Regional transport reshuffle may cost 2,500 jobs

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The Dutch Government's policy to increase competition in the public transport sector has resulted in a far-reaching process of reorganisation, including the announcement in September 1997 of 2,500 job losses at the VSN regional transport company.

The regional transport company VSN (Verenigd Streekvervoer Nederland) intends to split itself up and, in the process, cut 2,500 jobs from a total of 17,730. The plans were announced in September 1997. The figure is much higher than the 1,500 job losses that were mentioned at the end of August, and has prompted strong protests from the Dutch transport unions, Vervoersbond FNV and Vervoersbond CNV.

The Minister of Transport, Public Works and Water Management echoed the Dutch cabinet's intention to create a free market for bus transport. In particular, VSN, which currently enjoys a monopoly of around 98% of the market, will be dismantled. To this end, the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament has stated that 35% of the regional transport sector should be put out to public tender by 2003. VSN will be barred from consideration if its market share exceeds 50%.

Once a long period of resistance against the cabinet's plans proved fruitless, management and the supervisory board decided to split VSN into two divisions. The rather strained relations between the management of VSN and its sole shareholder, the Dutch state, even resulted in the dismissal of the chairman of the board, CJ Nyqvist, against the explicit advice of the works council.

Both management and the supervisory board have argued that 1,300 office jobs and 1,200 bus drivers' jobs will have to be cut because labour costs (about half the total costs) are too high. Calculations reveal that total costs must be cut by 20% for VSN to be able to compete for new public tenders.

The present collective agreement does not permit compulsory redundancies. This was the result of a four-week strike against the introduction of flexible duty rosters in regional transport in 1995. However, this agreement expires at the end of the year. According to information issued by the northern branch of the FNV transport union, a major foreign transport company is prepared to continue this guarantee against compulsory redundancies until 2004 if it succeeds in acquiring one of VSN's subsidiaries. This part of VSN is called Gado and employs approximately 600 people.

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