Workers’ Rights in Spain

01 March 2021

Workers’ Rights in Spain

Information about workers’ rights in Spain: contracts, hours, paid time off, paid vacations, unions, dealing with problems, and other topics.

The rights of those who legally work for a company in Spain (called por cuenta ajena) are governed by the Spanish Constitution, the Workers’ Statute (Estatuto de los Trabajadores), and other laws. These rights include the right to work, the right to unionize, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, the right not to be discriminated against, the right to a safe and clean working environment, the right to be paid on time, and the right to whatever is specified in the work contract.


All workers in Spain must have a work contract that is agreed upon by both parties – the employer and the employee. However, almost all types of employment arrangements in Spain legally require a written contract. In practical terms, written contracts are much easier to enforce than verbal contracts in cases of dispute and are highly preferred. The contract at the very least must contain: mutual consent to enter into the agreement, and the work to be performed for which the worker will be paid.

Standard written contracts also include: the names and identification numbers of both the employer and the employee, the work address, the issue date of the contract, the date the employee is to begin work, the work schedule, the employee’s position, the employee’s wage or salary, and the signatures of the employee and the employer or a representative of the employer.

However, it must be said that those who cannot legally work in Spain as well as those who work at jobs that are not legally recognized (“under-the-table” workers [this includes those who can work legally but choose not to], prostitutes, etc.) are for all intents and purposes not considered to be workers in Spain and for that reason do not enjoy any workers’ rights or protections.

If you are authorized to work in Spain and have any doubt whatsoever that your employer is employing you legally (for example, is your employer making Social Security contributions on your behalf?), make sure that you and your employer have both signed a written contract (in Spanish!) that stipulates your work and pay conditions and that you were allowed to take a copy of the contract home. If your legal Spanish isn’t what it could be, have a bilingual lawyer or a trusted friend look at the contract. You can also talk to your union representative about your concerns. (You can join a union on your own if your company does not have one.)

The most common types of contracts in Spain include:

  • The unlimited duration contract (contrato por tiempo indefinido): This is the gold standard of contracts since it offers the most protections and security for the employee. Unfortunately, it is not as common a contract now as it was in the past. With this contract, if you are fired without just cause, you are entitled to financial compensation – 45 days’ salary for each year worked.
  • The fixed duration contract or temporary contract (contrato de duración determinada or contrato temporal): This type of contract is used when the worker is to complete a particular job or provide a certain service for the company (a construction worker on a building project, for example, and not a self-employed worker). In other cases, this contract is for a maximum of six months within a 12-month period. However, if in a period of 30 months a worker has had two or more temporary contracts totaling at least 24 of those months performing the same job at the same company, the worker has the right to be “upgraded” to an unlimited duration contract with that employer.
  • The internship contract (contrato formativo or contrato de trabajo en prácticas): In theory, this contract is for recent graduates to gain experience in the workplace, but it has been abused by employers in recent years. Internship contracts are for a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years in duration, and are for those who graduated up to a maximum of four years ago. Salaries cannot be less than 60% in the first year or less than 75% in the second year compared to what a regular employee (aka one on an unlimited duration contract) would receive doing the same job.

Contracts can also be full-time or part-time agreements; however, part-time workers are not allowed to work overtime.

If the terms of the contract should change, the contract should be amended to reflect the new conditions and state an “in effect as of” date.


Under normal conditions, an employee must not work more than 40 hours per week or more than nine hours in one day, and there must be at least 12 hours between one shift and the next. In addition, workers must have at least one and a half days off each week. If an employee works overtime (horas extraordinarias), the employee must not work more than 80 overtime hours per year.

Paid Time Off and Vacations

Workers in Spain have the right to paid time off in the following cases:

  • Marriage (15 calendar days off)
  • Birth or death of family members (two days off)
  • Moving (one day off)
  • Medical appointments for expectant mothers during work hours

Workers also have the right to at least 30 calendar days of paid vacation per year.


The two major labor union federations in Spain are the CC.OO. (Workers’ Commissions or Comisiones Obreras), with more than 1.2 million members, and the UGT (Workers’ General Union or Unión General de Trabajadores), with more than 800,000 members. The member unions and groups are organized according to geography and profession. The UGT and CC.OO. both represent workers and employees in labor disputes, but they also work to advance the interests of workers and act as a labor lobby on the national political stage.

Dealing with Problems

If you have a problem at work or with your working conditions, you (or your union) should first talk to your employer and see if the situation can be resolved. If a satisfactory resolution cannot be reached, then, apart from union action, you have options: mediation and the labor courts (tribunales laborales). You should seek legal advice (on your own or through your union) if you plan to go down either of these routes. Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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