The Catalan Parliament is drafting the Law of Time, which is devoted to tackling the social-working hours in Catalan society with the aim of improving the work-life balance, productivity and sleeping habits.“We are the only country in the world that has lunch at 3pm, dinner at 22pm and party from 12pm to 6am. It is like going to New York and coming back in one weekend,” claims Fabian Mohedano.
Fabian Mohedano is a deputy at the Catalan Parliament who has been campaigning since 2014 in favour of bringing Catalan social-working hours in line with the rest of Europe. Now, for the first time, all that campaigning is about to pay off.
The Law of Time seeks to lay down a guiding social-working time frame: working days starting between 7am to 9am and never ending later than 7pm, with a 1 hour lunch-break between noon and 1pm, and dinner time around 8pm.
Nevertheless, this sweeping clock-synchronisation will have to struggle against inefficient working habits, high unemployment rates and precarious jobs.
Ingrained inefficient working culture
There are many reasons that account for the tendency to work long hours. There is a question of mindset: “We prioritise work to our personal life, we consider normal working until late instead of devoting time to our families,”says Anna G. (40), journalist. For this reason, she considers that the Law of Time “won’t have any impact” if Catalan society don’t change its mindset.
“Presentismo”, the habit of staying in the office for long hours to be better evaluated, has also been regarded as another challenge against the settlement of European working hours: “Your colleagues approve of you better if you work extra hours,” says Albert D. (27), entrepreneur. However, José Luís G., partner at the Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira Barcelona law firm, reckons that “presentismo” is fading away: “I don’t have this feeling in my office. If people stay until late it is because of backlogs.” He adds, “It comes down to efficiency. If you finish your tasks on time, you don’t need to work extra hours.”
But sometimes it is piled-up work that explains why many people overwork, and not efficiency, the other Catalan working culture’s flaw: “If only my company contracted one backup person, I would not finish later than scheduled,” suggests Júlia F. (22), nurse, as a solution.
Fragile Catalan labour market
Actually, overwork is one of the symptoms that stems from job precariousness in Catalonia, worsened since the last 2012 Spanish labour reform approved by the Popular Party (PP). Therefore, it sounds ironic discussing a law to improve social-working conditions when 15.95% of the Catalan workforce does not even have a job.
“It is true that it may be contradictory,” recognises Fernando Sanchez, deputy of the Catalan Parliament for the PP and member of the commission in charge of drafting the Law of Time, “but creating employment requires flexible labour legislation,” he says in an attempt justify the 2012 labour reform, that now partly hinders the goals of the law.
Fabian Mohedano, though, makes clear that “the aim of the law is not improving workers’ rights,” but recovering Catalan normal social-working hours, changed in the 1960s during Franco’s dictatorship. “Someone has to take the first step, no?”