed number of working hours in Spain was 1,763.68 hours per year. This is according to statistics from the Ministry of Labour. In Spain, 53.64% of the contracts in force in 2024 have working hours of less than 38.5 hours per week.


Full employment is more difficult than a reduction in working hours. The secretary general of the CCOO is confident that it will be possible “in the medium term”, but only “if Spain does things right”.

The reality is that Spain reached an unemployment rate of 12.29% in the first quarter of this year. That is almost half a percent higher than in the last three months of 2023. With 2,977,000 unemployed until March, the number of unemployed is once again approaching the dreaded 3 million unemployed mark. In March, however, the unemployment rate was lower than in February.

Despite the labour reform and the good economic figures, with positive prospects, the fall in unemployment has not materialised. The Bank of Spain, in its 2023 annual report, estimated the country’s structural unemployment rate at 12% to 13%. According to the regulator, these percentages are the limit to which unemployment in Spain can be reduced. Only in specific situations will it be possible to bring the unemployment rate below these levels, and this will be done in moderation.

Reducing the number of unemployed

Although the reality is unfavourable, Yolanda Díaz’s portfolio remains committed to reducing the number of unemployed. A few years ago, their target was young people; Now they are targeting the over-52s. For the unemployed, the Ministry of Labour also has to approve the reform of unemployment benefits. After a failed attempt at the beginning of this year, in which the PP, VOX and Unidas Podemos, Díaz’s former party, voted against it in Congress, the ministry is currently negotiating with the social partners to be able to present a new proposal.

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