Business 07/10/2021

Desigual staff choose four-day week and 6.5% pay cut

Workers opposed to the measure may request a termination of the contract

2 min
A Desigual shop

BarcelonaCatalan fashion company Desigual will be the first in the sector in Spain to implement a four-day working week (Monday to Thursday) and have three days off at its headquarters located in Barcelona. In exchange, workers will take a 6.5% pay cut. The measure has been approved by 86% of workers on Thursday in a vote that was carried out at its headquarters. To approve the measure, the company – which last year saw its turnover plummet by 39% and closed the year with losses of €83m – had stipulated that it would require the consensus of at least two thirds of the workforce.

Some 500 employees will therefore reduce their working hours from the current 39.5 hours to 34 hours. In addition, they will be allowed to work from home on one of these four days. This reduction means working 13% fewer hours per week, but salaries will only decrease by half of that, with the company absorbing the rest. "It is a shared effort," says the director of human resources, Coral Alcaraz, who denies that the initiative aims to reduce costs. That is what union UGT and some workers denounce, who claim that the whole process has been opaque and that the company has only campaigned in favour of the reduction. "We do not know if it will mean savings for the company," Alcaraz says, because it may be the case that some departments will have to take on new staff, and offices will remain open on Fridays.

Workers who do not agree with the reduction in working hours and salary, as specified in the internal document sent to the staff and which ARA has had access to, may request a termination of contract. "There is a legal mechanism in which the employee can request this termination and which provides for 20 days' compensation per year worked [at the company] with maximum compensation capped at nine months' salary," the head of human resources explains. This point, however, is called into question by legal expert in labour law Robert Gutiérrez. "The Workers' Statute makes it clear that a full-time contract can only be converted into a part-time if there is consent from the employee, and it may not be imposed unilaterally or as a result of a substantial change in working conditions," he says. "Therefore, the worker can refuse and challenge the measure," he adds.

UGT's doubts

The proposal came from the founder of Desigual himself, Thomas Meyer. As the company has no union representation, a committee of employees was created to organise the vote, as, the company claims, required by the Workers' Statute. This is brought into question by union UGT, which will take the case to the Labour Inspectorate, and which states that the modification of contractual conditions must be preceded by a period of consultation, as established by Article 41 of the Workers' Statute, "so that, once the representative committee is constituted, it is in this forum where the measure that the company intends to implement collectively is actually negotiated with the workforce".

In this sense, several workers consulted by ARA explain that the commission's work was to resolve doubts but at no time to discuss the measure. The staff received notification from the company today on what their new payslips would be, and the measure will come into force tomorrow.

"We knew it was a risky proposal and it could generate doubts, but we are totally convinced that it will contribute to improving the balance between personal and professional life" of staff, said Alberto Ojinaga, general manager of Desigual, in a statement shortly after the results of the vote were made public.