2000 collective bargaining round progresses relatively quietly

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The average wage increase amounted to 3.4% in the most important collective agreements concluded in the Netherlands' 2000 collective bargaining round up until the end of June. It is noteworthy that numerous agreements now include agreements on performance-based payment in some form. It is also evident from a report published by the Labour Inspectorate that more and more agreements include provisions on the integration and reintegration of partially disabled people, employability, job opportunities and flexible pension schemes.

Six months into the year, a balance can be be drawn up of the 2000 collective bargaining round. With the exception of the collective agreements for the hotel, restaurant and catering sector and municipal authorities, all the larger agreements have now been concluded. While earlier EIRO reports on the bargaining round drew attention to the trend towards decentralisation (NL0003184F), the focus here is on the most significant developments in the area of pay and on agreements on dealing with work pressure and combining work and private life. This feature also examines a study conducted by the Labour Inspectorate (Arbeidsinspectie) into the extent to which collective agreements concluded for 1999 included provisions on the integration and reintegration of partially disabled people, employability, job opportunities and flexible pension schemes.

Collective bargaining on pay in 2000

The trade unions entered the 2000 collective bargaining round demanding wage increases of some 4%, while employers sought a figure of approximately 2%. On balance, the unions achieved relative success: the average wage increase so far stands at around 3.4%. Agreements reached in 2000 for 2001 point towards wage increases flattening out somewhat. For example, a wage increase of 3.85% has been agreed in the metalworking industry for 2000, to be followed by an increase of 3.45% in 2001.

Nonetheless, employers have not left the negotiating table empty-handed: around one third of the agreements contain agreements on performance-based payment, a subject previously considered taboo by the trade unions. According to VNO-NCW, the largest employer's association, in March 2000 as many as 84% of all employees covered by a collective agreement were already covered by some form of individual, variable payment.

Collective bargaining on work pressure and combining work and private life in 2000

At the start of the collective bargaining round, the unions emphasised the importance of agreements on keeping work pressure and stress in check. A recent study of 500 Dutch nationals indicated that 78% saw work pressure as the main "illness of current times". Of the collective agreements concluded in 2000, 40% contain new provisions on the quality of work. There has also been an increase in the number of provisions on absence from work and work pressure.

One topic that received media attention for some time in the Netherlands is combining work and private life (NL0002182F). Various recent laws and legislative proposals envisage an increase in the range of choices for individuals in this area, and this issue has also received more attention in collective bargaining. For example, around half the collective agreements concluded in 2000 include provisions on childcare facilities, leave options and leave accrual, while a quarter of them include individual "multiple-choice" systems for employment conditions. A recent example is the agreement concluded in July 2000 for 116,000 government officials and 74,000 defence employees: workers now have the opportunity of working 80 hours fewer or 100 hours more a year, without this necessarily eroding the accrual of pension rights.

Labour Inspectorate's spring report

The Labour Inspectorate carries out regular research into the emergence of subtopics in collective agreements. The 2000 spring report ("Voorjaarsrapportage CAO-afspraken 2000" [Spring report on collective agreements for 2000], Labour Inspectorate, The Hague, May 2000) contains an overviews of aspects such as the integration and reintegration of partially disabled people, employability, job opportunities and flexible pension schemes in agreements concluded in 1999.

Integration and reintegration of partially disabled individuals

The number of completely and partially disabled people in the Netherlands is consistently high (NL0006195F). Based on a package of measures, attempts are being made to decrease the influx of new disabled people and increase the rate of recovery. The government has attempted to use legislation as a tool to stimulate the integration and reintegration of occupationally disabled people, and provisions directed at achieving this have also been included in collective agreements. The research conducted by the Labour Inspectorate reveals that in 92 of 132 agreements studied, provisions have been included on one or more of the following topics: integration policy; reintegration policy; and adaptation policy. Most of the provisions have an aspirational character; but in 20 agreements more concrete provisions have been agreed concerning job placement for partially disabled employees. Agreements of this order appear quite often in the industrial, construction and energy supply sectors. Some of the agreements relate to reserving a certain number of job positions, while others include provisions facilitating placement of disabled employees up to a specific percentage of the total workforce, varying from 2% to 7%.

Employability

The study conducted by the Labour Inspectorate distinguishes six instruments to promote employability: training; training leave; personal development plan; company development plans; performance and assessment interviews; and a payment policy that provides incentives. Concerning training, provisions relating to directly work-linked training clearly appear more often than provisions on general training (such as Dutch-language courses for immigrants). Some 20 collective agreements (covering 21% of the employees affected by the agreements surveyed) include a right to training, with the same number (covering 26% of the employees) including an obligation to undergo training. In 42 agreements (covering almost a third of the employees) provisions relating to personal development plans have been included. Provisions on performance and assessment interviews have been included in 55 agreements, and a direct link between such interviews and employability is established in 32 agreements.

Job opportunities

Of the 132 collective agreements studied, 82 contain provisions on job opportunities for particular groups, such as job opportunity plans or provisions on jobs within the framework of special public employment schemes. Of these agreements, 35 provide a concrete indication of how many positions must be created. The most commonly stated target groups are long-term unemployed people, followed by people from ethnic minorities and the occupationally disabled. Similarly, 35 agreements include provisions on so-called work reintegration schemes.

Early retirement and flexible pension schemes

Both the cabinet and the tripartite Social and Economic Council (Sociaal Economische Raad, SER) (NL9912175F) are pushing for the conversion of current early retirement (VUT) schemes (with payments based on a cost allocation scheme) to more flexible "pre-pension" schemes (based on a capital funding system) (NL9808194F). Earlier studies conducted by the Labour Inspectorate already revealed that the social partners have increasingly met such demands. Once again, a number of agreements in this area were reached in 1999. Of the 132 collective agreements studied, 87 already include a pre-pension scheme. The number of collective agreements including only an early retirement scheme has now dropped to less than 25%. The average retirement age for early retirement schemes is currently 60 and, for flexible pension schemes, 61.2. The average level of payment displays a downward trend in the direction of 70% of the last-earned salary.

Commentary

The 2000 collective bargaining rounds progressed relatively quietly following initial skirmishes surrounding performance-based payment at Akzo (NL0003183N) and Philips. The media have presented an image of the employers having "bought" this quiet in exchange for numerous concessions regarding secondary conditions of employment. In view of persistent shortages on the labour market and an inflation rate of over 2%, the average (primary) wage increase of 3.4% could be seen as moderate. It is more striking that agreements reached now for 2001 feature more limited increases. In this context, the trade unions appear to be heeding the cabinet's call to take account of the introduction of the new tax system in 2001, which will decrease the tax burden by an average of 5% and could, in combination with a sharp wage increase, overheat the Dutch economy.

The most noteworthy development in the recent collective bargaining round is that the unions appear to have withdrawn their opposition to performance-based payment. In July 2000, the largest trade union in the Netherlands, the Allied Unions (FNV-Bondgenoten), even announced that it would be making payment for all employees in the form of stock options and shares a main point of its policy. (Robbert van het Kaar, HSI)

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