Industrial relations and social dialogue

Netherlands: Latest developments in working life Q3 2019

The need to increase the diversity of the Dutch labour market to tackle labour shortages and challenges in the construction and healthcare sectors are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in the Netherlands in the third quarter of 2019.

Labour shortage to be addressed by increasing diversity

In the Netherlands, the dominant labour market issue for 2019 has been the recent labour shortages in several sectors: notably construction, transport, healthcare and education. Economic growth since 2014 and the outflow of workers from these sectors has left a significant number of positions unfilled. One of the most prevalent, related themes of the last four months has been recognition that there is a need to increase diversity in the Dutch labour market, particularly in higher-level positions within enterprises and organisations. Policy attention is focused on groups that are traditionally at some remove from the labour market, such as young people, women and those with non-Western backgrounds.

The Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER) has identified the need for more women and people with non-Western backgrounds on the boards of directors, in upper levels of management, and other key positions within organisations. SER makes the point that women are an under-used labour resource, bolstering existing national policy measures targeting women.

Dutch diversity policy places a strong emphasis on women and this translates into measures aimed at getting more women into higher positions and into sectors traditionally occupied by men, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and transport. The government has been implementing policies to promote more women in the labour market, notably in higher levels of organisations since 2016, and in recent months measures are being implemented in universities, as well as in the private sector to improve the take-up of women in these organisations. As part of the change process, it is recognised that there is a need for better access to childcare, as well as greater awareness and action from the business sector.

A soft quota for the management and director boards of companies was discussed by the previous Minister for Education and Culture in 2015, but this was not broadly followed. [1] A harder quota for women in companies was then introduced and successfully adopted in September 2019. The aim is to have 30% of managerial level positions and board of director places filled by women.

Both the VNO-NCW (Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers) and the FNV (Netherlands Trade Union Confederation) voiced support for the new quota.[2] VNO-NCW explained that while companies have taken some steps towards including more women at their higher levels of management, the situation is not improving quickly enough and therefore firmer goals are needed for the private sector. [3] VNO-NCW fully support this measure and stated that its members are committed to working towards achieving the quota.

In a recent report, SER also highlighted another issue: the lack of women with non-Western backgrounds working at the upper levels of companies. According to the findings of its report, tackling this issue will require an integrated approach, one combining practical measures with measures that address the hiring and workplace cultures of organisations. [4]

Construction and healthcare sectors face challenges

The construction sector in the Netherlands is under pressure, with worker shortages leading to delayed and incomplete projects. A further challenge is the recent political emphasis on reducing nitrogen emissions. Previously, a governmental committee produced a report on this subject that included recommendations on how different sectors could reduce their emissions. [5] To date, the situation in the construction sector means that none of the suggested short-term recommendations have been implemented. Social partners in the sector, such as the VNO-NCW (Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers), say that the sector is undergoing a disproportionate amount of pressure.[6] The FNV (Netherlands Trade Union Confederation) and the CNV (National Federation of Christian Trade Unions) indicate that the requirement to limit the use of nitrogen in construction is slowing the sector down and causing some projects to be stopped entirely. There are also not enough people in the sector to allow companies to recoup the lost time caused by such delays. [7]

The healthcare sector (particularly the hospital subsector) is also experiencing a significant level of pressure, with working hours and pay currently under discussion. Workers have been negotiating a new collective labour agreement through the FNV and CNV, and sectoral unions the FBZ (Federation of Professional Organisations in Healthcare) and the NU91 (New Union ’91). However, the NVZ (Association of Hospitals Netherlands) feels that the negotiations are moving too slowly and so announced a strike for mid-October. [8] In another area of the healthcare sector, the right of carers for people with disabilities not to be contacted during their time off was recently included in their collective labour agreement. [9]


These last four months in Dutch labour market policy have been characterised by further discussions on the role of women in the labour market, and the introduction of more concrete commitments from the government and private sector to address this. The need to improve the inclusion of non-Western migrants is also a theme which is gaining traction at the policymaking level.

Another topic has been the influence of environmentally sustainable changes to sectors such as the construction and agriculture. In both these sectors, there is a feeling that workers and enterprises are being put under disproportionate pressure to adapt their activities to reduce the use of nitrogen, which threatens the immediate productivity of the sectors. The construction sector is also facing worker shortages that are leading to project delays. Other sectors suffering from a more general shortage in labour include the hospital and healthcare sector and the education sector.


  1. ^ Trouw (2015), Bussemaker ziet voorlopig af van vrouwenquotum , 16 November.
  2. ^ FNV (2019), FNV blij met quotum top bedrijfsleven , 20 September.
  3. ^ VNO-NCW (2019), Nieuwe maatregelen moeten zorgen voor meer topvrouwen , 20 September.
  4. ^ SER (2019), Diversiteit in de top: Tijd voor versnelling , The Hague.
  5. ^ Rijksoverheid, Advies Commissie Remkes, (2019), Niet Alles Kan – Eerste adviescollege Stikstofproblematiek , The Hague.
  6. ^ FNV (2019), Nu oplossing zoeken voor stagnatie bouwprojecten , 26 September.
  7. ^ FNV (2019), Grote zorgen om werkgelegenheid bouw , 4 October.
  8. ^ FNV (2019), Volgende week alleen-spoed voor zeven ziekenhuizen tijdens de cao-acties ziekenhuizen , 11 October.
  9. ^ FNV (2019), Recht op onbereikbaarheid vastgelegd cao Gehandicaptenzorg , 25 September.

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