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Do we need to work fewer hours?

Evangelical experts in the labour world look at the proposal to reduce the working hours to 37.5 per week.

FUENTES Protestante Digital AUTOR 45/Jonatan_Soriano,5/Evangelical_Focus BARCELONA 08 DE DICIEMBRE DE 2023 10:20 h
Photo: [link]Paul Einerhand[/link], Unsplash CC0.

One of the proposals of the newly formed Spanish government is to reduce the working hours from the usual 40 to 37.5 per week.

The long-term plan of the Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, is to take one of the five days out of the working week. For the government, the measure aims to “improve the lives of Spaniards”, because “working time is vital for people, to live better, to be happier”.

The trade unions have welcomed the idea but stressed that it should go hand in hand with “collective bargaining to specify how this reduction is made in each sector”. Civil servants should be the first to try out the new timing.


Social measure or political manoeuvre?

The announcement raises the question of why the proposal is included in the government agreement as one of the strong points.

According to the national coordinator of the Spanish Biblical Graduate Groups (GBG), Jaume Llenas, “the government is trying to consolidate its electoral bases. This is the star measure to secure the left-wing vote", although he believes that “it is doubtful whether it will achieve the desired effect”.

in France, “the prime minister who approved this measure in the past, Lionel Jospin, ran in the next presidential elections and, for the first time, the Socialist Party did not even make it to the second round”, he recalls.


Working less?

The questions that arise around this proposal are whether we really need to work less, the obstacles to reconciling work and family life, and whether a reduction in working hours would help to tackle these problems.

For Llenas, in France, where since 2000 the working week has 35 hours, “job creation was small, around 350,000 new jobs, although it is not known whether that was due to the reduction in the working day or in employers' social security contributions, which was included in the law”.

Furthermore, family conciliation in France may not have improved much thoroughout the week, since “in many cases, the hours were concentrated into extra holiday days”.

Rubén García, the executive director of the company Main Memory and an elder in an evangelical church, says it would be useful to “to see what types of jobs are today working on an hourly basis”, since “now many work by objectives” with “flexible working hours and some work can be done remotely”.

That is why “there are arguments for or against reducing the working hours, it depends on the perspective you look at it from”. At García's company, “we had two hours at lunchtime. More than ten years ago we proposed to reduce it to one hour and there were a lot of problems because the usual way was to have a relaxed lunch. Today it wouldn't make sense”, he explains.

This businessman thinks that “we need a shorter working day, but a stronger commitment from both sides that implies more freedom for the employee as long as the objectives assigned to him are met”.


Family conciliation?

Reconciling family and social life and work is one of the reasons the government puts on the table. But is this really the case? “It seems to me that the pandemic has done more for work-life balance than the laws passed in the country”, says Llenas.

“The pandemic has convinced us that there are many jobs in which it is not indispensable to move to a place far away from family life. Obviously, there are sectors that require face-to-face presence, such as the hotel and catering industry, infant and primary education, waste collection, etc., but many others permit a hybrid presence, with some days at home and others in the office”, he adds.

Reconciling work and family life implies that “not all workers have the same work rhythm, but if we give them enough work and allow them to divide their time as they want, we can achieve greater involvement, happiness and identification with their work. Measure more by the result obtained than by the time spent”, points out Llenas.

García also sees flexible working hours and teleworking as an option for advancing towards conciliation.

“Many companies have special days for personal matters, beyond what is required by law, or the possibility of agreeing special conditions. Some companies have started the so-called 'unlimited holidays', where they evaluate the objectives to be achieved and the possibilities given by the rhythm of work in order to agree on holiday time. The possibilities are great if both parties agree”, he explains.


A help against absenteeism?

Another justification is the high level of absenteeism and how a possible reduction in working hours would motivate workers to avoid it.

However, García sees it as a matter of “personal attitude. Reducing the working day does not solve the problem, we must educate people in responsibility”.

Studies by private entities, such as Adecco or Randstad, indicate that in 2022 absenteeism in Spain grew to 6.8%, a record in the country only surpassed by the year of the pandemic, 2020, with 7.1%. This is the equivalent of 1.2 million workers missing work every day.

Llenas, who also dismisses a link between absenteeism and the length of the working day, points out that this practice seems to be more related to the fact that “in the labour market there is a tendency to hire fewer people than necessary and to force workers to perform more tasks than they can reasonably handle”.

“It strikes me to go to a restaurant that in another country would have three or four waiters per client, and in Spain you see only one waiter running around. In this hiring policy there are two victims, the exploited worker and the forgotten customer. We need to solve other underlying problems beyond schedules, such as filling vacancies instead of distributing the work among the rest of the workers”.


  [title]Another worldview of work is possible [/title]

 [text] A good theology of work would help much, thinks Jaume Llenas, who leads the ministry for Christian professionals GBG in Spain. There is a “wrong view of work” in general, whereby many workers spend their lives dreaming about winning the lottery or other reasons to stop working.

“It is still common to think that God punished human beings with work after the fall and that makes work something to avoid. The less you have, the better”, he says.

But there are also many who “get their value as human beings from their work, which gives them identity and purpose. This is another way of looking at work that does not have its foundation in God”.

“We are more than our work. If our achievements give us identity we are at serious risk. One day unemployment or retirement will strip us of this identity gained through our work. Work should not be idolised, nor should it be despised”, he stresses.

Llenas believes that “even when affected by sin, work is still good in itself. It is the way we manage to make a planet affected by evil and decadence habitable. It is a way of collaborating with God's purposes. It can be a way of bringing Kingdom goals closer and transforming society for the better".

“Reducing working time should not so much be the goal as achieving working hours and conditions that allow us to flourish and to serve others and society with our work. A division into three eight-hour periods may be ideal. Eight hours to sleep, eight to work and eight to take care of others and ourselves”.[/text]





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