Self-employed workers join Social and Economic Council

In March 2010, self-employed workers secured a seat on the Social and Economic Council, the government’s permanent advisory body. The Platform for Self-Employed Workers (PZO) will occupy one of the employers’ seats, providing a voice for 650,000 self-employed workers. PZO aims to ease the annual working hours regulation with which self-employed workers must comply for tax benefits. It also aims to simplify contracting regulations in the public sector.

In March 2010, self-employed workers without staff (zelfstandigen zonder personeel, ZZP) – known as ZZP’ers – secured a seat on the Social and Economic Council (Sociaal-Economische Raad, SER). The government’s permanent advisory body, which includes employee and employer representatives as well as independent members appointed by the Crown, has thus taken a historic step. The Chair of the Platform for Self-Employed Workers (Platform Zelfstandige Ondernemers, PZO), Esther Raats-Coster, will occupy this seat for ZZP’ers. While the seat is not yet permanent, the necessary legislation will certainly be forthcoming since the Dutch House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal) pushed for its establishment.

With a membership base of 20,000 workers, PZO is the largest organisation representing ZZP’ers. Along with other organisations for self-employed people, PZO will be a voice for some 650,000 ZZP’ers, who now represent 9% of the national workforce; their numbers have grown by 33% over a 10-year period. PZO was established in 2002 and operates from within the premises of the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (Vereniging van Nederlandse Ondernemingen-Nederlands Christelijk Werkgeversverbond, VNO-NCW).

Employers give up a seat

VNO-NCW has given up one of its seats in favour of PZO, which is considered more as an employer organisation than an employee organisation. According to PZO, VNO-NCW made a smart and strategic move. Seats within the SER are now balanced equally at 11 each for both employers and employees. PZO finds it regrettable that the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) is not prepared to do the same; it believes that FNV has missed an opportunity by not making a seat available, because they share common ground.

Employers were prepared to give up a seat for PZO since they have a vested interest in self-employed people occupying a strong position in the labour market. They hire self-employed workers as and when they are needed. According to PZO, self-employed people make an important contribution towards companies, especially in terms of innovation and development.

Easing regulations

PZO will prioritise relaxing the annual working hours regulation with which self-employed workers must comply for tax benefits. At present, ZZP’ers must work at least 1,225 hours a year in order to be eligible for tax breaks, such as the self-employed allowance. Because of the current economic crisis, many ZZP’ers are falling short of this number of hours, effectively compounding their problems. PZO wants the tax authorities to adopt a more lenient approach, for example by also counting the number of hours spent on canvassing customers.

PZO’s agenda also includes reforming tendering regulations. It is often impossible for ZZP’ers to tender for assignments because they are forced to comply with many criteria – particularly for government bodies. PZO hopes to liberalise these conditions.

Economic prospects

The first ZZP Barometer conducted by PZO shows that ZZP’ers are optimistic about their economic prospects. They believe that the worst phase of the economic crisis is behind them and that their results will improve over the next six months. The average fourth quarter turnover for ZZP’ers amounted to €26,000. Female ZZP’ers – often employed on a part-time basis – lagged behind this figure, with an average quarterly turnover of €19,000. The group of small-scale ZZP’ers seeking recourse to national assistance (Bijstand voor Zelfstandigen) grew in 2009.

For the time being, PZO will not focus on creating a stronger social security safety net, especially surrounding occupational disability. In contrast to FNV, PZO attaches less importance to this aspect. It believes that ZZP’ers are capable of taking care of social security insurance themselves.

Significant role in labour market

PZO will use the years ahead to establish permanent representation in the SER. The House of Representatives hopes to see a permanent seat for ZZP’ers since – given their 33% increase over a period of 10 years – they have become a significant factor in the labour market. This group was largely ignored in the political arena in the past, certainly with respect to socioeconomic consultation. Traditionally, such consultation took place with employee and employer representatives. However, self-employed workers now play an important role in today’s labour market.

Marianne Grünell, Hugo Sinzheimer Institute (HSI)

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