Netherlands: Latest working life developments – Q2 2016
Pensions and flexible work, more rights for works councils and the latest data on industrial action and collective agreements are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in the Netherlands in the second quarter of 2016.
Pensions and flexible work
In the second quarter of 2016, the main debates continued to be around two issues that have been prominent for some time. The first is pensions, although there were no specific developments on this issue in this period. The second is flexible work, and the effects of legislation introduced in July 2015 on work and security. The issue of flexworkers and the effects of the new legislation have been hotly debated ever since the new law came into force and featured in a recent parliamentary debate. Critics argue that it has had various adverse effects, including that it appears to have become harder to dismiss employees even though a key aim of the new legislation was to make this easier. This has been confirmed by a recent overview report on relevant court cases. Another effect seems to be that the contracts of flexworkers are in many cases not renewed after three years (the former maximum period), but after two years (the maximum under the new legislation).
Strengthening works councils
There have been several developments in relation to the legislation on the rights of works councils. Works councils will be given a right of consent on all material changes in pension arrangements with exception of sectoral arrangements, for which the unions have the right of consent. Works councils must also be informed about any change in the contract between an employer and the fund or insurance company (either Dutch or foreign) that executes the pension arrangements. Entry into force of the new legislation was originally expected on 1 July 2016, but now has been set for 1 October this year.
Upcoming legislation will strengthen the position of works councils with regard to bankruptcies and especially the so-called pre-pack (which can be defined as a non-public preparation of a bankruptcy). Case law has determined that the right of advice does not apply when the employer files for suspension of payment. If the employer files for bankruptcy, opinions on the position of the works council are divided, although debates in parliament suggest that works councils may lack any rights in such circumstances. The pre-pack, well known in the Anglo-Saxon world, has intensified the discussions on works council rights because in recent years it has become a more popular instrument in the Netherlands. One of the three bills drawn up to modernise Dutch insolvency law has, as one of its aims, the intention of codifying the pre-pack and to clarify the position of the works council.
Data on industrial action and collective agreements
Statistics Netherlands published the annual figures for industrial action in the Netherlands, and the Labour Inspectorate published its annual review of developments in collective agreements. By international standards, strike levels in the Netherlands remain low, with 27 strikes in the 12 months covered by the statistics, involving 42,400 employees and resulting in 47,600 working days lost.
The picture is also relatively stable for collective agreements, at least with regard to the number of agreements, wages and working hours. The overview report is based on a sample of the major collective agreements in the Netherlands, both sector and company agreements. It contains thematic chapters on matters as diverse as the lowest wage scales, fixed-term contracts, sustainable employment and people who are isolated from the labour market. A growing number of collective agreements address these subjects.