When Christmas boxes become compulsory

A shop assistant prepares a traditional Christmas box.
A shop assistant prepares a traditional Christmas box. / R. C.
  • Fujitsu's 1,600 employees have won the right for the practice to be reinstated, and will receive compensation

The practice of employers giving Christmas boxes to their staff began many years ago in Spain, at a time when there was no Social Security system and most of the population was so poor that company owners used to give a small box containing turrón to their workers so they could enjoy Christmas. The tradition has continued in many firms, although nowadays "some people consider it outdated and paternalist and would prefer a salary increase instead", says Esther González, of the EAE Business School.

Esther says Spain is the only country in Europe where the tradition of a Christmas box has not been considered a type of payment but a "detail" provided by companies to their employees, but after recent sentences from the Supreme Court "employers will think twice".

For some workers, their Christmas boxes have become a battle which they have taken to the courts. The Supreme Court considers them to be a right which is acquired by the workers over time and says companies cannot discontinue them if they have been providing them for many years. Since the unions first started to demand their reinstatement when the country came out of the economic crisis, the court has nearly always found in favour of the employees.

The most recent case is that of the workers at Fujitsu. The Supreme Court has just confirmed the right of the company's 1,600 workers in Spain to receive the Christmas box from 2016 onwards, in other words this year they were each due to receive three boxes or one to the same value. The staff were told they were also entitled to an additional sum to compensate for the delays.

In this particular case, the court told Fujitsu that by providing the boxes for so many years, they had became a "beneficial condition" of the employment contract.

The company said that in 2013 the unions had agreed to the practice being discontinued as part of a plan to reduce costs, but then in 2014 they demanded the Christmas boxes again.

It was proven to the court's satisfaction that Fujitsu had provided such boxes to all its employees from the time the firm started up in Spain nearly 50 years ago until 2012, apart from 1997 when the workers received a gift voucher instead. This, said the Supreme Court, made it one of the terms and conditions of the employment contract.

This does not mean the same criteria will apply in all cases, because sometimes it is not deemed to be a right acquired by workers but a gesture by a company, so every case has to be considered individually and the decision could be different. This year there have been five cases of this type and four of them found in favour of the workers.