Akzo Nobel abandons a standard 36-hour week

Download article in original language : NL9703108NNL.DOC

Akzo Nobel has announced that it will not observe its 1995 collective agreement and that it will abandon the introduction of a standard 36-hour week as of 1 July 1997. Its new proposals have divided the unions.

In advance of opening negotiations with the trade unions, Akzo Nobel, the Netherlands' largest chemicals company, adopted its position on the introduction of a flexible average 36-hour week from 1 July 1997. Previously, Industriebond FNV, the industrial workers' union affiliated to the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions (FNV), had announced that the provisions on an average 36-hour week in the 1995 collective agreement would have to be implemented, because experiments had revealed its positive effects on both employment and efficient business management (according to an evaluation by the consultants, Basis & Beleid). Consequently, in the opinion of Industriebond FNV, the conditions required for reductions in working time, as set out in the 1995 accord, had been met (Record NL9702105N).

Akzo, however, is seriously concerned about the disadvantages entailed by reductions in working time. Above all, the company thinks the model is insufficiently thought out. In particular, management expects to encounter difficulties in drawing up flexible, average 36-hour rosters. Furthermore, the Basis & Beleid report has shown that the model did not favourably affect business management 20% of the time and did not increase employment 40% of the time. Since these problems appear to run throughout the company, a simple solution, such as exempting particular departments, is ruled out.

Specifically, management has now proposed the following:

  • an equal pay rise for all employees on 1 July 1997;
  • employees to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to work a 36-hour week on full pay (compared with their pay level on 30 June 1997); and
  • replacing the existing overtime agreement for day- and shift-workers (which provides only for monetary compensation) with an agreement allowing time off in lieu.

A letter to this effect was sent to the union leaders concerned on 13 March 1997. The unions are divided over the issue.

Industriebond FNV and Industrie en Voedingsbond CNV, the industrial and foodworkers' union affiliated to the Christian National Federation of Trade Unions (CNV) intend to hold Akzo to its promise. They refuse to reconsider the collective agreement. The union for professional and managerial staff at AKZO (VHP-KZO) and the union for industry and services (de Unie), however, seem to agree with AKZO's position.

On 24 March, the first talks between Akzo and the unions failed to produce any results. The parties were due to make a final attempt to come to an agreement on 7 April. Industrie en Voedingsbond CNV has already proclaimed that if the parties are not successful it will take Akzo to court.

Reference:

"Arbeidsduurdifferentiatie & flexibele werktijden. Evaluatie van 124 experimenten bij AKZO NOBEL in Nederland" ("Working time differentiation and flexible working hours. Evaluation of 124 experiments at AKZO NOBEL in the Netherlands", Basis & Beleid (February 1997).

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