Industrial relations in the public sector – Netherlands

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 10 Decembris 2008


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This report presents an overview of industrial relations in the central government and public sector in the Netherlands

1. Structure of the public sector in your country

Please provide:

The definition of the public sector commonly accepted and used in your country. What are the different sectors covered (e.g. central government, local government, health sector, education, others)?

The public sector includes: central government, regional and local government, the judiciary, the district water boards, education, defence and police, plus the university hospitals.

The definition of the central government sector commonly accepted and used in your country. What are the different sectors covered?

The central government comprises the Ministries and several Autonomous Administrative Authorities. Several ministries are quite extensive as far as the number of civil servants employed is concerned. An example is the Ministry of Justice, with 42,000 civil servants (including 18,000 in the prison system).

Table 1. Employment and population
Year Central government Public sector Total Employees (all economy) Total Population
Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Women


125,726 (men plus women)


























Table 2. Central government employment
Year Open-ended of which part-time Fixed-term of which part-time
Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Women




























Please clarify whether central government employment includes: a) school teachers; b) NHS employees; c) armed forces and police; other non-ministerial employees. If data include these groups of employees, please indicate their numbers (or estimated share).

With regard to table 2, there are no separate figures for the central government only. For the government sector as a whole, the following figures (dating from 2004) can be given:

Full time ca. 590,000

Part time (more than 12 hours per week) ca. 380,000

Part time (less than 12 hours per week) ca. 40,000

In 2006 in the central government (ministries), 9.3% of the employees came from ethnic minorities.

Please indicate whether fixed-term employment and part-time work are typical of certain organisational areas in the central government sector (for instance, top job positions rather than lower-level occupations) or group of workers (such as employees approaching retirement, new recruits, women, technicians, and the like)

A relatively large proportion of non-western ethnic minorities have full time jobs. It is mainly among Dutch natives that part time work occurs. 75% of the part time jobs was filled by women. Employees with a small part time job (less than 12 hours) were relatively often young (less than 23 years of age). A large proportion of employees with a part time job of more than 12 hours per week was between 25 and 45 years old.

Please indicate the presence and quantitative relevance of non-standard employment relationships in the central government sector, and especially of temporary agency work and service contracts with individuals or other non-standard contractual relationships that are important in your country.

In 2005, 8% of all temp workers (260,200) in the Netherlands was employed in the government sector. In 2005, € 211 million was spent on temp workers in the central government.

2. Employment regulation

Public sector vs. private sector.

Do (certain) public sector employees enjoy special status compared with private sector employees?

Yes, they have civil servant status, although the government also employs ‘ordinary’ employees.

Do all public sector employees have the same status or are there differences between different groups of employees, as, for instance, between civil servants, clerical employees and workers?

There are differences. The public sector employs both civil servants and employees.

If public sector employees enjoy special status(es), please specify:

The distinctive features of (each) public sector employment status, highlighting the main differences with the status of private sector employees (and, if relevant, among the various public sector statuses). In particular, indicate whether such differences involve the rights: i) of association; ii) to bargaining collectively; iii) to strike.

The main difference with the private sector is that in a formal sense civil servants don not have a employment contract, but are (unilaterally) appointed. Since the 1980’s, successive governments have taken measures to diminish the differences between civil servants and ordinary employees. This process is called ‘normalisation’ and still continues. The goal to abolish all differences however has not been reached yet, although this subject every now and then returns to the agenda.

Dismissal law does not apply to the government sector. Since 1995, the scope of the law on works councils has been widened to include the government sector, with the restriction that political decisions cannot be subject of codetermination.

The government sector has been divided into eleven sectors (of which central government is one). Each sector has it’s own collective agreement. See further under collective bargaining.

There are on the whole no differences with the private sector with regard to the right of association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike (except parts of defence).

The requirements that must be fulfilled to gain (each) such special status(es): i) pass a public examination; ii) achieve a certain tenure in the position; c) in terms of nationality; d) other specific conditions.

No special conditions.

Central government. Please indicate whether and how this special employment status regulation applies to central government employees.Please fill in the following table:

Table 3. Status of central government employees
Year Total employees Status A (please replace by the name of the status) Status B (please replace by the name of the status) Status C (please replace by the name of the status)
Men Women Men Women Men Women







N.B.: add further columns if required

There are no separate status for different categories of central government employees, with the exception of some special rules for the highest echelons.

Please indicate the elements of the employment relationship of central government employees which are regulated by:

Specific legislation.

Collective bargaining.

The employment relationship is first and foremost regulated by the Law on Civil Servants (Ambtenarenwet). In a material sense, most of the arrangements can be found in the General Rules on Civil Servants in the Central Government (Algemeen Rijksambtenarenreglement, ARAR). The ARAR covers recruitment procedures, appointment and dismissal. The ARAR also to a large covers subjects like pay and working time. With regard to working time, the normal rules for employees (which can be found in the Law on working time, Arbeidstijdenwet) also apply to civil servants. The same is true for legislation with regard to the right to adapt the duration of working hours and legislation on work and care

Since the end of the 1990’s and the beginning of this century, the social security for ordinary employees also applies to civil servants. Before, they fell under separate arrangements.

Since the 1990’s, collective bargaining has become more important in the setting of the terms of employment. See further below.

In your answer, please refer specifically to elements such as recruitment procedures, pay (see also below), working time, work organisation, job security and employment protections, social security.

Please, briefly illustrate whether and how reform of employment regulation in the central government sector since the 1990s has affected:

The status of workers.

The status of workers has not fundamentally changed since the 1990’s, although there is a recurring debate on this issue. In some cases, privatisation of government activities has resulted in workers losing their civil service status, but this has hardly or not at all occurred in the central government area.

The balance between legislation and collective bargaining in regulating the various dimensions of the employment relationships.

In the government sector, there are now 12 so-called collective agreements, including one for the central government. From a legal perspective, the agreements are not really collective agreements (the Law on collective agreements does not apply). From a material perspective however, these agreements are very much alike to the ‘normal’ collective agreements in the private sector.

Other relevant industrial relations dimensions, such as representation, conflict and its regulation.

Since 1993, the employer in the (central) government sector cannot unilaterally change the employment conditions of the civil servants, unless agreement has been reached with a majority of the unions involved. Since 1984, a Advisory and Arbitration Board (Arbitrage- en Adviescommissie, AAC)has been established for the central government sector, for resolving conflicts in cases where the majority of the unions does not agree while the employer sticks to his decision.

Please, briefly illustrate whether and how reorganisation and restructuring in the central government sector since the 1990s, for instance through the establishment of special agencies or the separation of specific bodies and offices, has affected:

The status of significant groups of workers.

Several parts of the (central) government have been privatised, or made more independent from the authority of a minister (while remaining part of the central government). In case of privatisation, the status of employees has altered fundamentally in the sense that they lose their status as civil servants. The major example is the national telecom giant KPN in 1989. In most other cases, the status of the employees has not changed.

The balance between legislation and collective bargaining in regulating the various dimensions of the employment relationships.

In case of privatisation, the employees leave the area of the government, and get either their own collective agreement (as in the case of KPN), or may come to fall under a sector collective agreement. The establishment of special agencies etc. may result in a change of the collective agreement applicable (maybe not anymore the agreement for the central government, but another agreement within the government sector). When this occurs, the differences will not be great.

Other relevant industrial relations dimensions, such as representation, conflict and its regulation.

No important changes here.

3. Pay levels and determination

The presence and relevance of collective bargaining on pay in the central government sector.

There are several collective agreements for the central government sector. By far the most important is the CLA for the central government. Other agreements in the sector are those for:

  • Defence
  • the land registry
  • the Chambers of Commerce
  • RDW (public service with regard to road traffic, driving licences etc.)
  • SNV expat (development aid)
  • is always the key issue in collective bargaining.

The number and scope of bargaining units on pay within the central government sector.

See under 1.

Do minimum wage levels vary across the different bargaining units within the central government sector? Are there common minimum wage levels in the whole public sector?

Minimum wage levels might show minor differences, but on the whole are the same for the whole public sector.

Is there a single job classification system for the whole central government sector?

To a large extend, there is (at least for the different ministries, which make up the bulk of the employees).

Wage levels and wage increases in the central government and private sectors since 2000 (table 4). If there are great variations across bargaining units within the central government sector, please briefly illustrate such variations.

Table 4. Central government and private sector: wage levels and increases since 2000 (average)
Year Central government Private sector
Level € Annual increase % Level € Annual increase %































The presence and relevance of variable performance-related pay in the central government sector. Please indicate whether variable pay is particularly relevant in certain bargaining units or organisational areas (for instance, top job positions, officers, or other occupations).

The word used in the Dutch government sector is special (or extraordinary) pay, be it in the form of a once-only or increment extra pay. In 2005, over 25% of the civil servant in the central government sector received such pay. There is still a gap between men and women: 29.1% of the male and 25.2% of the female civil servants received special pay. The gap is narrowing: 3.9 percentage points in 2005 compared to 8 percentage points in 2003.

Are there any form of “benchmarking” of wage dynamics in the central government sector with other public sectors or with the private sector? If yes, are industrial relations actors involved in such benchmarking activity?

There is no formal benchmarking, but the Ministry of Interior Affairs (who is the employer for the central government sector stresses the importance of a moderate wage development. In the years 2003-2005, wage increases through collective bargaining (so excluding special pay mentioned above)

4. Union Presence and density

Trade unions which are present in the various bargaining units of the central government sector, their number, affiliation, representational domain, membership, and the sectoral union density (data by gender). Please fill in the following table:

Table 5. Trade unions
Union Affiliation Representational domain (group of workers represented) Bargaining units where the trade union is present Membership
Women Men

A Algemene Centrale van Overheidspersoneel (ACOP)

Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging (FNV)





B Christelijke Centrale van Overheids- en Onderwijspersoneel (CCOOP)

Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond (CNV)





C De Centrale van Middelbare en Hogere Functionarissen bij Overheid, Onderwijs, Bedrijven en Instellingen (CMHF)

MHP Vakcentrale voor Middengroepen en Hoger Personeel

Higher personnel

14 different unit sections





Prison workers


A total of 2500 members (men and women)




Supporting personnel at the judiciary

Courts and related services

A total of 1300 members (men and women)




Taxation and Customs personnel

Taxation and Customs

A total of 6000 members (men and women)





Mainly Ministries and privatised government services





Ministry of Transport and Water Affairs

A total of 1400 members (men and women)







Sectoral union density




40% (men and women combined)


N.B.: add further rows if required

Please provide information on the diffusion within the central government sector of craft unions, professional unions, or unions which are not affiliated to peak associations.

See the table. The Ambtenarencentrum is a professional union, independent from the three major union confederations in the Netherlands.

Are there any formal procedures or rules which aim to assess the representativeness of the various unions? If yes, please, briefly illustrate the content of such procedures or rules. Do these procedures or rules affect the access of the various unions to trade union prerogatives or to the bargaining table? If yes, please specify such effects and any possible limitations.

Like in the private sector, there are no procedures or rules to assess the representativeness of unions as far as negotiations rights etc. are concerned. The only requirements are that unions have legal personality, exist at least two years and have as their official goal to represent further the interests of their members. Representativity however is relevant with regard to representation in the tripartite Social and Economic Council and the bipartite Labour Foundation

5. Employer representation

Who represents the central government at the bargaining table? Are there specific independent bodies, such as agencies, or negotiations are carried out under the responsibility of political actors, such as ministers?

The Minister of Interior Affairs represents the central government, of course supported by his staff.

If negotiations are carried out by specific independent bodies, please indicate how they are organised. In particular, specify whether there are guidelines or other directives set by political actors and how the tasks of the independent bodies are carried out. For instance, negotiations have to follow specific stages?

Not applicable.

If negotiations are carried under the direct responsibility of political actors, please indicate how they are organised. For instance, do negotiations take place under the responsibility of a single ministry, for instance the Finance Ministry, or are they carried out by a delegation or in a different way?

See under 5.1

Do collective agreements in the central government sector have to pass an ex-post “validation” procedure, for instance to certify their compliance with budget constraints? If present, please briefly illustrate such procedure and the consequences of failure to pass it.

No. The budget constraint plays a major role right from the start in determining the space for the negotiations.

6. Collective bargaining and conflict in central government

The structure of collective bargaining and, in particular, the number and scope of bargaining units, both at central (national) and decentralised (workplace and territorial) levels.

Part of the negotiations for the central government are centralized, part takes place at lower levels (ministries, or even parts of ministries). The central part takes place in the Sectoral Committee Consultation for Government Employees (Sectorcommissie Overleg Rijkspersoneel, SOR), between the Minister of Interior Affairs and four unions.

The duration of agreements and the presence and content of peace obligations.

The latest agreement has a duration of two years (2005-2006), although it was only signed in the beginning of 2006. Usually, collective agreements in the Netherlands have a duration from one up to two years.

The main issues of collective bargaining by referring to the latest renewals.

Pay and compensation for healthcare insurance costs, compensation for childcare costs.

Levels and recent trends in conflict.

The central government has no tradition of collective conflicts with regard to the terms of employment.

There have been a number of court cases between works councils and (parts of) the central government. Time and again the issue was whether the works council had the right to influence decision-making or not. In most cases, the court has ruled that the works council had no rights, because the subject fell within the so-called primacy of political decision making.

The presence and main features of forms of regulation of labour conflict and collective dispute resolution procedures. Please indicate whether such rules are specific to the central government sector, or apply to the whole public sector, or are general and cover both public and private sectors.

Since 1984, the Minister of Interior Affairs cannot unilaterally change the terms of employment of groups of civil servants in the central government anymore, but has to reach an agreement with the majority of the unions in the SOR. When no agreement can be reached, the issue can/should be referred to the Committee for Advice and Arbitration (Advies- en Arbitragecommissie (AAC). Between 1994 and 1 July 1998, the AAC has issued nine advices. Between 1998 and 2002, the number for the central government was two. For other parts of the government sector, comparable committees have been established.

7. Commentary by the NC

The main issues are the following:

  • debates on the abolishment of the civil servant status (see above);
  • government plans en proposals by political parties in their election programs for the November 2006 elections to reduce the number of civil servants significantly
  • labour market issues (the forecast of shortage of personnel for the public sector)
  • pay for performance issues; the measurement of ‘productivity’ in the public sector

For some twenty years now, ‘normalisation’ of the employment- and industrial relations in the public sector has been on the agenda. On some issues progress has been made, but there are still significant differences between the public and the private sector. In the final instance, it is still the government (employer) that decides on the room for collective bargaining. Although in a formal sense, employees in the public sector enjoy the same codetermination rights as employees in the private sector, in reality their rights are hard to apply.

Since 2003, a process of cutting the size of the sector has started. Both the present government and the major political parties have promised to continue (or even accelerate) this process. At the same time, demands are made that the public sector should perform better than it does now. Sometimes, these wishes and proposals seem hard to reconcile.

Robbert van het Kaar, HSI

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