MILAN – Companies in Spain do not not have to pay workers for coffee and cigarette breaks, a Spanish court has ruled enraging the country’s largest labour union. The decision from the National Court, or theAudiencia Nacional, came down last December, but is only attracting attention now, after the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) union reportedly vowed to appeal it.
The court established that coffee, cigarettes or breakfast breaks were not vested rights during the working hours of the employees.
It is a very common habit for Spain employees to have a coffee break of at least 15 minutes between 10.00-12.00 in the morning.
At the heart of the dispute is a change made last year to Spanish labour laws. The government now requires many companies to keep track of employees’ hours worked.
Unions have backed the law, believing it will put an end to the unpaid overtime that they say adds up to the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of full-time jobs each year.
Following the new regulation, Galp Energia, a Portuguese energy firm that has significant assets in Spain, demanded, as of September last year, that its Spanish employees sign a register whenever they take a break for coffee or a cigarette, breaks that will not be counted as working time.
The court validated Galp’s new system, which will not pay employee breaks or overtime that is not approved.
Audiencia Nacional, one of the highest Spanish courts, gave no reason to the Galp Energia Spain workers’ committee, which challenged the company’s new guidelines, communicated to employees via email,.
Mari Cruz Vicente, the union leader of the Union of Workers’ Committees (CCOO), has announced that advocates are challenging the court’s decision because they consider it illegal.
According to the unions, the decision was made unilaterally, and no consultation with the employee side had preceded it.