Controversial agreement in information technology sector
The principal collective agreement in the Dutch information technology and office equipment sector, concluded in April 1997 between the employers' organisation and one of the trade unions, has been criticised by the other unions and four large software and service companies
The employers' organisation in the information technology and office equipment (IT&OE) sector, Vereniging van Importeurs en Fabrikanten van Kantoormachines (VIFKA, representing approximately 350 hardware companies), and the Service Sector Union of the Christian Trade Union Federation (Dienstenbond CNV) have agreed a collective labour agreement for the information, communications and office technology sector as a whole. The agreement takes effect from 1 April 1997 until 1 October 1998, and is intended to replace the one for office technology companies that had expired in April 1996. With the character of a framework collective labour agreement, it contains both agreements on pay and an option for software and service enterprises (which previously had no agreement or representation in VIFKA) to join at a later stage. It provides for incremental pay increases of 1%, 1.5% and, on two occasions, 1.25% every six months, starting from 1 April 1997. Firms may also increase wages beyond these rates. In order to carry out the terms of the agreement, its signatories have established a special body called the Foundation for the collective interests of the IT&OE sector. This body is intended to implement the agreement with the support of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
According to the Service Sector Union of the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Dienstenbond FNV) and the Organisation for Managerial and Executive Staff (Vereniging voor Hoger Personeel VHP), this agreement does not sufficiently address the problem of skill shortages in the IT&OE sector. Moreover, these unions feel that the agreement contains too many escape clauses. The two unions therefore contend that it is a myth to assume that it will cover the entire sector (that is, both the hardware companies and the software and service enterprises). Because of this, Dienstenbond FNV and VHP have both refused to sign the agreement. A fourth union, De Unie, which represents mainly senior staff, has not yet taken a stand. In addition, four large software companies (Cap Gemini, CMG, Origin and Roccade) have also rejected the idea of a sector-wide collective labour agreement.
Instead, both Dienstenbond FNV and VHP have opted for company-level collective agreements, which could then be extended to a sector-wide level at a later stage. The two-year framework agreement concluded between the four unions in the sector and Getronics (a software and services company), which came into effect on 1 January 1997, will serve as a model for what Dienstenbond FNV and VHP have in mind.
VIFKA and Dienstenbond CNV intend to submit their agreement to the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, in order to have it declared binding for the entire sector. If this were to happen, this agreement would apply to all firms in the IT&OE sector, covering between 60,000 and 80,000 employees, of whom around 15% are union members. The unions that have not signed the agreement are considering contesting the representative status of the current signatories.