Employability proves to be thorny issue in bargaining round
Employers and trade unions in the Netherlands cannot seem to agree on subjects relating to "employability" during the 1998 collective bargaining round.
During the Netherlands' 1998 collective bargaining round, as soon as the topic of "employability" comes up, negotiations either become deadlocked or threaten to become so. The employers and the trade unions cannot even arrive at an understanding on the definition of "employability": employers maintain that it means availability, mobility and flexibility; while the trade unions describe it as being "ready and able".
The state of affairs at Philips, the giant electronics concern, exemplifies this situation. After nine months of negotiations, an employability task force, formed by management and the trade unions, was meant to round off the discussions with a clear definition of the topic (NL9710142N). However, the only agreement that was reached was to exclude the most controversial points from the forthcoming new collective agreement. As a result, the collective agreement will not contain clauses about combining different kinds of leave, introducing job-specific temporary employment contracts and making fixed salaries variable. Nevertheless, the "employability agreement" that did eventually emerge has encouraged Philips and the trade unions to keep the discussions alive for the duration of the new collective agreement. Since the current collective agreement expires on 31 March 1998, negotiations for this new accord will commence on 5 March.
The issue of employability has led to differences of opinion in other sectors as well. In horticulture, for example, an interim collective agreement is now in force because employers and unions could not agree on essential employability issues such as flexibility, training or amendments to the wage structure.
Negotiations between employers and trade unions in the banking sector have also proved fruitless. The Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) found it very unfortunate that, despite the fact that all parties were aware of the importance of the topic, no agreement could be reached.
Negotiations on the new collective agreement have not even begun at the DSM chemicals group. The subject of employability is on the agenda however. Although the FNV has indicated a willingness to compromise, it has remained silent about which topics are open to negotiation.