Large-scale merger leads to formation of Dutch super union

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Four large Dutch trade unions, which already cooperate in the FNV confederation, have recently decided to merge. The merger is to be finalised in January 1998, resulting in a union with almost half a million members. For the first time, those receiving social benefits and older people will be incorporated into the organisation as a distinct industrial group. This merger has also prompted more intensive cooperation between other Dutch unions.

A number of Dutch trade unions work together through the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) In addition to this, the Netherlands has two other noteworthy federations, the Christian Trade Union Federation (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond) or CNV, and the Federation of Managerial and Staff Unions (Middelbaar en Hoger Personeel) or MHP. Finally, there are also a considerable number of smaller independent unions.

In September 1996, four large unions which were already part of the FNV, decided to merge, namely, the Industrial Union (Industriebond FNV), the Services Union (FNV Dienstenbond), the Transport Union (Vervoersbond FNV) and the Agriculture and Foodstuffs Union (Voedingsbond FNV). This merger, which will be finalised at a conference on 29 January 1998, will result in the formation of the largest union in the Netherlands, with almost 500,000 members. The name of the new union will be the Allied Unions (FNV Bondgenoten).

Aims of the merger

The merger aims at achieving two goals. First, combining forces is expected to help promote the interests of the members. The new union is thought to be better equipped to address the question of changing labour relations, including the decentralisation of negotiations on terms and conditions of employment. To this end, the new union intends to strengthen its position within companies and to work closely with the works council s.

The second goal is to improve the quality of service provided to union members. Up to now, these services have been fragmented, with each FNV union having its own service department. For some time, unions have been searching for ways to enhance their visibility to their members. Members should be able to call on the union for advice about employment contracts or social security without having to travel long distances. Combining forces will enable the unions to set up a network of local "advice shops". Moreover, seven regional offices will be established for questions that cannot be solved at a local level and to provide legal aid.

The new organisation

The members of FNV Bondgenoten are to be divided into branches according to sector and location. There are "resident branches" that will usually cover several municipalities and areas of about 30 kilometres in diameter. The tasks of the residential branches are to provide services to members, involve them in union activities and influence the socio-economic policies of the municipalities within each branch's region.

In addition, members are to be classified in 15 different industrial groups according to their economic activities. Members of the same group will usually be covered by the same collective labour agreement. The FNV Bondgenoten industrial groups include the following sectors: transport, metalworking, information technology and electrical engineering, the chemical and paper industries, textiles, clothing, leather and synthetics, financial and commercial services, retail and wholesale trade, food and agriculture, and finally, benefit recipients and older people.

The novelty is that a separate industrial group has been created for those receiving social benefits and older people. Totalling approximately 100,000 members (20% of the total membership), this is also the largest group in the new union.

Each year, union activists in the industrial groups will elect a board responsible for union policies within the sector. Special boards may be instituted if the activities span several different sectors of industry.

Mergers are also occurring in the second Dutch federation, the CNV, with Christian unions to merge in the areas of industry, food and transport. Moreover, in October 1997, De Unie, a union mainly active in the banking sector with 80,000 members, announced that it will begin to work closely with the Union of Independent Trade Organisations (Verbond van Onafhankelijke Vakorganisaties) or VOV, an association of 23 independent unions. The third federation, MHP, is also considering a reorganisation of its services.

Commentary

The merger of the four FNV unions has prompted some discussion within other Dutch union federations, promoting mergers there as well. They perceive further cooperation as a necessary step towards improving services which can measure up to those of the FNV Bondgenoten. The smaller independent unions wish to retain their own identities while at the same time taking advantage of the benefits that increased scale will bring. This has produced several different cooperative structures which seek to provide a better service to their members.

Moreover, increased concentration is not confined exclusively to the realm of labour unions, and important mergers between Dutch employers' organisations have also recently taken place. (Robert Knegt, HSI)

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