Building industry agreement increases pay and flexibility

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In the new collective agreement in the Dutch building industry, signed in March 1997, a relatively large pay increase has been matched by a degree of increased flexibility regarding the use of temporary employment agency workers and the rules governing working hours.

On 13 March 1997, following protracted negotiations, building industry employers and trade unions concluded a two-year collective agreement (though it has still to be ratified by their members). From the start, pay increases and increased flexibility had been the main issues.

Over the two-year period covered by the agreement, wages will rise by 5.75%, but in addition, on 1 October 1998, 0.75% of annual pay will be paid to each employee as a one-off lump sum. Compared with the current average annual rise of about 2.25% in other agreements, this increase is high. Commenting on the increase, the unions have stressed the healthy outlook for the building industry and the rise in employment. There is no danger of foreign competition regarding terms of employment because foreign contractors have to apply the Dutch collective agreement for those employees who are working in the Netherlands for a period of more than one month. This had been agreed in article 1a of the collective agreement that has just expired, and this article will remain valid in the new agreement.

The main issue for the employers was the introduction of temporary employment agency work in the building industry. From 1970 onwards, this has been expressly prohibited for fear of illegal contractors. Several legal measures have since been taken to outlaw illegal contractors. The Cabinet is therefore of the opinion that the ban is no longer necessary. It will be dropped as of 1 January 1998.

Because of this impending change, the unions have tried to negotiate additional conditions in the collective agreement for temporary employment agency work. Part of the new agreement is that temporary workers who have the necessary certificates will be covered by the entire collective agreement from the moment they start working. The same goes for temporary workers who have been employed in the building industry for at least 12 months over the previous two years. Other unskilled temporary workers will be covered by the collective agreement only after one year. Until now, employers have been obliged to apply the collective agreement to all temporary workers without restriction.

Working hours are the second issue on which a degree of increased flexibility has been agreed, with a key role being reserved for works councils. Although, in principle, the present situation (a 40-hour week and an eight-hour day) will not change, employers may negotiate other terms with their works councils on condition that working hours remain within the limits imposed by the new Law on Working Time (Arbeidstijdenwet) of 23 November 1995, which came into force on 1 January 1996. Because of this, nine-hour working days are, for a restricted period, allowed without the arrangement on overtime being applicable.

As regards employment, the collective agreement states that, within three years, 10% of new vocational training students will consist of long-term unemployed people, immigrants and women.

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