Living and working in the Netherlands

18 October 2017

  •   Population: 17 million (2017)
  •   Real GDP growth: 2.2% (2016)
  •   Unemployment rate: 6.0% (2016)

Data source: Eurostat

Eurofound provides research, data and analysis on a wide range of social and work-related topics. This information is largely comparative, but also offers country-specific information for each of the 28 EU Member States. Most information is available in English but some has been translated to facilitate access at national level.

Eurofound strives to strengthen the ongoing link between its own work and national policy debates and priorities related to quality of life and work. Increasingly important in this context is the Europe 2020 growth and jobs strategy launched in 2010, which has five headline targets, covering employment through to social inclusion and poverty reduction. The strategy is implemented in the context of the European Semester process – the EU's annual cycle of economic policy guidance and surveillance – which ensures that Member States keep their budgetary and economic policies in line with their EU commitments through, in part, National Reform Programmes. These programmes form the basis for the European Commission's proposals for country-specific recommendations (CSRs) for each Member State.

European Commission: The European Semester
European Commission: The European Semester - EU country-specific recommendations
European Commission: European Semester documents for Netherlands

2015 Eurofound EWCS survey results in Netherlands: 96% of people consider themselves good at their work

Survey results

Ability to choose or change
methods of work

Data source: 2015 EWCS survey

Possibility to accumulate overtime
for days off

Data source: 2013 ECS survey

Recent developments

Eurofound contacts in Netherlands

Correspondents in Netherlands

Correspondents report on topics related to developments in the countries working life and inform Eurofound’s pan-European comparative analysis. Read more

AIAS, Panteia, Epsilon Research

Eurofound governing board members from Netherlands

Eurofound's Governing Board represents the social partners and national governments of all Member States, as well as the European Commission. Read more

Roel Gans Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment

Mario Van Mierlo Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW)

Jan Kouwenberg Federation Dutch Labour Movement (FNV)

Related content

Other country-specific information may be available in certain areas on demand. Please feel free to contact your country contact at Eurofound for this or any other information at

Working life in the Netherlands


  • Author: Robbert van het Kaar
  • Institution: Consortium AIAS University of Amsterdam (UvA)/TNO

This profile describes the key characteristics of working life in the Netherlands. It aims to complement other EurWORK research, by providing the relevant background information on structures, institutions and relevant regulations regarding working life. This includes indicators, data and regulatory systems on the following aspects: actors and institutions, collective and individual employment relations, health and well-being, pay, working time, skills and training, and equality and non-discrimination at work. The profiles are updated annually.


Highlights – Working life in 2017

Highlights – Working life in 2017

Author: Wim Zwinkels, Epsilon Research
Working paper: Netherlands: Developments in working life 2017

With the general elections in March and the subsequent forming of a new government, 2017 can be characterised as a year short on policy developments. The atmosphere between employers’ organisations and trade unions has further deteriorated. Negotiations on important topics such as a social agreement, regulation of dismissal, reform of the pension system, and payment of sick and disabled persons have come to an impasse.

With discussions on rearranging social security with respect to employers' payments in the second year of sickness/disability having come to a halt in 2016, not much seems to be left of the once famous ‘polder model’ (consensus-oriented consultation between the social partners).

The flexibility of the labour market may also have led to a decline in the position of trade unions. Flexible workers (often young) do not always fully identify with the interests and attitudes of traditional employee organisations, which are generally organised around permanent employment contracts.

Usually, outcomes of negotiations and social agreements between employers’ organisation and trade unions are translated into new policy without too many changes, which is particularly relevant in an election year. This time the new government did not have to take any agreements into account, which – to a certain – degree gives them an element of freedom; although it could also create opposition from the social partners in the event of implementation of new regulations.

The case of primary education, for example, shows that employee initiatives can be a major factor in social dialogue. This could be seen as a threat to traditional trade unions because of their flexibility and use of social media. Hence a new type of trade union has emerged which, in their words, is ‘not one with a large budget to finance strikes, a glossy magazine or a head office, but one with direct communication to and participation of school teachers.’

One of the main challenges is to find a balance between flexibility and security. Several economic and technological changes require a flexible workforce on the demand side of labour. Employers do not want high dismissal costs, risks of paying wages for a period of two years in case of illness or disability, or higher contributions for disability schemes. This need for flexibility has led to a rise in fixed-term contracts and the hiring of self-employed staff.

With this, greater protection for workers is needed: reduced chances for dismissal; higher payments in case of dismissal to support workers during transition to other employers; reduction in the number of extensions of fixed-term contracts with one employer; and minimum pay and pensions for the self-employed. These developments lead to serious policy challenges: how to prevent dichotomy in the labour force with the working poor at the lower-paid end; how to combat competing on working conditions, and abuse of agency and self-employed workers; how to maintain a strong labour force when employers invest less in the skills and training of agency and self-employed workers than permanent employees.

In the Netherlands, the opportunities to move from a temporary to permanent contract with the same employer are slim. With the increase in economic growth comes the need for additional employment; mostly flexible workers and workers with a temporary or fixed-term contract. The downside is that these people might become unemployed very quickly in the event of an economic downturn, suffering the consequences of the business cycle and fluctuation of the labour market without being able to improve their employment status to a permanent contract.

Key figures

Key figures

Comparative figures on working life in the Netherlands




% (point) change







GDP per capita







Unemployment rate – total







Unemployment rate – women







Unemployment rate – men







Unemployment rate – youth







Employment rate – total







Employment rate – women







Employment rate – men







Employment rate – youth







*provisional data

Source: Eurostat - Real GDP per capita (chain linked volumes [2010], in EUR) and percentage change 2011-2016 (both based on tsdec100). Unemployment rate by sex and age - annual average, % [une_rt_a]; Employment rate by sex and age - annual average, % [lfsi_emp_a].



Economic and labour market context

Between 2011 and 2016, GDP grew 2.1%, when the EU average growth for the same period was 4.3%. Unemployment figures for all categories in 2016 remained below the EU averages and stood at 6.0%, below the EU average for that year – 8.5%. Employment rates increased slightly for all workers, especially for women (+2.1% in 2016), with total employment rates in 2016 (+79.9) well above the EU average for that year (73.0%). 

More information on:

Legal context

Employment and industrial relations are regulated mainly by law, with the exception of industrial action (for which case law is the only form of regulation). Major legislative acts are

EU directives are implemented by way of acts (for instance, on equal treatment, collective redundancies, transfer of undertakings).

As a consequence of a social pact between the government and the social partners in spring 2013, dismissal legislation has undergone major changes from 1 July 2015. A major aim of the act was to change the balance between permanent and flexible labour in favour of flexible workers. Opinions are sharply divided whether this goal will be achieved by the new legislation. Given the large and growing proportion of flexible workers in the Netherlands, this topic figures high on the agenda of all parties concerned.

With regard to individual and collective employment issues, the legal environment has been fairly stable, with one exception, the 1996 Law on flexibility and security.

There is no (direct) legislation on representation or representativeness of unions and employers’ organisations. The legal basis for representation in the tripartite Social and Economic Council can be found in the Act on the Social and Economic Council.

Industrial relations context

Since WW II, the national level has become very important in Dutch industrial relations, with the establishment of the tripartite Social and Economic Council (Sociaal Economische Raad, SER) and the bipartite Foundation of Labour (Stichting van de Arbeid, STAR).

Since 1982 (the Wassenaar agreement between government and social partners, where the employers agreed to working time reductions in exchange for wage moderation by the unions) industrial relations in the Netherlands have generally been fairly stable. Unions and employers have a strong presence at national level. The dominant level of collective bargaining is the sector. Union presence at company level is (with some exceptions) rather weak.

As in most EU countries, union density has decreased, in the Netherlands to around 18% when based on active employees. In 2004 there was a major conflict between the social partners on reform of the pension system, but relations have improved since, not least because of a common stand against the government on pension issues. In spring 2013, the social partners and the government formed a social pact on subjects such as dismissal law, the position of flexible workers and the occupational pension system. This social pact plays an important role in the legislative process on these issues (this legislation enters into force on 1 July 2015).

Collective bargaining coverage remains high (more than 80%) and has become somewhat more decentralised, especially with regard to working time issues. Strike levels remain low by international standards.

Actors and institutions

Actors and institutions

Trade unions, employers’ organisations and public institutions play a key role in the governance of the employment relationship, working conditions and industrial relations structures. They are interlocking parts in a multilevel system of governance that includes the European, national, sectoral, regional (provincial or local) and company levels. This section looks into the main actors and institutions and their role in the Netherlands.

Public authorities involved in regulating working life

In the period up to 1980, the government played a major role in the Dutch industrial relations system, especially with regard to wage setting. This picture has changed since, but the social partners carefully watch for possible intrusions by the government.

The Netherlands has a relatively well developed system of consultation of the social partners by the government. Permanent consultation takes place in the Social and Economic Council. Successive cabinets have frequently conducted social pacts, usually through the bipartite Labour Foundation.

In the 1980s and early 1990s the public authorities to a large extent pushed the social partners out of the social security system.

The main actors are the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, the Inspection SZW (the former Labour Inspectorate which is also responsible for monitoring health and safety), the abovementioned Social and Economic Council, and the board that is responsible for reintegration and employee benefits (UWV).

The SZW is responsible for the bulk of labour-related legislation, monitoring of collective agreements, social dialogue and labour-related inspection activities, including working conditions.

Actual inspection is carried out by the Inspection SZW (ISZW, the former Labour Inspectorate), which not only covers working conditions, but also social fraud, minimum wages and illegal labour.

There is no specific labour court and conflicts are decided by the ordinary courts. There is no specific mediation board for labour related issues, with one exception: the bedrijfscommissies can mediate in conflicts between employers and works councils, on a voluntary basis.


Since 1945, the representation of social partners at the national level has been very stable, with three union and three employer federations being members of the tripartite SER and the bipartite STAR. The legal basis of their representation (of more general representativeness) is limited to a 1980 Decree on membership of the SER. This Decree only establishes very broad rules on representativeness. In a legal sense, there are few conflicts on the issue of representativeness. However, falling union density has resulted in debates on the role of the unions in the collective bargaining system (including the issue of extension), and on the representativeness and status of the SER (and to a lesser extent the STAR).

More information on representativeness of the main social partner organisations can be found in Eurofound’s representativeness study of the cross-industry social partners or in Eurofound’s sectoral representativeness studies.

Trade unions

About trade union representation

In the Netherlands there are no restrictions on union membership in legislation. The level of union density is gradually declining, and (is now just below 20%), down from around 40% 30 years ago. The decrease in the past 10 years has been steady but slow.

The landscape has been more or less stable over the past decades. Union presence at the national level has been strong since WWII, and relatively weak at the company level (with some exceptions). Unions are, mainly through their membership of tripartite and bipartite bodies (including the tripartite Social and Economic Council) involved in all major social and economic issues.

An important characteristic of the Dutch system is that collective bargaining is much higher (over 80%) than trade union density (under 20%). The main reason is not so much due to the extension of collective agreements (this adds only seven percentage points to collective bargaining coverage), but through the duty of employers that are party to a collective agreement to treat organised and non-organised employees equally. This creates the well-known ‘free rider’ problem for unions: unorganised employees reap the same benefits of union activities as organised employees.

Another problem for the unions is the increase in the average age of their members. The average age is gradually increasing, and in the long run this should lead to lower density when they retire.

Trade union membership and trade union density










Trade union density in terms of active employees (%)








Statistics Netherlands. Employees 25–65 years.

Trade union membership in 1000








Statistics Netherlands. Employees 25–65 years.

Main trade union confederations and federations

The main development over the past three years has been the internal restructuring process of the largest federation FNV. The present structure is one federation, divided into 28 branches. At the same time the traditional unions (industry and services, construction, civil servants, teachers etc.) still exist. This final transformation took place at the end of 2014. It remains to be seen what the main effects of the transformation will be.

Main trade union confederations and federations

Long name


Members (2016)

Involved in collective bargaining?

Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging



Yes (through member organisations)

Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond



Yes (through member organisations)

Vakcentrale voor professionals



Yes (through member organisations)





Employers’ organisations

About employers’ representation

Every employer, or branch organisation, can become a member of one of the employer organisations. There are no specific rights or obligations deriving from legislation. Of course there may be some rights and obligations deriving from the articles of association of the employer’s association, setting rights and obligations for members and ember organisations.

There have been no important developments on the employers’ side in recent years.

Unlike the unions, Statistics Netherlands does not publish figures on employers’ organisation density, but it is estimated to be in the 80–90% range, not having changed significantly in the past 10 years.

Employers’ organisations - membership and density








Employers’ organisation density in terms of active employees






Visser (2014)

Employers’ organisation density in private sector establishments*






European Company Survey 2013

*Percentage of employees working in an establishment which is member of any employer organisation that is involved in collective bargaining.

Main employers’ organisations

The main employer organisations are VNO-NCW, MKB Nederland (SMEs) and LTO Nederland (agricultural sector). These three federations are also the ones represented in the tripartite Social and Economic Council and the bipartite Foundation of Labour.

Main employers’ organisations and confederations

Long name




Involved in collective bargaining?

Vereniging Nederlandse Ondernemers-Nederlands Christelijk Werkgeversverbond




Yes (through members and member organisations)

Koninklijke Vereniging MKB-Nederland




Yes (through members and member organisations)

Land en Tuibouworganisatie Nederland


Unclear. Claims to represent 50,000 employers, but no figures on actual members.


Yes (through members and member organisations)

Tripartite and bipartite bodies and concertation

The most important tripartite body is the Social and Economic Council (Sociaal Economische Raad, SER), consisting of one-third employee representatives (the three main union confederations), one-third employer representatives (the three main employer confederations) and one-third independent members, appointed by the government. The SER is the main advisory body for the government on all major socio-economic issues. Consultations take the form of a request for advice. Many of these consultations of the SER are unanimous, reflecting consensus on the side of the social partners. Several outcomes of consultations have formed the basis of labour legislation. Important examples are the consultation on flexicurity (1996) and working time (2007).

Mention should be made of the bipartite Foundation of Labour (Stichting van de Arbeid, (STAR), with an equal number of members from the social partner federations. On several occasions, the STAR and the government negotiated so-called social pacts, which may form the basis of labour legislation. The most recent example is the 2013 social pact, which has resulted in new legislation on dismissals and on flexible contracts, entering into force on 1 July 2015.

Main tripartite and bipartite bodies




Issues covered

Sociaal Economische Raad



Broad – all major socio-economic issues

Stichting van de Arbeid



All major labour and socio-economic related issues

Workplace-level employee representation

The main form of employee representation in Dutch enterprises is the works council (ondernemingsraad). This is a body, made up solely of employees' representatives, which must be set up in enterprises with more than 50 employees and has extensive information and consultation rights and some decision-making powers. In enterprises with between 10 and 50 employees, a personnel delegation (personeelsvertegenwoordiging) with less extensive information and consultation rights may be set up voluntarily by the employer and must be set up at the request of a majority of the workforce.

In enterprises with 10 to 50 employees, in the absence of either body, the employer must hold a twice-yearly meeting of employees, at which any employee may express their opinion, and the employer must: present the company accounts; provide information on the general situation of the company and on employment policy; and consult employees about decisions that may lead to job losses or to a major change in the work of at least a quarter of the workforce.

Union presence at the workplace level is relatively rare, and exists mainly in sectors which traditionally have a strong union tradition (like the metal sector and ports).

Regulation, composition and competences of the bodies




Competences of the body

Involved in company-level collective bargaining?

Thresholds/rules when they need to be/set up

Type 1 (e.g. Works council)



Information rights, consultation rights on strategic issues, right of consent on social issues. Collective bargaining: sometimes in the elaboration of framework collective agreements; sometimes full bargaining in the absence of a collective agreement.

50 employees

Type 2 (e.g. Trade union)

Collective agreement or practice

Union members

Depends on the level of the collective agreement. Elaboration of sector agreements, participation in negotiations by higher union officials


Employee representation at establishment level

In the figure, we see a comparison between Netherlands and European Union for the people with 'Establishment size : All' when asked 'Official structure of employee representation present at establishment'. For the 'Yes' answer, Netherlands's score is higher than the European Union score. For the 'No' answer, Netherlands's score is lower than the European Union score. The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: ECS 2013. Private sector establishments with more than 10 employees. Eurofound data visualisation.

Collective bargaining

Collective bargaining

Bargaining system

The dominant bargaining level in the Netherlands is the sector, with many large firms having their own company agreement. According to the ICTWSS-database, c overage in 2008–2010 stood at around 84%. There are no collective agreements in the public sector in a formal sense. There are, however, 15 subsector agreements (covering areas such as central government, local government, defence, and police), which are generally considered to be collective agreements. Many sector agreements are declared generally binding by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment for all firms in the sector. In some companies, the agreements are negotiated between the works council and the company. Examples can be found in the chemical and IT sectors, and also in several firms based in the US or Asia. More and more, sector agreements can be considered as framework agreements, which are then elaborated at company level (either by the unions or by the works council). The main pay issues remain firmly in the hands of the sector level. Since the crisis, agreements have been more difficult to conclude. The number of cases where gaps between agreements exist has increased. After the expiry of an agreement, the content remains in force if there is no new agreement.

The general trend is still somewhat towards decentralisation.

Wage bargaining coverage

Below, the figures from the ECS show the coverage of employees at different levels (first column), with 79% overall bargaining coverage. The figures from the Ministry of Social Affairs in the second column are similar for overall bargaining coverage, but show a different picture at sector level, which is dominant in the Netherlands. This is partly due to the extension mechanism, which adds some 13 percentage points to the sector level. It should also be noted that a different methodology is used by both sources (ECS allows for multiple answers, while the national source only for a single one), making a direct comparison between different levels difficult.

Collective wage bargaining coverage of employees at different levels




All levels


2013 – ECS

All, excluding national level


2013 – ECS

All levels


2015 – Statistics Netherlands

Sources: Eurofound, European Company Survey 2013 (ECS), private sector companies with establishments >10 employees (NACE B-S) – multiple answers possible. More information on methodology, see here; Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (2015), biannual report on collective agreements, single answer.

The main recent trend in collective bargaining is the rise in the duration of the bargaining rounds. Negotiations have become more difficult and therefore protracted. Sometimes there are long gaps between the expiry of the former agreement and the starting date of a new agreement. Another recent issue is the negotiation of agreements which have not been signed by the largest federation FNV. However, these trends have not results in changes in overall coverage. What should be kept in mind is the growing proportion of the self-employed, who are not covered by agreements.

Bargaining levels

The sectoral level is dominant in the Netherlands but many large companies have company agreements. With regard to working time, the situation is slightly different as for wages: in sectoral agreements there is more room for deviations in working time than in wages.

Levels of collective bargaining 2016


National level (Intersectoral)

Sectoral level

Company level



Working time


Working time


Working time

Principal or dominant level





Important but not dominant level




Existing level



At national level social partners may make recommendations to the affiliated bargaining parties, but this is increasingly less important. Links may exist between the sector level and the company level, and sector agreements increasingly have the character of framework agreements that leave some scope for deviation and elaboration at the company level, especially with regard to working time.

Timing of the bargaining rounds

Traditionally, this was in the first months of the year. However, there is really no ‘usual’ pattern anymore.


Coordination is relatively weak in the Netherlands. The federations may issue recommendations, but these are not binding. Employers are demanding less coordination, asking the unions to take more account of differences across sectors and companies. There is no pattern bargaining, although traditionally some agreements (like that in the metal sector) are considered more important than others.

Extension mechanisms

Sectoral collective agreements may be declared generally binding for a maximum of two years, or five years if they regulate joint funds (say, for pensions or training). Only certain types of provision may be made generally binding. A distinction is made between ‘normative’ (or substantive) clauses and ‘obligation’ (or procedural) clauses in collective agreements. Normative clauses regulate issues such as pay, working hours and other terms and conditions of employment, and may be extended by the minister to cover all employers and employees in the sector concerned, whether or not they are members of one of the signatory parties. Obligation clauses, on the other hand, set out the mutual rights and obligations of the contracting parties in relation to the implementation of the agreement and may not be made generally binding: an example is a ‘peace obligation’ clause.

Some companies voluntarily follow sector agreements, without being bound by those agreements.

Derogation mechanisms

Most agreements contain clauses to this effect in a general sense: firms can ask the parties to the agreement for dispensation. This used to happen only very rarely, but its use seems to have increased since the crisis. There are however no figures on the incidence of this form of derogation. In the case of extension, firms can ask the ministry for dispensation. This is not very common, and the ministry is rather restrictive in issuing exceptions.

Expiry of collective agreements

After expiry, the collective agreement remains in force, but formally only for the signatory parties. For the non-signatory parties, extended agreements in principle expire. In practice, all parties stick to the agreement until a new one enters into force. This has become more important in recent years, since the negotiation process has become more difficult and time consuming since the crisis. In several cases, there have been delays of up to two years.

Other aspects of working life addressed in collective agreements

Every year the Labour Inspectorate publishes an overview over developments in collective agreements. Next to wages and working time, the reports address other subjects which are of importance in the agreements. These include:

  • pay during sickness and unemployment: to what extend do collective agreements contain provisions on pay on top of the benefits. This is especially important in the case of sickness and disability. The employer pays at least 70% of the wage during the first two years of sickness, but in many agreements this level is raised to 100% during the first year;
  • employability and life-long learning;
  • variable pay;
  • the lowest wage scales;
  • fixed-term contracts.

Industrial action and disputes

Industrial action and disputes

Legal aspects

Trade unions (and individual employees) have the right to strike. This right is not laid down in Dutch law, but the Supreme Court has ruled that Article 6 of the Council of Europe's European Social Charter (which recognises the right of workers and employers to collective action in cases of conflicts of interest, including the right to strike) has direct effect in the Netherlands. However, case law has established that the right to strike is not without limitations. The interests of third parties should not be damaged in a disproportionate way (for example, by holding transport strikes during rush hour). Strikes and other forms of industrial action are not very frequent in the Netherlands.

The common form is the normal work stoppage, either for a very short or a longer period, followed by relay strikes (short consecutive strikes at different firms) across a sector, and support strikes (which are not very common in the Netherlands).

Many collective agreements contain clauses restricting the use of industrial action by both employers and employees during the lifetime of the agreement over issues dealt with in the agreement. These are known as ‘peace clauses’. Case law has found that a peace clause is implied even where no such provision has been expressly agreed. However, employees may take action over other issues – for example, if the employer breaches the agreement. There is no legal requirement for ballots to be held prior to industrial action being called.

Peaceful picketing is considered to be covered by the right to strike.

There is no statutory system of mediation, conciliation or arbitration in industrial disputes, although some collective agreements provide for joint dispute-resolution procedures.

Industrial action developments 2012–2016







Working days lost per 1000 employees






Number of strikes






Source: Statistics Netherlands, CBS

Dispute resolution mechanisms

Collective dispute resolution mechanisms

Some collective agreements have established boards to deal with conflicts arising on the existing agreement.

There is no official mechanism on dispute resolution, and no board. Very rarely the government has appointed mediators in protracted conflicts, but this exceptional.

Individual dispute resolution mechanisms

Some collective agreements have established boards to deal with conflicts arising on the existing agreement.

There are no special bodies with a permanent task.

Mediation may be used, but this is up to the parties to the conflict. A certification system exists for private mediators.

Individual employment relations

Individual employment relations

Individual employment relations are the relationship between the individual worker and their employer. This relationship is shaped by legal regulation and by the outcomes of social partner negotiations over the terms and conditions governing the employment relationship. This section looks into the start and termination of the employment relationship and entitlements and obligations in Netherland.

Start and termination of the employment relationship

Requirements regarding an employment contract

Employers must provide employees with a written statement of the main terms of the employment contract within one month of the start of employment, and of any changes in these terms within a month of them occurring (notification of changes is not compulsory in the case of amendments to statutory provisions or collective agreements referred to in the statement or contract). The statement must provide details of (amongst others):

  • the name and address of the employer and employee;
  • the place or places where the work is to be performed;
  • the job title or a description of the type of work to be performed;
  • the starting date of the employment;
  • the duration of the contract if it is for a fixed term;
  • the daily or weekly working hours;
  • the amount of pay and when it will be paid;
  • the duration of any probationary period;
  • the amount of holiday allowance;
  • any applicable pension scheme.

The minimum working age is 15 (although those aged 13 and 14 may do some light tasks, under supervision). For 15–18 year olds there is stricter legislation with a protective character (for instance, maximum working time, limited night work).

Dismissal and termination procedures

There are six basic procedures for terminating a contract of employment:

  • termination by mutual consent;
  • termination during the probationary period;
  • non-renewal of a fixed-term contract;
  • summary dismissal for an ‘urgent’ reason;
  • dissolution of the contract by a court; and
  • dismissal with official authorisation from the regional public employment office.

The law relating to termination of employment contracts has undergone significant change, with effect from 1 July 2015. The key changes are set out below.

If an employer and an employee agree to terminate the contract of employment by mutual consent, the employee will have two weeks in which to change his or her mind and withdraw consent.

Where an employer wishes to terminate an employment contract for business or economic reasons or for sickness absence lasting longer than two years, the employer will be required to ask the permission of the regional public employment office. If the employer wishes to terminate the contract for any other reason, it will be required to make an application to the civil court.

Where an employment contract is dissolved by the civil court, the employee will be granted the right of appeal.

The former system of redundancy payments has to a large extent been replaced by a new system of transition payments, as from 1 July 2015.

See also further information on unemployment benefit provisions in the Netherlands.

Entitlements and obligations

Parental, maternity and paternity leave

Paternity leave recently became an issue in the Netherlands. The number of days off after the birth of the child for fathers is presently very low and a bill has been introduced to increase paternity leave.

Statutory leave arrangements

Maternity leave

Maximum duration

Mothers: six weeks before and ten weeks after giving birth. Variations are possible, within limits. Fathers are entitled to two days’ paid and three days’ unpaid leave.

Leave is doubled for twins, tripled for triplets, and so on.


100% of the maximum daily wage

Who pays?

Employer and government

Legal basis

Wet Arbeid en Zorg 2001; Civil Code, Book 7

Parental leave

Maximum duration

No legal basis


For a child up to eight years old, parents can take up leave for 26 times the length of the working week for the number of hours the employee chooses.

Who pays?

Not paid, unless agreed in collective agreement. Period: maximum of six months

Legal basis

Wet Arbeid en Zorg 2001 (Act on Care and Leave)

Paternity leave

Maximum duration

Fathers are entitled to five working days’ leave after birth.


100% of the maximum daily wage

Who pays?


Legal basis

Wet Arbeid en Zorg 2001;

Civil Code, Book 7

Sick leave

Employers are obliged by law to pay employees who are absent from work due to sickness 70% of their normal wage for a maximum of two years. The wage on the basis of which the 70% figure is calculated is subject to a ceiling (€199.15 per day in January 2015). During the first year of absence, the amount of sick pay must at least equal the national minimum wage. Many collective agreements provide for higher rates of sick pay, predominantly during the first year.

An employment contract or collective agreement may provide that no sick pay is payable for the first one or two days of sickness absence, although such ‘waiting days’ may not be applied to a second incidence of sickness within four weeks of the first.

During longer-term periods of sickness absence, employers are obliged to make efforts to reintegrate the employee into the workplace, and the employer and employee must draw up a ‘recovery and reintegration plan’. If employees do not cooperate sufficiently with efforts aimed at getting them back to work, the employer may cease paying sick pay and, ultimately, dismiss the employee. After two years of sickness absence, the employer's sick pay obligation normally ends and employees are assessed by the Institute for Employee Benefit Schemes (Uitvoeringsinstituut Werknemersverzekeringen, UWV) to establish whether or not they are entitled to a state occupational disability benefit. If the UWV decides that the employer has made insufficient efforts to reintegrate the employee, it may order the employer to continue paying sick pay for up to a further year

Retirement age

From 2013 onwards, the official retirement age (for men and women) has started to gradually increase, from 65 to 66 years in 2018 and to 67 years and 3 months in 2022. Flexible/early retirement schemes will be adjusted accordingly, with some special arrangements for employees with lower incomes. A bill to speed up the rate of increase has been brought to Parliament in 2015.



Pay: For workers, the reward for work and main source of income; for employers, a cost of production and focus of bargaining and legislation. This section looks into minimum wage setting in the Netherlands and guides the reader to further material on collective wage bargaining.

Minimum wages

For employees aged 23 years and older the level of the statutory minimum wage is set at €1,551.60 gross per month, valid as from 1 January 2017. In principle, the statutory minimum wage is changed every 1 January and 1 July, based on the wage developments in collective agreements. In adverse economic circumstances, these biannual increases may be scrapped.

The statutory minimum wage of younger workers is set at a lower rate than the general statutory minimum wage (ranging from 30% for 15-year-olds to 85% for 22-year-olds). The abolition of the youth minimum wage for 21 and 22 year-old workers has been recently debated and a bill on this issue is pending. Also discussed were the advantages and disadvantages of a minimum wage for self-employed workers.

The government has also started experimenting with deviating from the statutory minimum wage for some categories of disabled employees.

The level for the minimum wage in collective agreements is usually higher than the statutory minimum wage, especially for young employees.

For more information regarding the level and development of minimum wages, please see Eurofound’s topical update on statutory minimum wages in the EU 2017 or visit Eurostat.

Working time

Working time

Working time: ‘Any period during which the worker is working, at the employer’s disposal and carrying out his activities or duties, in accordance with national laws and/or practice’ (Directive 2003/88/EC). This section briefly summarises regulation and issues regarding working time, overtime, part-time work as well as working time flexibility in the Netherlands.

Working time regulation

The limits of working time are set out in the Working Time Act. The main instruments are collective agreements. The Act allows for many deviations in collective agreements from the standard settings in the Act.

The contractual length of the weekly working time has been stable for a long time. On average, collective agreements contain a 37.5-hour working week for full-time employees. By international standards, the average working week in the Netherlands is relatively short. This can to a large extent be explained by the high incidence of part-time work. This type of work is exceptionally common in the Netherlands: almost 25% for men and over 75% for women. In 2011, 48.3% of employees worked on a part-time basis. Increasingly, collective agreements do not prescribe a certain amount of hours per week, but start from a yearly amount of hours.

In 2007, the statutory working week was changed by amending the Act on working time. The maximum amount of hours per day is 12 (60 per week). These amounts are restricted by so-called reference periods. Unlike the former regulation, there is no longer a legal difference between normal working time and overtime (but most collective agreements do make a distinction on this point).

For at least two decades, working time has not been a major issue in collective bargaining. In 2013, employers’ organisations have proposed that employees exchange their extra days of leave on top of their holidays for pay as a way to meet the demands for wage increases. This may become a bigger issue in the coming bargaining rounds.

The number of actual weekly working hours is on average somewhat higher than the collectively agreed number of hours. For an average full-time employee this would amount to a working week of almost 39 hours.

For more detailed information on working time (including annual leave, statutory and collectively agreed working time), please consult Eurofound’s report on Working time developments in the 21st century: Work duration and its regulation.

Overtime regulation

Since 2007, overtime is no longer defined or regulated in legislation. The Working Time Act only sets limits on maximum working hours, in conformity with the EU Directive on Working Time.

Most collective agreements contain provisions on overtime, granting employees extra pay for overtime, and also setting limits on the maximum number of hours.

Part-time work

Part-time work is exceptionally common in the Netherlands: 2016 figures are 22.1% for men and 74.8% for women. In 2016, some 46.6% of all employees worked on a part-time basis; these figures are well above the EU average for the same year, 18.9%. There is no legal definition of part-time work in the Netherlands, but equal treatment legislation forbids discrimination on the ground of the length of the working week. The number of hours is usually agreed in individual contracts

Persons employed part-time in the Netherlands and EU28 (% of total employment)








Total - EU28







Total – NL







Women – EU28







Women – NL







Men – EU28







Men – NL







Source: Eurostat Labour Force Survey [lfsi_pt_a] – Persons employed part-time (20 to 64 years of age) – total and by sex.

Night work

Night time is defined as work of at least one hour between 00.00 and 06.00 (article 1:7 of the working time act).

Shift work

There is no statutory definition of shift work. Definitions may occur in collective agreements.

Weekend work

There is no statutory definition of weekend work. Definitions may occur in collective agreements.

Rest and breaks

Rest is defined as non-working time (article 1:7 of the working time act). There is no statutory definition of breaks, only provisions on minimum breaks (and rest time).

Working time flexibility

Employees with at least one year's service at an employer with at least 10 employees are entitled to ask their employer for an increase or decrease in their working hours (for example, a switch to or from part-time hours). The request must be made at least four months prior to the proposed change in working hours. In principle, the employer should honour such a request unless there are important company reasons not to do so. These reasons include: problems with replacement, safety or rosters in the case of a request for reduced hours; and financial or organisational problems, or lack of work or capacity, in the case of a request for increased hours. Two years after a request has been denied, the employee is entitled to file a new request.

The figures in the table below indicate that size of establishment is not a major factor in determining working time flexibility from the viewpoint of employees.

Do you have fixed start and finishing time in your work?

In the figure, we see a comparison between Netherlands and European Union for the workers with 'Age : All' when asked 'Do you have fixed starting and finishing times in your work?'. For the 'No' answer, Netherlands's score is higher than the European Union score. For the 'Yes' answer, Netherlands's score is lower than the European Union score. Data is based on question 39d from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015). The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: European Working conditions survey 2015.

Health and well-being

Health and well-being

Maintaining health and well-being should be high-priority for workers and employers alike. Health is an asset closely associated with a person’s quality of life and longevity, as well as their ability to work. A healthy economy depends on a healthy workforce; organisations lose productivity through ill-health of their workers. This section looks into psychosocial risks and health and safety in the Netherlands.

Health and safety at work

The number of accidents at work is fairly constant, although showing a significant drop in 2009 and an increase in 2010. The number of accidents per 1000 employees has been stable over the past five years.

Accidents at work, with four days’ absence or more – working days lost









All accidents








Percentage change on previous year








Per 1,000 employees








Source: Eurostat, [hsw_mi01] and [lfsa_eegaed]

Statistics Netherlands presents figures which are not fully comparable to the Eurostat figures (but do not differ significantly. See

Psychosocial risks

Psychosocial risks are part of the general legislation on health and safety. The Inspection SZW monitors the health and safety legislation.

The general principles of health and safety law are that employers are required to ensure all aspects of their employees' health and safety and to seek an optimum level of safe working conditions, while employers and employees should cooperate in the implementation of policy in this area. On this basis, legislation lays down specific rules and measures to protect the health and safety of employees, customers and others.

Employers are required to:

  • organise work in such a way that there are no adverse consequences for employees' health and safety;
  • prevent risks and dangers as far as is possible;
  • draw up an inventory and evaluation of risks, and a strategic plan to deal with these risks;
  • inform employees appropriately about their duties and the associated risks, and the measures in place to prevent or limit these risks;
  • give employees appropriate training for their particular tasks in respect of working conditions;
  • engage the services of occupational doctors and health and safety experts;
  • adapt the workplace to the personal characteristics of the employee as far as is possible;
  • avoid or limit as much as possible monotonous work and psychological stress;
  • adapt the workplace to the needs of disabled employees.

Collective bargaining and social dialogue play an important part in the regulation of health and safety. The legislation sets ‘target regulations’ – minimum protection levels that companies must provide to their employees so that they can work safely and in a way that does not endanger their health. Employers and employee representatives at sector or company level should agree on detailed policies for achieving these target levels, with their agreements recorded in a health and safety ‘catalogue’. There is no formal monitoring of these catalogues as such, but it is part of the general monitoring task of the Inspectorate SZW.

After a peak in 2005, work intensity and long working hours have decreased somewhat as a psychosocial risk factor. Long working hours peaked in 2005, when the Dutch economy started to peak. After the crisis, discrimination decreased between 2005 and 2010; this item is high on the agenda of the cabinet and the social partners.

In 2013, the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment announced a new approach to deal with psychosocial risks. For the Labour Inspectorate, this is one of the priorities as announced in the 2014 annual programme (PDF) . In the 2015 and 2016 reports and programmes, the subject has remained high on the agenda.

Work intensity: Do you have enough time to get the job done?

In the figure, we see a comparison between Netherlands and European Union for the workers with 'Age : All' when asked 'Do you have enough time to get the job done?'. For the 'Always or most of the time' answer, Netherlands's score is lower than the European Union score. For the 'Rarely or never' answer, Netherlands's score is higher than the European Union score. For the 'Sometimes' answer, Netherlands's score is higher than the European Union score. Data is based on question 61g from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015). The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Skills, learning and employability

Skills, learning and employability

Skills are the passport to employment; the better skilled an individual, the more employable they are. Good skills also tend to secure better-quality jobs and better earnings. This section briefly summarises the Dutch system for ensuring skills and employability and looks into the extent of training.

National system for ensuring skills and employability

Workplace training in the Netherlands is predominantly voluntary, with no statutory obligation on employers to provide or finance training for their employees. The main exceptions are requirements to provide employees with health and safety training and for training works council members.

Collective agreements, primarily at sector level, play an important part in regulating continuing vocational training. Agreements deal with issues such as vocational courses, combined work/training schemes, recognition of acquired experience, educational leave, career development, language courses for non-Dutch speakers, and the identification of target groups for training. A number of agreements give employees an individual right to training. Agreements may be influenced by a set of recommendations for bargaining and policies on training issued by the bipartite Labour Foundation in 2006, which pays special attention to relations between companies and educational establishments, training in restructuring situations, equal treatment and special policies for target groups.

In many sectors, unions and employers have set up joint education and development funds to promote and finance vocational training and employability policies in companies. They also participate in sectoral Expertise Centres for Vocational Training and Employment (Kenniscentra Beroepsonderwijs Bedrijfsleven, KBBs), which oversee the training and qualifications systems in their industry.

Training and development have gained importance since 1 July 2015. According to the new Flexibility and Security Act, employers are under an obligation to offer employees the training and development required to enable them to perform their job. Training must also be offered to assist an employee obtain an alternative position if made redundant or if unable to perform his or her job. Employers may be entitled to deduct training and development costs from the new obligation to pay a transition payment to redundant employees where those costs were incurred to assist an employee obtain alternative employment.


There are no public institutions responsible for training regulation and development, with the exception of the Ministry of Education (but only in a very general sense). In recent years, successive governments have stepped up initiatives to stimulate lifelong learning. In 2012, the Social and Economic Council published advice on the issue .

In many sectors social partners have established training and education arrangements which have the status of collective agreements.

Training: Have you had any on the job training in the past years?

In the figure, we see a comparison between Netherlands and European Union for the workers with 'Age : All' when asked 'Have you had on-the-job training in the last 12 months?'. For the 'No' answer, Netherlands's score is lower than the European Union score. For the 'Yes' answer, Netherlands's score is higher than the European Union score. Data is based on question 65c from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015).The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey 2015.

More detailed figures are available from Eurofound’s European Working conditions survey.

Work organisation

Work organisation

Work organisation underpins economic and business development and has important consequences for productivity, innovation and working conditions. Eurofound research finds that some types of work organisation are associated with a better quality of work and employment. Therefore, developing or introducing different forms of work organisation are of particular interest because of the expected effect on productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of companies, as well as on workers’ working conditions. Ongoing research by Eurofound, based on EurWORK, the European Working Conditions Survey and the European Company Survey, monitors developments in work organisation,

For the Netherlands the European Company Survey 2013 shows that between 2010 and 2013 43% of establishments with 10 or more employees reported changes in the use of technology, 43.3% introduced changes in ways to coordinate and allocate the work to workers and 22.4% saw changes in their working time arrangements.

There have to our knowledge not been any major studies on this topic in recent years.

Work organisation: Are you able to choose or change your methods of work?

In the figure, we see a comparison between Netherlands and European Union for the workers with 'Age : All' when asked 'Are you able to choose or change your methods of work?'. For the 'No' answer, Netherlands's score is lower than the European Union score. For the 'Yes' answer, Netherlands's score is higher than the European Union score. Data is based on question 54b from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015).The National comparisons visualisation presents a comparative overview for the values of all answers between two selected countries.

Source: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey 2015.

More detailed figures are available from Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey.

Equality and non-discrimination at work

Equality and non-discrimination at work

There are several acts that aim to ensure equality. The umbrella act is the General Act on Equal Treatment (Algmene wet gelijke behandeling).

There are specific acts covering discrimination based on age, disability or chronic illness, and gender.

Discrimination in employment is forbidden on the following grounds:

  • sex;
  • race;
  • age;
  • disability or chronic illness;
  • marital/civil status;
  • sexual orientation;
  • religion;
  • belief;
  • political orientation;
  • nationality;
  • employment status (full-time/part-time or open-ended/fixed-term contract).

This prohibition covers many subjects, like advertisements for job vacancies, the commencement or termination of an employment relationship, terms and conditions of employment, access to education or training during or prior to employment, access to career planning and vocational guidance, promotion and working conditions.

Employees who believe that they have suffered discrimination on any of these statutory grounds may make a complaint to the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (College voor de Rechten van de Mens), the statutory body that promotes and monitors compliance with the discrimination legislation and provides advice and information. The Institute cannot impose penalties or other sanctions, and its judgements are not legally enforceable. To seek legal redress (for example in cases where an employer has not complied with an Institute judgement), employees may bring a case in the civil courts to claim damages, obtain an injunction to cease the discriminatory behaviour or, in the case of dismissal, seek compensation or reinstatement. In court cases, a judgement from the Institute has the status of an expert opinion in court proceedings.

Equal pay and gender pay gap

The main mechanism for insuring equal pay for equal work is the General Act on Equal Treatment (Algemene wet gelijke behandeling). There are no specific legislative support measures as yet. In 2015 a bill was brought to Parliament with the aim to force companies to explain a possible pay gap, and the measures taken in regard to this gap.

The most recent research report (in Dutch, 464 KB PDF) is from 2014. The figures show that the gap is especially persistent in the private sector, and seems to be decreasing in the public sector.

Unadjusted pay gap


Public sector

Private sector
















Adjusted pay gap


Public sector

Private sector
















In 2014, the tripartite Social and Economic Council published unanimous advice on combating discrimination with regard to labour, including pay discrimination. A growing number of collective agreements contain provisions against discrimination. An example is the 2011-2012 agreement for ABNAMRO bank (in Dutch, 464 KB PDF) or a more recent agreement in the agricultural sector (in Dutch, 594 KB PDF).

Quota regulations

Dutch company law (Book 2 of the Civil Code, articles 166 and 276) states that larger companies should strive to have at least 30% women and 30% men on both the executive and the supervisory boards. This is a ‘comply or explain’ rule (soft law) and there are no sanctions when companies do not comply.

In the 2013 Social Pact, the social partners have agreed to create 125,000 jobs for people that are not able to earn the minimum wage (in practice, disabled employees) by 2026. The schedule for the private sector is 4,000 jobs in 2014, 5, 000 in 2015, with the target increasing every year by 1,000 until reaching 10,000 a year in 2020. From then until 2026, the goal is to create 10,000 such jobs a year, reaching the total goal of 100,000 new jobs for this group in the private sector in 2026. The aim of the government sector is 2,500 jobs every year, until the total goal of 25,000 new jobs is reached in 2026.

A bill has been introduced that will result in fines for employers (€5,000 for every job not created) that do not reach the goal. The legislation came into force on 1 May 2015.



Ministerie van Sociale Zaken en Werkgelegenheid (2016), CAO-Afspraken 2015, The Hague.

TNO (2015), Werkgevers enquête arbeid 2014, Leiden.

TNO (2016), Nationale enquête arbeidsomstandigheden 2015, Leiden.

Slooten, J.M. van, Vegter, M.S.A. and Verhulp, E. (2016), Tekst en Commentaar Arbeidsrecht, Kluwer, Deventer.

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