Spain: State of play regarding work–life balance and working time in companies

The economic crisis and recent labour reforms in Spain have hindered the development of policies to help employees have a better work–life balance, according to a report released in March 2015. The report, backed by the CCOO union federation, examines existing rights concerning work–life balance and working time in large Spanish companies.


The report analyses equality plans and collective agreements (in Spanish) in 56 large companies in the industrial sector in Spain. It also investigates how these companies apply work–life balance measures, particularly concerning working time. It focuses on company-level agreements, as work–life balance seems to be primarily discussed at company level. The authors also interviewed workers’ representatives in these companies to get a broader perspective for the interpretation of their analysis. The study is published by the Fundación 1º de Mayo (1st of May Foundation), a forum for critical thinking on economic, social and labour matters, set up by the Trade Union Confederation of Workers' Commissions (CCOO).

Main findings

Legislation providing for effective equality among women and men was enacted in 2007 (in Spanish). It established that large companies (those with over 250 employees) must develop an equality plan (in Spanish) which includes measures aimed at avoiding any type of gender discrimination. These plans are normally agreed and signed under the same terms as collective agreements, hence underlining the importance of social dialogue in the introduction of equality measures.

The study shows that companies with direct production lines, where employees normally work shifts, have greater difficulty in introducing measures to make working time more flexible. In these cases, classic working time regulation prevails although working time tends to be more flexible in the administrative departments of these companies. However, in companies not involved in ‘direct manufacturing’, there are some alternative, objective-linked ways of working where the employee is responsible for results and the number of hours worked is not necessarily controlled.

Labour rights concerning work-life balance and working time

Labour rights regulated by Spanish legislation are mentioned in most of the equality plans and revised collective agreements, and are applied with different degrees of intensity, participation or scope. These plans and agreements tend to offer more beneficial conditions than basic regulations. Some labour rights worth mentioning are detailed below.

  • Leave without wage loss for the worker: The Spanish Workers’ Statute sets out a number of reasons for justifying the absence of the worker from the workplace with pay,  and collective bargaining has traditionally increased the reasons for this right and has improved conditions. Equality Plans increase the number of reasons why workers can be absent from the workplace (a doctor’s appointment, for instance, or supporting a dependent person), as well as the number of days covered by this right (and the flexibility to apply this free time). An example of this is that leave days can be divided into part-time work (that is, two leave days can be taken off as four half-days).
  • Maternity leave: According to Spanish Law, the length of maternity leave before and after the birth is 16 weeks. Six weeks are obligatory and must be taken following the birth, while the remaining ten weeks can be taken before or after the birth. Thus, the start date for taking leave before the birth can vary. By law, employed mothers have the right to transfer up to 10 of their 16 paid weeks of maternity leave to the father as long as they take the obligatory six weeks' leave after giving birth. Most of the Equality Plans analysed do not show any improvement on this. There are a few agreements that increase the number of leave days, or offer the opportunity of taking this leave in part-time form, or applying flexible working time measures.
  • Paternity leave: According to Spanish law, fathers can take 13 days paternity leave, plus two extra days to attend their child’s birth. Again, most of the equality plans studied do not improve on this, but there are a few that increase the number of days or offer the opportunity of taking days in part-time form.
  • Breastfeeding leave: By law, breastfeeding leave consists of paid leave of one hour a day until the child is nine months old. This right is dealt with in agreements, particularly concerning how the hours of leave are distributed – if they can be accumulated and taken all at once. There is also an agreement which includes the opportunity to change shifts.
  • Working time reduction: This is said to be a traditional right in the Spanish labour market, giving a parent a reduction of between one-eighth to one-half of their working time to allow for the care of children under 12 (with an equivalent reduction of salary). This has not been changed much by collective bargaining. The extent of the reduction of the working time and its distribution are normally based on an individual agreement between employee and employer (collective agreements do not normally refer to this). Reduction of working time, generally, is a recurrent idea in the Spanish labour market for facilitating work-life balance, but has been criticised because, as it mostly affects women, it is seen as damaging to their careers. It also reduces their social security contributions.

Other working time measures

Many of the agreements which have been revised include working time flexibility formulas, which are relatively widespread in large companies. Unfortunately, there are limits to making these procedures universal. Employees working in an office can arrange working time flexibility while employees in a workshop or working on a production line tend to be tied to specific times. Many companies with flexible working time have introduced objective-based schemes. Some examples of flexible working time found in revised agreements include flexible start and finish times, and compressed or annualised hours.

Some companies also offer employees the opportunity of teleworking. This is an objective-based form of flexible work where, if the employee performs well, it is irrelevant where he/she carries out his/her job, and a strict work schedule is unnecessary. However, most agreements insist that a percentage of working time (75%–25%) is done at the employer’s premises to allow for meetings and to avoid isolation and/or disassociation from the business. This fosters new opportunities for a better work–life balance, particularly for women, allowing for professional development and favouring gender equality.


The economic situation and the labour reforms of the last few years have not helped the development of measures to improve work–life balance in Spain. The report deplores that fact that, in times of crisis, keeping a job is seen as enough of an achievement, regardless of the working conditions. It adds that many agreements are just a set of good intentions with no real bite. It also says work–life balance policies have deteriorated under the current legal framework.

However, the report concludes that it is possible to see a slight shift among large industrial companies towards relatively innovative practices, such as flexible working time and telework. This shows that working time reduction is not the only way of achieving a better work-life balance. Flexible working time measures imply new options which allow for professional development without a decrease in working hours and wages, and which promote equality.


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