Legal right to work part-time rejected in Dutch Parliament

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At the end of 1997, the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament rejected a proposal to give employees the legal right to work part time. Employers opposed the bill, while the trade unions were divided on the subject.

Just before the 1997 Christmas recess, the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament rejected a legislative proposal initiated by left-wing opposition member Paul Rosenmöller to give employees the right to work part time. The bill would have given employees the right to reduce their working hours by up to 20% unless other arrangements regarding part-time work had been made under the terms of their collective agreement. Unless the employer had strong organisational arguments for refusing, it would be required to consent to a request to reduce hours. At present, about 70% of women and a little over 10% of men in the Netherlands work part time.

Until the day the proposal was discussed, it remained uncertain whether the legal right to work part time would receive majority backing. In general, it reflected current Dutch policy to stimulate part-time work very well. Advocates of part-time work are to be found not only at the Ministry of Social Affairs, but also in the bipartite consultative Labour Foundation (Stichting van de Arbeid, STAR). Since 1989, the Foundation has put forward several positive recommendations on the subject and reached an agreement on measures to stimulate such work in 1993. An important point for all the parties concerned is the expected positive effect on economic growth and employment. The recent increase in employment can be largely attributed to the growth in part-time work since 1993. Its share of total employment increased from 33% to 37%.

However, the standpoint of both the social partners and the Minister was that the collective bargaining parties should seek an agreement amongst themselves about how they wished to stimulate part-time work, and not through the legislature. The trade unions recently changed their standpoint, as indicated by a statement made by L De Waal, the new chair of the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV): "We are neutral. We now also see the positive aspects of legislation." Voices in favour of legislation have also grown louder within the rival Christian Federation of Trade Unions (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond, CNV) over the last few months.

Because one of the coalition government parties (VVD) opposed the proposal, the opposition party, the Christian Democrats (Christen Democratisch Appel, CDA) had a decisive role to play in the First Chamber. During the discussions in the Second Chamber, the Christian Democrats were opposed tot he proposal, but the change of heart by the social partners who were no longer unanimously against the proposal, and the evaluation by the STAR of its own part-time work policy, caused them to change their position. Furthermore, the content of the bill also confronted the Christian Democrats with a problem, since prominent publications written by party members and institutions recently declared part-time work to be a cornerstone of their party's new family policy. This policy promotes combining work and care in such a way as to reduce the dependence of parents on childcare facilities. For dual-income families, this can be realised only if one or preferably both parents have part-time jobs. Nevertheless, when it finally came to the vote, all CDA representatives in the First Chamber voted against the proposal.

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