Part-time employment: a new feature of the Spanish labour market

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The 1994 labour market reform led to a spectacular increase in part-time employment contracts, which had hardly been used in Spain before that time. This feature describes this development and points out the main characteristics of the workers employed under these contracts, who are mainly women.

According to figures from the EPA (Encuesta de Población Activa, or Survey of the Working Population), 6% of the working population had a part-time job in 1992. By 1995, only a year after the measures introduced in the 1994 labour market reform, this figure had risen to 10%. As can be seen in the table below, this increase affected largely female workers, a trend that was fairly clear before the reform but seems to have been reinforced by it.

Percentage of men and women working part-time
1992 1995
. Source: EPA .
Women 14% 17%
Men 2% 3%

The table reveals that before the reform only 2% of men worked part time whereas 14% of women did. One year after the reform, 17% of women were in part-time employment, whereas the number of men had increased only to 3%. As in other southern European countries, part-time employment was practically unknown in Spain until the 1990s, and in fact there were even fewer women in part-time employment than men. The 1987 EPA recorded that 4.2% of female wage-earners and 5.8% of male wage-earners were working part time.

Part-time employment and the 1994 labour market reform

Part-time contracts played a crucial role in achieving one of the priority objectives of the 1994 reform, - promoting greater flexibility in companies. Under current regulations, these contracts are a useful means for making the management and organisation of production more flexible.

This was possible thanks to the introduction of an amended definition of part-time work. Article 12.1 of the 1980 Workers' Statute had laid down that a part-time worker was one who worked less than two-thirds of normal contractual hours. The 1994 reform removed this threshold, so that part-timers are now defined as those who work any number of hours less than the normal contract. In addition, it permits the calculation of hours on an annual basis. The boundaries between full- and part-time employment have thus become less clear.

The reform also had a further immediate effect: the removal of the "fixed-discontinuous" (fijo discontinuo) contracts that were widely used in retail, cleaning services and catering. These contracts were of open-ended duration and covered activities that were intermittent, discontinuous or cyclical - for example, cleaning staff in hotels who worked over the summer. These activities, dominated by female labour, are now categorised as part-time. Hence, the sectors noted above now have the largest proportion of part-time workers.

In response to such trends, the principal trade unions have protested that these contracts lead to the erosion of social protection and the risk of sexual discrimination. The social status of part-time and full-time work is not the same, as is recognised in the studies of this type of employment that were carried out in the 1990s.

The social partners and part-time employment

The impact of part-time contracts has been so great amongst women that CC.OO (Comisiones Obreras, or Workers' Commissions), and UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores, or General Workers' Confederation) asked the tripartite CES (Social and Economic Council, orConsejo Económico y Social) to draw up a report entitled El trabajo a tiempo parcial ("Part-time employment"). It was published in September 1996, and a summary issued by CC.OO and UGT.

According to the CES report, the increase in part-time employment amongst Spanish women has been so spectacular that, at present, part-time employment is carried out by women in between 75%-80% of cases. This proportion was already predictable following the first assessments of the reform carried out by CC.OO six months after its implementation.

In these preliminary assessments, the trade unions announced that during the initial phase over 60% of part-time contracts were taken up by women. They also stated that it was a cause for concern that a quarter of these contracts were for 11 hours 30 minutes per week, which is below the legal minimum (12 hours) required in order to obtain social protection as a worker.

The undeniable success of part-time employment amongst women, however, does not seem to follow the same patterns elsewhere in Europe where it is far more common. In these countries, the overwhelming predominance of women in part-time employment tends to be attributed to the fact that it is the option preferred by women, since it allows them to combine a job with housework and the family.

The profile of the part-time wage-earner

According to the CES report, which was based on data derived from the EPA, most part-time workers are not women at the peak of their childbearing age. Most are married women over 30 years of age, with children over six years old. Many of them are over 45 years of age. They also have a low level of education and find employment in the least skilled sectors, mainly domestic, retail and catering. The impact of the 1994 reform can also be appreciated in the recent appearance of part-time employment amongst women with a higher level of education. This trend is particularly noticeable in the greater number of these contracts in more skilled sectors like health and education.

However, both in these sectors and in the less skilled ones, the childbirth factor does not seem to satisfy the hypothesis that relates female part-time employment to the desire to combine a job with housework and the family. Thus, having children under two years of age does not indicate a greater tendency to part-time employment.

As shown by the figures, male part-time employment is less significant and follows different patterns to female part-time employment. In general, according to the data in the CES report, male part-time workers tend to be young. Also, the higher the level of education and qualification, the greater is the tendency towards part-time employment.

Union proposals on part-time employment

The CC.OO's Confederal Secretariat for Women (Secretaria Confederal de la Mujer) released a short publication on part-time employment in October 1996. It contains a summary of the CES report and the proposals submitted by CC.OO and UGT to the Working Commission of the CES for inclusion in collective bargaining. These proposals had been left out of the CES report because of the refusal of the employers' confederation to accept them.

The trade union summary presents the first analyses of the differences in male and female part-time employment resulting from the reform. Male part-time employment corresponds to a period of transition between studies, first job and professional stability. Female part-time employment corresponds more to the situation of women returning to work after bringing up children. Both their lack of qualifications and their greater age means that they remain in part-time employment for longer periods.

These differences in the quality of contracts between men and women are aggravated by two other factors that form part of the general framework of the current Spanish labour market: firstly, like temporary jobs, part-time jobs are clearly linked to lower levels of skill; and secondly, the private sector has a greater proportion of part-time employment than the public sector.

Income is again a discriminatory factor for women. Both the CES report and the trade union summary show a great difference between the hourly wages of men and women. Despite the lower quality of the data used, since the EPA has no data on income, these initial analyses show that whereas the net hourly income of women in all types of employment is approximately 80% of that of men, in part-time employment it is only 44%.

The reasons for part-time employment

The reason why people work part time is probably the clearest indicator of the differences between the working conditions of men and women, and shows that in Spain there is greater diversity than in the rest of Europe.

Commentators point out that in Europe there is a great discrepancy between the rate of voluntary acceptance by men and women of part-time work. Some 33.3% of male part-time workers and 65.2% of female part-time workers did not want a full-time job (EUROSTAT, 1992), and this was also the main reason quoted by both groups for taking part-time employment.

The Spanish figures derived from the EPA, however, are quite different. Only 2.5% of men and 3.6% of women state that they do not want a full-time job. The degree of voluntary part-time employment is thus very low, and the main factor for both men and women in working part time is the type of activity rather than personal choice.


In Spain there has been a strong growth in part-time work and there is a predominance of female workers involved. Although this brings Spain further into line with the rest of Europe, it is a less positive development than in other matters. The analyses carried out in the EU have pointed out the low social status of part-time employment and the risk of a decrease in social protection for the wage-earning population. Some critics have even maintained that this is a case of specific discrimination against women rather than a mere question of hours of work.

Moreover, many people are demanding a reduction in working hours as a solution to the current unemployment crisis. Part-time employment is a way to achieve this reduction, provided that it does not discriminate against women as it has done so far, and that, as stated in the proposals of the Spanish trade unions, it is able to match business activity with the aspirations of male and female workers. (Teresa Torns, QUIT)

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