CNV Bedrijvenbond, the Netherlands: Business creation and entrepreneurship
The Industry, Food and Transport Workers’ Union (CNV Bedrijvenbond) represents employees in transport, manufacturing, agriculture and general and technical support services. The trade union employs about 150 workers. A number of years ago, a group of employees at CNV Bedrijvenbond decided to start their own consultancy agency. They reached an agreement with CNV, whereby the union would guarantee them a limited number of assignments for the first few years. These employees now work part time for CNV and the remainder of the time in their own company, taking on assignments outsourced by CNV.
The Industry, Food and Transport Workers’ Union (CNV Bedrijvenbond) is a trade union affiliated to the Christian Trade Union Federation (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond, CNV) in the Netherlands. The union represents employees in transport, manufacturing, agriculture and general and technical support services. CNV Bedrijvenbond has about 90,000 members, divided between its 23 union branches, which are administrated by a board of governors. The trade union’s branches employ around 150 workers in total. The majority of the workers (about 90%) have permanent jobs. About 50% of the workforce is composed of women and about 30% of the employees work part time; those in the latter group comprise mainly women who work mostly in secretarial jobs. As in every trade union, the core business is to promote the interests of its members. In addition, CNV often receives requests for counselling services from works councils. Sometimes, the union is approached by social funds for research projects.
Description of the initiative
A number of years ago, four employees who worked as policy advisors at CNV Bedrijvenbond wanted to start their own consultancy agency. Their manager reluctantly agreed to the venture, on condition that there was no conflict of interests. Initially, the employees considered the agency more as a pastime, alongside their regular, virtually full-time jobs at CNV Bedrijvenbond.
More recently, partly as a result of an impending reorganisation, the employees decided that they would like to spend more time running the company. By then, due to the reorganisation, their direct manager had been assigned chair of CNV Bedrijvenbond. The workers proposed a plan and by mutual agreement decided to change their full-time contracts to part-time contracts, mostly two days a week, working for the remainder of the week in their own company, called A-advies. The group of employees were allowed to use the network relations of CNV Bedrijvenbond, while the union provided them with assignments for projects for which CNV had the financial resources but not the capacity or time to carry out. These projects often involved requests for counselling services or for research projects. It is often difficult for the union to reserve time for such projects, as current affairs usually warrant the most attention. Moreover, these projects did not belong to the core business of the trade union, namely the promotion of its members’ interests.
A-advies and CNV agreed to an arrangement whereby the union would guarantee a certain number of assignments for the first few years, if the company was not able to acquire enough assignments itself. In the long term, the workers plan to terminate their part-time contracts with CNV and to eventually work full time in their own company. Individual arrangements have been agreed upon in relation to this issue. CNV and A-advies confer regularly about their arrangements and about future assignments and cooperation.
A-advies began operations in 2007 as a consultancy agency in relation to employment conditions and labour relations. Their clients consist mainly of institutions devoted to the interests of employees, such as works councils, in addition to trade and industrial boards, branch organisations and social funds. As mentioned, A-advies also works on assignments awarded by CNV. In theory, some of these projects are still carried out by CNV Bedrijvenbond, while A-advies serves as a subcontractor. In relation to counselling projects, for example for work councils, CNV Bedrijvenbond refers potential clients to A-advies. On its website, CNV mentions its cooperation with A-advies and recommends the agency for advice on employee issues.
Following the success of the A-advies initiative, another CNV employee has requested a similar arrangement. The conditions regarding the latter case were not completely comparable, as the employees’ position was likely to become redundant. Nevertheless, a comparable arrangement was agreed upon. CNV Bedrijvenbond does not, however, have a standard arrangement for these initiatives, nor does it plan to devise one. Instead, each case will be examined on its own merits.
The A-advies initiative has yielded advantages for both parties. The employees have been able to start their own company – an endeavour which they had long desired – with a minimum amount of risk, since their employer guaranteed them a certain amount of assignments while still allowing them to keep their jobs on a part-time basis. Moreover, the workers were allowed to avail of the union’s network relations. At the same time, CNV Bedrijvenbond has been able to realise projects that it could not, or less easily, carry out prior to A-advies’ establishment.
The core business of CNV Bedrijvenbond is the promotion of its members’ interests. Often, the union does not have sufficient time for related issues, despite its clear interest in such concerns. As a result, CNV is usually busy dealing with current affairs in a reactive way. While the union would like to spend more time engaged in related issues, it recognises that such matters do not constitute its core business. By outsourcing these projects, CNV can keep in touch with recent developments, while still dedicating itself fully to the interests of its members. Therefore, the initiative being taken by employees to start their own business is considered as a welcome development by CNV, ensuring that the union has access to reliable companies in outsourcing its activities.
A key aspect of this initiative’s success is mutual confidence. Employees starting their own business and working partly for their employer could face a conflict of interests. Functional agreements therefore need to be made to prevent misunderstandings, although trust is still an important factor.
Exemplary and contextual factors
This venture is an example of a win-win situation. The fact that the employees receive assistance from their employer to start their own business, while still working part time for the company, represents an unusual approach – at least in the Netherlands. It shows how both the employer and employee can benefit from the outsourcing of activities.
Swenneke van den Heuvel, TNO, Hoofdorp