Working time in the European Union: Spain

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 15 November 2009

Ikei Research & Consultancy

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

Spanish employees work on average 38.5 hours, where the predominant working time pattern can be defined as a standard five days a week from Monday to Friday, full time and not involved in shift working, although the proportion of Spanish people carrying out non-standard work arrangements is slightly higher than the EU-27 average. From an evolutive perspective, the number of working hours has reduced and the amount of part-time jobs has increased. Beyond the workplace, the organisation of working time is a key element for the conciliation of work and personal life and, thus, several initiatives have been pursued in the field of work-life balance. All in all, the average labour flexibility in Spain is below the EU-27, therefore work-life balance is still a challenge in Spain and part of the current social agenda.

This national contribution on working time has been based on a questionnaire that has been made for all member states plus Norway. The national contributions collects data inter alia from; firstly the EU Labour Force Survey which covers average hours worked by men and women employees both overall and in part-time and full-time jobs, the proportion of men and women in part-time jobs and the relative number of men and women employed under different arrangements as regards working time. Secondly, from the Fourth European Working Conditions Survey conducted by the European Foundation which covers other aspects of working time, including the number of days worked per week, evening, night and weekend working, the organisation of working time, the proportion of people with second jobs, the time spent commuting as well as on unpaid work.

These data are intended to form the basis of the replies to the questions asked but other relevant data have been used where available to supplement these.

Duration of work

According to the Eurostat Labour Force Survey, Spain is one of the European countries with the longest working hours, both annually (1,635 hours in the year 2006) and on a weekly basis (38.4 hours), above the EU-27 average (36.8 hours per week). In any case, Spanish employees are working fewer hours than five years ago, as the weekly average was 38.7 hours in the year 2001. On the other hand, 16.6% of Spanish employees carry out long-working hours (more than 48 hours per week), similarly to the proportion of employees in the whole EU-27 (16.9%). According to the 2006 Spanish Labour Force Survey, the sectors where more employees spend long working hours are Commerce and Repairing (17.2%) and Construction (15.4%).

The 5-day working week is the standard pattern in Spain (alleged by the 64.4% of surveyed employees in the 2005 EWCS), as well as in the whole EU-27 (which registers an average percentage of 64.5%). In addition, many more employees in Spain work 6 days per week (26.3%) than the average proportion in the EU-27 (15.7%), probably due to a higher presence of agricultural activities in Spain (HORECA, Commerce, and so on). On the whole, the average satisfaction rate of Spanish employees with their working time reaches 6.9 points (in a scale from 0 to 10 points in the 2004 Survey on Quality of Life at Workplace).

On the other hand, the relative weight of part-time jobs within the Spanish labour market has grown from 8.0% in the year 2001 up to 12.0% in 2006, although this is still one of the lowest percentages in Europe (the EU-27 average has grown from 16.2% in 2001 to 17.9% in 2006). Differences are also visible by gender, as a higher proportion of Spanish female workers has part-time jobs (16.8% in the year 2001 and 22.2% in 2006) compared to that of male workers (2.8% in 2001 and 4.3% in 2006). The increase in the amount of part-time jobs during the last years might be partially explained by the recent need of combining a professional activity while attending personal needs, as well as an increasing need of more flexibility by enterprises.

Evolution of working time in Spain and EU-27, 2001-2006
  2001 2006
Spain UE-27 Spain UE-27
Full-time employees (%) 92.0 83.4 88.0 81.0
Men 97.2 94.4 95.7 93.2
Women 83.2 71.1 76.8 68.8
Part-time employees (%) 8.0 16.2 12.0 17.9
Men 2.8 5.6 4.3 6.8
Women 16.8 28.9 23.2 31.2
Average weekly hours (h.) 38.7 37.1 38.4 36.8
Annual hours worked (h.) 1,683 - 1,635 -

Source: EU-Labour Force Survey and Spanish Labour Force Survey

With respect to the distinction by professional situation, and according to the 2006 Spanish Labour Force Survey, the collective of self-employed workers have longer working hours (43.7 hours on a weekly average) than the collective of employees (37.5 hours). Regarding the employees, people who belong to the private sector work slightly more hours (37.9 hours/week) than those in the public sector (35.3 hours/week). By gender, men spend more hours working per week than women do. Interestingly though, female employees of the public sector have longer working hours than those of the private sector (probably due to the higher proportion of women working part-time jobs in private enterprises), whereas male employees work more hours when belonging to the private sector.

Average weekly hours worked in Spain by gender and professional situation, 2006
  TOTAL Occupied Self-employed Employees
Total Public sector Private sector
TOTAL 38.5 43.7 37.5 35.3 37.9
Women 34.7 38.8 34.0 34.0 29.4
Men 41.2 45.9 40.0 36.8 40.6

Source: Spanish Labour Force Survey

One of the traditional concerns of trade unions in the field of working time for collective bargaining has been a claim for shorter working hours with the aim of achieving a better distribution between work and other life aspects, creating sustainable employment and improving workers’ quality of life. In fact, according to one of the two main trade unions in Spain (the so-called General Union of Workers - UGT), two out of ten workers have worked less in 2006 than the previous year (in particular, one hour and a half less than the year before), affecting 22% of the collective agreements and being more intensive in the private sector.

Nowadays, however, both public authorities and trade unions are increasingly paying attention to the issue of work-family conciliation (see ES0705029I). Thus, reducing working hours is no longer the central subject in collective agreements, where the new feature is negotiating more flexible working time in exchange for employment guarantees and stability. From the employers’ perspective, companies are becoming increasingly aware of the positive effects of this flexibility on their workers’ productivity derived from both a positive corporate image and a satisfied workforce. This does not necessarily imply a reduction in the number of hours worked, as often believed by employers, but a more flexible and efficient use of available resources. This is also the point argued by both the National Commission for the Rationalisation of Spanish Working Time (in Spanish, Comisión Nacional para la Racionalización de los Horarios Españoles y su Normalización con los de los países de la UE) and the Spanish Association for the Rationalisation of Working Time (in Spanish, Asociación para la Racionalización de los Horarios Españoles - ARHOE).

Work schedules

Before analysing non-standard work arrangements, it is worth reminding that the prevailing working time norm in Spain is the standard full-time working day, five days a week with an average of 38.5 weekly working hours and no shift working. Notwithstanding this, half of the Spanish employees work in the evenings (slightly above the 46.8% of the EU-27). In fact, 35% work more than 5 evenings per month according to the 2005 EWCS. Besides, a 20.3% of Spanish workers carry out their jobs at night more than once per month, which is above the average of other countries such as Italy (15.4%), France (16.5%) or Germany (17.7%). The proportion of workers who devote more than five nights per month to their job accounts to 11.1% in Spain and 10.5% in the EU-27.

By sectors of activity, and regarding the 2004 National Survey on Quality of Life at Workplace, night work is more frequent in Fishing (55.3% of employees from that sector), HORECA (46.6%), Extractive Industries (45.4%), and Health and Social Services (38.1%). Contrarily, night working schedules are hardly present in Education (7.9%), Construction (6.8%) and Financial Intermediation (6.8%).

Distribution of workers according to the number of evenings and nights worked in Spain and EU-27, 2005
  Evenings worked per month (%) Nights worked per month (%)
Spain EU-27 Spain EU-27
None 50.7 53.2 79.7 79.3
1-5 14.3 19.3 9.2 10.2
> 5 35.0 27.6 11.1 10.5

Source: 4th EWCS (European Working Conditions Survey)

Comparing with the European average, a lower proportion of Spanish workers carry out their professional activities either on Saturdays or Sundays. In particular, 49.8% of Spanish employees work at least one Saturday per month, whereas the EU-27 average reaches 53.5%; likewise, 23.0% of Spanish workers dedicate at least one Sunday per month to their job but this percentage rises to 32.9% in the whole EU-27. Besides, the National Survey on Quality of Life at Workplace shows that people who work at weekends in Spain (68.8% in 2004) mainly concentrate on sectors such as Fishing, Manufacturing, HORECA, Health and Social Services and Public Administration.

Distribution of workers according to the number of Saturdays and Sundays worked in Spain and EU-27, 2005
  Saturdays worked per month (%) Sundays worked per month (%)
Spain EU-27 Spain EU-27
None 50.2 46.5 77.0 67.1
1-3 20.9 31.9 14.9 23.4
4-5 28.9 21.6 8.1 9.5

Source: 4th EWCS (European Working Conditions Survey), 2005

On the other hand, according to the 2005 EWCS Spain shows an important presence of people working shifts (22.1%), which is above the EU-27 average (18.0%) and also above the average of countries such as Italy (18.1%) or France (14.9%). Besides, Spanish workers mainly dedicate either to permanent shifts in the morning, afternoon or night (48.7% of the whole collective of people working shifts opposite to 35.9% in the EU-27), or to alternating/rotating shifts (37.9% in Spain and 53.6% in the EU-27). The relative proportion of shift working within the different sectors of activity in Spain is higher in the sectors of Health and Social Services (45.3%), Extractive Industries (25.6%), HORECA (24.8%) and Manufacturing (23.4%), as showed by the National Survey on Quality of Life at Workplace.

Distribution of Spanish and EU-27 workers according to shift working, 2005
  Spain (%) EU-27 (%)
No shift working 77.9 82.0
Shift working 22.1 18.0
Daily split shifts 8.9 5.8
Permanent shifts 48.7 35.9
Alternating / Rotating shifts 37.9 53.6
Oher 4.5 4.7

Source: 4th EWCS (European Working Conditions Survey)

Organisation of working time

The rationalisation of working time is increasingly becoming part of the Spanish social debate, referring to issues such as achieving work-life balance, improving health and life quality and increasing the productivity. However, the management and rationalisation of working time is a challenge in Spain, as many enterprises still appreciate from their employees to stay physically at their place of work and the Spanish living schedules are far from the general trend in Europe (in fact, heavy and long lunches are still the norm in many Spanish workplaces). Additionally, two barriers might be hindering an effective conciliation in Spain (see ES0612039Q): (i) a traditional social model based on a gender division of roles (Spanish women do double work, being expected to assume the family and household duties while men are mainly devoted to remunerated employment outside home); and (ii) the fear of enterprises towards work-life balance since it is still often seen as a threat for labour performance and competitiveness.

As shown by the 2005 EWCS, an average of 69.4% of Spanish employees have fixed start and finishing times, which is above the EU-27 average (61.7%) and thus fewer employees enjoy flexible working schedules in Spain. In the majority of cases the company is the one who sets working time arrangements with no possibility of changes (according to the 79.4% of Spanish employees against 67.9% of the EU-27 average). The chance of choosing between several fixed schedules is possible for the 10.3% of Spanish workers (7.5% in the EU-27). Therefore, other alternatives such as the adaptation of working time (7.7%) and the own setting of working hours by employees (2.6%) are hardly developed in Spain, opposite to the EU-27 average (18.2% and 6.4% respectively).

On the other hand, 26.8% of Spanish employees have regular changes in their working schedules, below the EU-27 average (29.2%). In Spain employees are informed about these changes mainly several days in advance (8.8%), the day before (7.1%) or even the same day (6.1%), but very few are noticed several weeks in advance (3.9%).

All in all, the average level of satisfaction towards the working time flexibility is 6.5 points in a scale from 0 to 10 (reckoned in the 2004 National Survey on Quality of Life at Workplace). In this sense, variables such as the level of studies, occupation and professional situation seem to influence the consideration of employees towards flexibility. In particular, the satisfaction rate is slightly higher amongst those employees with upper studies (6.5 points for workers with university studies, opposite to the average 6.0 points for workers with primary studies). Likewise, employees of the public sector are more satisfied with their working time flexibility (6.7 points) than those from the private sector (6.3 points). As far as the occupation of workers is concerned, people with higher ranking are more likely to have greater flexibility regarding their working time, as shown by the higher level of satisfaction of the collective of managers and technicians towards this issue, in contrast to other categories.

Distribution of workers according to working time arrangements in Spain and EU-27, 2005
  Spain (%) EU-27 (%)
Fixed start and finishing times 69.4 61.7
How are the working time arrangements set
Set by the company 79.4 67.9
Possible to choose between several fixed working schedules 10.3 7.5
Possible to adapt working hours within certain limits 7.7 18.2
Entirely determined by the employee 2.6 6.4

Source: 4th EWCS (European Working Conditions Survey)

There has been a prolonged process of agreement amongst social partners in the field of labour flexibility and, as a result, a number of measures have been put in practice (see ES0703019Q), such as the accumulation of the leave for breastfeeding, fewer requirements for taking time off for family care, adding holiday and maternity leave periods, discontinuous use of time off for illnesses and hospitalisation, the extension of the number of hours/days of leave and so on. Some of the actions pursued include the IV Plan for the Equality between Men and Women 2003-2006, the 2005 White Paper on working time structure in Spain, the 2006 Concilia Plan in Public Administrations, the 2007 Organic Law for the Equality of Women and Men and some policy proposals on the regulation and adaptation of working time and work flexibility in 2007. Interestingly, during 2005 and the first quarter of 2006, the Ministry of Public Administration carried out a pilot project on telework among public employees for flexibility purposes, resulting in positive evaluations about the productivity rates. As a consequence, a draft bill regulating telework in public administration has been presented.

In any case, Spanish employer and employee representative organisations have still a different understanding of work-life balance, which represents an obstacle for collective bargaining. The unions argue that harmonisation of work, family and personal life is a subject for collective regulation for the whole workforce. Meanwhile, the employers tend to understand work-life balance as a personal question to be dealt on individual basis, because of the variety of situations and family burdens.

Other working time issues

The following section is intended to analyse other issues related to working time apart from the main paid job, such as the multiple job holding, commuting time or unpaid working hours. To start with, the vast majority of Spanish occupied population is dedicated to a unique remunerated job (93.6%), slightly above the EU-27 average (91.7%). The remaining people who have more than one job do it occasionally (4.2% in the case of Spain and 3.7% in the EU-27) or regularly (1.7% in Spain and 3.5% in the whole EU-27).

Distribution of workers according to the multiple job holding in Spain and EU-27, 2005
  Spain (%) EU-27 (%)
No other paid job 93.6 91.7
Yes regular 1.7 3.5
Yes occasional 4.2 3.7
Yes seasonal 0.1 0.9
Other 0.4 0.2

Source: 4th EWCS (European Working Conditions Survey)

On the other hand, travelling to and from work is turning into a matter of concern for many citizens nowadays. In fact, the 2005 European Working Conditions Survey has reckoned that Spanish workers spend an average of over 38.1 minutes every day on commuting. There is hardly qualitative information on this issue; however, it can be assumed a growing trend of commuting time in the country. According to the 2004 National Survey on Quality of Life at Workplace, one out of ten workers in Spain spends more than 45 minutes travelling between home and the workplace. This survey also complements the commuting time of workers with the size of the municipality where they live. It suggests that the bigger the municipality (probably associated with more urban than rural areas), the longer the travelling to and from work. In fact, the 54.2% of Spanish workers living in places with less than 10,000 inhabitants spend less than 15 minutes on commuting, whereas this percentage falls to 18.9% in the very big cities (more than 1,000,000 inhabitants), whose working citizens mostly spend between 16 minutes and 45 minutes travelling.

Distribution of Spanish workers according to the average commuting time by size of municipality, 2006
  TOTAL < 10,000 inhab. 10,001-50,000 inhab. 50,001-100,000 inhab. 100,001-1,000,000 inhab. > 1,000,000 inhab.
Less than 15 minutes 45.5 54.2 52.7 47.9 39.4 18.9
16 – 30 minutes 30.7 26.0 27.5 29.4 37.1 32.4
31 – 45 minutes 9.3 6.5 7.1 7.1 10.4 22.5
46 – 60 minutes 6.3 5.6 4.7 7.4 5.5 14.7
More than 1 hour 4.0 2.7 4.0 4.6 3.8 6.5
DN/NA 4.2 5.0 4.0 3.6 3.7 5.0

Source: Spanish Survey on Quality of Life at Workplace

As far as the unpaid working hours is concerned, there are clear differences by gender. In fact, the 2005 EWCS shows that the time devoted to unpaid work by female employees is bigger than that of male employees, both in Spain and the rest of Europe. Spanish women, in particular, spend an average of 25 hours a week (7 days) on different activities outside work, opposite to the 4.8 hours of men. Some of these unpaid jobs include cooking and housework (to which women are involved an average of 13.9 hours a week and men 2.8 hours), caring for children (women spend 9.5 hours and men 1.8 hours per week) and caring for elderly or disabled relatives (women dedicate 1.6 hours per week and men 0.2 hours on average). Not surprisingly, there is an important debate on the distribution of non-working related tasks in Spain.

Unpaid weekly working hours of Spanish employees by gender, 2005
  Men (hours per week) Women (hours per week)
Caring for and educating your children 1.8 9.5
Cooking and housework 2.8 13.9
Caring for elderly/disabled relatives 0.2 1.6

Source: 4th EWCS (European Working Conditions Survey)

The analysis of the composite indicators provided by EWCS shows that even if men work longer hours than women in paid employment, when unpaid working hours are combined female employees work indeed more hours than men. In particular, female employees spend an average of 64.7 hours per week working whereas male employees devote 50.9 hours per week (including commuting time, the time spent on the second job when proceeding and the hours dedicated to unpaid works). This might be related to the existing gender division of roles in the Spanish society, by which working women are expected to assume houseworks apart from their own remunerated job while men are mainly devoted to jobs outside home.

Composite working hours in Spain by gender, 2005
  Men (hours per week) Women (hours per week)
Paid working hours main job 42.8 36.6
Paid working hours second job 42.9 37.0
Commuting time 46.1 40.3
Unpaid working hours 50.9 64.7

Source: 4th EWCS (European Working Conditions Survey)

Ikei Research & Consultancy, IKEI

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