In a bid to clamp down on the widespread practice of unpaid overtime, a law has been passed in Spain that requires all companies to keep a daily record of the working hours of their employees.

As of 13 May, every business, regardless of size, must keep track of when its workers begin and end their day. These records will be kept by companies for four years and should be accessible to the workers’ representatives, workplace inspectors and the employees themselves.

Failure to comply will be regarded as a violation of the Workers’ Statute and fines could be imposed on errant companies.

The unprecedented move was taken by the Spanish Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to “help correct the situation of precariousness, low salaries and poverty that affects many workers who suffer abuse in their working day.”

Unpaid overtime is a very real problem for Spain’s workers – according to the latest data from the Spanish Labour Force Survey (EPA), more than 2.6 million hours of work are not paid for, per week.

Indeed, almost 60% of workers in Spain don’t receive any financial remuneration for working extra hours, a study by leading workforce solutions company Adecco has found. Up to 46.4% of those surveyed said they received no other form of compensation, with 13% adding that they only get breaks by working extra hours.

But where Spain leads, will other countries follow? The Spanish unions have broadly welcomed the legislation and employment experts agree that its objectives – to undermine exploitative employers, improve productivity and ameliorate stress-related work issues – are positive.

However, the new law throws up a number of questions at a time when the work landscape is changing. A recent survey conducted by IWG – the International Workspace Group and leading global flexible workspace provider – shows that 62% of businesses worldwide currently have a flexible workspace policy (61% in Spain).

Flexible working has become the norm. In many sectors, companies are no longer dictating what a regular working day looks like; rather employees – aka ‘Generation Flex’ – are calling the shots. Their priority is a healthy work-life balance, and this affects when, where and how they want to work.

Business leaders are acknowledging that, in order to boost productivity and ultimately their companies’ success, they have to adapt accordingly. A remarkable 67% of those polled think that flexibility can improve the productivity of their business by at least a fifth.

So, with the standard 9 to 6 office job being replaced by flexible hours and workspace solutions, how does such a rigid system of registering employees’ start and finish times actually sit? Not very well, says Philippe Jiménez, Spain’s Country Manager for IWG, who believes the measure goes against the current trends that demand greater freedom in the workplace.

Esther González Arnedo, a professor at EAE Business School, agrees: “With the digitalisation of work, there is increasing flexibility that allows boss and worker to decide how to carry out their work without needing to see each other, much less to sign in,” she told The Local newspaper.

“For companies, it could bring additional effort and investment while, for the worker, it will mean a return to a type of control that did not exist before and that reduces autonomy and flexibility.”

From a practical point of view, Spanish businesses with a flexible working policy will have to ensure they have the technology in place to keep an accurate record of employees’ hours if they’re working remotely.

It’s a move that commercial director of software company Robotics Enric Blanco believes will, in fact, offer the worker more flexibility: “It is an opportunity to implement more measures of flexibility because it allows better management of the variable days and overtime.”

Anna Ginès, a professor of Labour Law at Esade Law School concurs, arguing that the measure is indispensable in the case of flexible jobs. “The more autonomy the employee has to distribute his day, the more necessary these controls are,” she says.



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