The regulation on company dining halls sets out the obligations of companies in Spain regarding the matter. Following a recent judgement, companies should revise the benefits of dining halls or meal vouchers that they offer. In the event in which the company has part-time workers who do not have two hours to have lunch or when it is requested by half of the staff, the company must enable a dining hall for its workers.
Accordingly, when the headcount of a workplace is over fifty workers, strictly speaking there exists a right to a dining hall (which implies the need of a cook and to offer menus at a discounted price). The dining hall or facilities can be located in the same facility or the immediate vicinity.
The corporate duties mentioned are not new, but have come back to the spotlight as a result of the recent judgement by the Social Chamber of the Superior Court of Justice of the Basque Country, dated 7th March 2017, which judged the collective dispute of the employees of the company INDRA SISTEMAS S.A., located in the town of Baracaldo. Coincidentally, the INDRA SISTEMAS S.A. company has already been involved in other identical collective disputes, in its work centres in A Coruna (2010) and Erandio (in 2014).
Nonetheless, the right to a dining hall in Spain is extensible to any company of any dimension or sector, which has workplaces in which part-time work exists.
The two issues analyzed in the cited judgement are:
- The validity and the application of pre-constitutional regulations on corporate duties regarding dining halls or facilities, dictated during the Civil War (The Decree of 8th June 1938 and the Development Order of 30th June of the same year).
- If it is possible to waive this obligation when the company offers premises which allow workers to bring in their food and heat it, or provides snacks, sandwiches, drinks, coffees or ready meals vending machines at a moderate price; or when a great majority of employees can move to their own homes or a restaurant in the immediate vicinity/nearby, whether via their vehicles or public transportation situated a few meters away from the offices.
The first issue dispels affirmatively. The Supreme Court case-law, which has already pronounced itself in two occasions (STS dated 26/12/2011 and 19/04/2012) and the jurisprudence of the Superior Courts of Justice (apart from the sentence that is the main subject of this article, STSJ Valencia dated 5/02/1999, Galicia dated 24/07/2006 and País Vasco dated 27/05/2014) confirm the full implementation and application of the 1938 regulation regarding the right to dining halls or facilities (respectively articles 1 and 3 of the Decree).
All the arguments opposed by the companies who have faced this type of collective dispute have been in vain. Therefore, the study of the judgements dictated so far indicates that the courts do not permit bypassing the abovementioned regulation by the current post-constitutional social context. Furthermore, the courts do not accept that an evolutionary interpretation of the abovementioned regulation should be adopted based on the policies on flexible working hours and the vending machine systems that are being implemented; neither do they agree on the fact that today it is difficult to find companies who do not have accessibility and travel facilities via transport, public or private, to restaurants or own home for lunch.
It is worth mentioning that the case-law confirms that the 1938 regulation remains in force in our historical and social time more than ever for many reasons:
- It has not been superseded (neither expressly, nor tacitly)
- It has not been substituted by the post-constitutional regulation (which could have been done given that the law developed by the Law on Labor Risk Prevention expressly refers to the requirements of company dining halls)
- When collective bargaining does not take into account the company dining hall (in which case it would displace the 1938 regulation to being a merely supplementary)
- It does not contradict the principles of our Constitution and advocates the dignity, security and health of the workers (healthy and balanced meals, reconciliation with family and personal life), co-responsibility, rest and, essentially, better working conditions.
Regarding the second debated issue in the cited judgement of the company INDRA, the TSJ in País Vasco, just like the Supreme Court over five years ago, ascertains that a company is not exempt. Even if the workers may, in a few minutes, be able to move to restaurants in the immediate vicinity –walking, with their vehicles or in public transportation-; or when the company puts at their disposal habilitated premises with chairs, tables, equipment, refrigerators, and including vending machines and microwaves.
Hence, none of the above-mentioned circumstances exempts a company from its obligations. If a dining hall is not feasible due to a lack of space, license or authorization from the ownership of the land, building or site, or for it being significantly costly, the company may substitute it by offering meal vouchers, which are a perfectly valid alternative system.
Attention should be drawn to the importance of the role of collective bargaining in regulating, according to the autonomy of the parties, the meal conditions of workers who work part-time. The collective agreement would prevail over the commented provisions and case-law.
Moreover, the non-fulfilment of the corporate obligation regarding dining halls is punishable by the Labor Authority, as a serious infringement, based on Art. 7.10 of LISOS, and entails a financial sanction of up to 6.250€.
In conclusion, the recent judgment on company dining halls in INDRA stands as a wake-up call to companies when it comes to defining the strategy regarding human resources and achieving consensus on social benefits with workers, including the regulation on company dining halls, via collective bargaining.
This article is not considered as legal advice