Workers on long-term unemployed projects in Amsterdam protest at low pay

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In December 1997, employees recruited on projects for the long-term unemployed went on strike in Amsterdam on the grounds that they were owed shift bonuses by the municipality. An agreement in principle was later reached on their payment for irregular work.

On 7 December 1997, tram conductors on Amsterdam's public transport service stopped work for part of the morning and in a token of solidarity the tram drivers too joined in the action. In addition, the city watch, building security, car-park attendants and sanitation workers also stopped work for several hours. The strike concerned bonuses for irregular work performed by employees recruited under the "Melkert scheme", a programme named after the current Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, APW Melkert. This scheme grants subsidies to municipalities that provide work to long-term unemployed people.

In most cases, employees with a "Melkert job" receive 120% of the statutory minimum wage and have no right to bonuses. The trade unions demanded that the municipality of Amsterdam should pay in full for the irregular shifts worked by people with Melkert jobs. However, the municipality opposed this because if the employees were to receive more than 130% of the minimum wage, it would lose its right to the subsidy provided by the national government. The municipality quoted a figure of NLG 12.5 million in lost revenue in this regard, while the unions estimated the sum to be only NLG 2.5 million. The unions have also pointed to the unclear situation at Amsterdam's public transport company that employs, in addition to regular employees, people from four different employment schemes. Each of these groups is paid differently for the same work.

An agreement in principle was reached between the unions and the municipality of Amsterdam five days after the action. The workers involved will receive irregularity bonuses in the future. The bonus can gradually increase up to the equivalent of 145% of the minimum wage after four years' service. The agreement still needs to be approved by the municipal officers and the union members.

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