EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

The Netherlands: EIRO CAR on the Changing Business Landscape in the Electricity sector and Industrial Relations in Europe

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  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 14 November 2012

Marianne Grünell

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

The electricity sector has been affected by the challenges posed by the introduction of market mechanisms. While the Network has remained under state control, production and distribution have since 2006 been delegated to the market. Internationalisation has had its influence on the autonomy of companies. So far, the effect on the number of employees has turned out lower than expected. The effect of the crisis has until now been negligible. The social partners have addressed the new issues by keeping a sharp eye on the level of pay, but also with the introduction of new pay mechanisms. The foreseen shortage of personnel is tackled by the two parties through broader opportunities for scholars and trainees.

1. General background information on the energy policy in your country and employment trends

1.1. Please explain briefly the main governmental strategies/action in relation to the electricity production and energy source mix. In your answer, please include information on the following aspects, where possible:

Is there an outspoken policy or plan in your country for any kind of change towards an increase or decrease of electricity production with any of the different sources (coal, oil, gas, hydro, eolic, sun, etc.)?

  • 2000 there is no standing government policy; the market model has been introduced.
  • Which is the targeted energy mix for the future (see material provided)? How, in which subsequent steps, such targets are expected to be met?

The government has no targeted energy mix for the future. The government sets the conditions and it is up to the market parties to fill them. The single policy since 2000 is: sufficient renewable energy and saving measures. The proposed measures are indicative, not binding. Binding are the three goals set for 2020 with regard to renewable energy; CO2 reduction of 20%, 14% of all energy has to be gained through renewable energy and a 20% reduction of energy use in general, (Government’s Energy Policy, 2011).

Are investments in networks (new connections, upgrade) envisaged? To what extent? With which specific goals?

The government makes investments in the network, in addition to a durable network and its maintenance, the government invests in new sources - such as wind energy – which need a different, decentralised network; the rest is the responsibility of the market parties.

What is the Government stance and what are the ongoing/envisaged action towards generation of electricity from the different broad groups of sources: nuclear /fossile /renewable energy?

The government does not make a distinction since all sources are perceived are necessary for the ambition set towards the generation of electricity.

What are the recent employment trends in the different subsectors of power generation according to the different broad groups of sources: nuclear/fossile/renewable energy? Please indicate development since 2005 with reference to generation, distribution, and sale separately.

No significant changes took place in the level of employment and only a slight shift took place in the distribution over the different subsectors.

1.2. Government policy for increase of the share of renewable resources according to the RES directive

Are any subsidies being granted for different types of RES for electricity providers? If yes, please provide briefly the details.

No. The government has made available a sum of 1.4 billion on an annual base; this budget (SDE Plus) is available for all energy sources. One may tender (three rounds a year) with proposals on all energy sources. These proposals are mainly being assessed on their cost efficiency.

Have subsidies for RES been cut recently? Was this a result of the crisis, of budget constraints, or the result of a policy revision (following a policy assessment, due to a disproportionate use of subsidies, etc.)? Please provide brief details.

There have been cuts; plans are being post posed as a result of budget constraints and policy revision, but this development is not a consequence of the economic crisis.

Are there any other forms of support foreseen for promoting electricity generation of RES?

No. The government solely scraps rules that hinder promoting electricity generation of RES.

Please include any other aspects you consider to be worth mentioning regarding the state of play and the future prospects of RES in your country.


1.3. Are there any studies and documents assessing the employment impact of energy policies and of prospective changes in the energy mix within the electricity sector? This could include, for instance,

Employment effects resulting from the unbundling of activities (production from distribution)

Unbundling of activities has had a slightly negative effect on employment.

Employment effects (on quantity and quality of work) resulting from the possible shifts within the electricity production sector from traditional sources to RES

There were not many shifts between sources resulting in employment effects.

Employment effects from investments in infrastructure (renewal of grids, introduction of smart meter technology, district heating)

There were no special effects.

The need for retraining of workers or provision of new qualifications linked to the sector transformations

In RES higher educated people are needed, but this need concerns only a limited number of jobs.

Possible spatial mobility of workers as a result of more decentralised production (linked both to new activities and to restructuring of existing ones)

  • No.

Please include any other aspects you consider to be worth mentioning regarding prospective impacts on employment and industrial relations


1.4 To what extent are the social partners involved or consulted concerning the governmental energy policy, notably in relation to employment impacts? Has this happened on an ad-hoc basis or on a structural, permanent basis? Is there a special tripartite social dialogue body for such consultations? Did consultation take place at national level, at sector level, or at the initiative of individual companies? Please briefly provide details.

The social partners in the energy sector have been consulted by the authorities, via the SER, the Social-Economic Council. The Council is a permanent government advisory body at national level; the consultation on the energy topic was ad-hoc. Since 2006 the SER has published 3 studies: on RES (Naar een kansrijk en duurzaam energiebeleid (2006), Fact Finding Kernenergie (2007) and Kernenergie en een duurzame energievoorziening (2008)). The issue of employment impact has played a minor role in the studies.

2. Composition, structure and employment trends for the different resources used for electricity production

2.1 Please give an overview of the current sectoral composition of electricity production in your country, by giving for each of these seven groups of energy sources, the NAME of the three largest producing, the NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES of these companies, and the public or private STATUS of the EMPLOYMENT RELATIONSHIP with their employees.

For all companies listed, as a summary, please indicate:

  1. Total production and its distribution across different energy sources

Information not available.

  1. Total employment and its distribution across different energy sources

Total employment in 2009 consists out of 22.000 jobs in distribution and 4.500 jobs in production.

  1. Production plants and their respective energy source(s).

The three large electricity companies are Nuon, Essent and Eneco; they produce for more than 80% of the market. In total, 35 energy companies are recorded in 2009.

The information requested below – starting with the type of energy - is not available in the Netherlands; companies use several types of energy. The number of employees per company is not publically available.

With regard to production and distribution companies the status of the employees is private.

Electricity production

Electricity production with



(the largest 3 in market share)


Reference year for the number of employees

Private/Public STATUS of WORKERS


2.2 Please provide an overview of the current oganisation of electricity distribution in your country. Is there a single distributing company/body? Are there multiple companies? At national or territorial level?

Since the 2006 there is ruling against monopolies and thus on the division of companies. The network company is still national. In production and distribution there are more, but not many companies active. The companies are national or international, and they may operate territorial (distribution).

2.3 Please indicate the NAME of the three largest distributing companies, the NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES of these companies, and the public or private STATUS of the EMPLOYMENT RELATIONSHIP with their employees.

Distribution companies



(the largest 3 in market share)


Reference year for the number of employees

Private/Public STATUS of WORKERS

Distribution GRID        

2.4. Where there any significant developments/changes since 2008 for a specific company or source of electricity production in numbers of employees or in their public/private status? Was this due to the current economic crisis? Were there any instances of unbundling or mergers? With what consequences in terms of employment and industrial relations?

The legislation on unbundling has changed the position of employees formally, from public workers to private employees. The number of workers has not declined drastically. It is stated that there has been a trend towards lower pay, but this trend is partly countered by the trend of scarcity of workers. Thus, the consequences in terms of employment are not far-reaching; industrial relations have changed slightly since a few more companies are active in the sector. The current economic crisis has had no effect on this process.

3. Industrial relations in the electricity sector: Actors

4. Please provide details on the membership in the electricity sector and membership of the top 3 producing and distributing companies in employer’s organisation (see questions 2.1-2.3 above). Please provide information on the name of the trade unions organising in this subsector and the level of their membership, or otherwise provide overall data but please include indications on differences in membership densities across subsectors.

As mentioned above, information on the companies is not publically available. Membership data of employer organisations is also protected. Unions are organised along the traditional sector divisions. The trade unions can not offer the specified information requested here, companies do not want to offer this information (see above).

Trade union representation and Membership to employers’ organisation
And in the distributing companies

Distribution GRID



3.2 To what extent are employees in the different subsectors (fossil/nuclear/RES) covered by trade union representation? Has there been any impact of the crisis on trade union representation?

The economic crisis has had no impact on trade union representation. Employees in the different subsectors are covered by three (national affiliated) unions, FNV Abvakabo, CNV Publieke Zaak and NMHPN, a union affiliated tot CMHF, the organisation for middle and higher personnel. Of all union members around 60% is member of Abvakabo, 30% of CNV Publieke Zaak and around 10% to NMHPN, according to our trade union respondent. In total the union density is about 40% in the sector (AIAS 2007).

3.3 Have there been major reorganisations/splits/mergers of trade unions or employers organisations in the sector during the last five years?


3.4. Have new actors (trade unions or employers organisations) been founded in recent years, especially in the newly evolving RES industries? Or is the industry covered by established actors?


3.5. Have the established sectoral actors (both trade unions and employer organisations) started any initiative to extend their representation to the new emerging parts of the sector? Please describe such initiatives and their results so far.

Unknown. In the perspective that the newly emerging parts of the sector are small, their representation enrolled relative easy, or has not happened at all.

4. Role of collective bargaining and social dialogue

4.1 Please provide information on the structure of collective bargaining in the electricity sector. Please, briefly mention the main characteristics of collective bargaining:

At what level are collective agreements within the subsectors of the electricity sector (traditional providers, newly emerging providers) concluded (company, sectoral level and/or inter-sectoral level)? Is there a difference between the producers and the distributors?

The structure of collective bargaining did not change drastically in recent years, although there are presently more companies active in the sector. There is a collective agreement for each of the 2 subsectors. In addition, there are company collective agreements. This structure covers producing and distributing companies.

Estimate the coverage rate of collective bargaining in terms of companies and employees: are there any differences in coverage across different sub sectors of electricity production?

In general there exists a 100% coverage. The labour terms in the public network companies are more secure, comparable with the position of civil servants Companies (in production and in distribution) have an additional company collective agreement, negotiated with the unions. Some other companies have their own collective agreement. These exceptions are being critically monitored since they try to bypass negotiated agreements, according to the union respondent.

4.2 Please comment on the most recent collective agreements reached at sector level and at company level. Please address the following topics:

Pay and working time: level and trends relative to the national average and significant differences across subsectors of the electricity industry.

Regarding the issue of pay, companies have a large amount of autonomy, although collective agreements lay a bottom. Shortage on the labour market creates an upward pressure on salaries.

Regarding the issue of working time: there is an agreed 38 hours working week on an annual base. (Work in shifts forms an exception.) In addition, the employer association (WENb) has established a new form of flexible work; employees can choose their working time schedule within a flexible range. On pay, the association has also offered a new model for salaries and secondary terms of employment. These schemes and proposals are part of a new policy on labour conditions since the labour market is tense. Even the new media are incorporated in a dialogue with (new) staff, works council and unions to discuss ‘new ways of working’.

4.3. Cooperation between the social partners and government

Have the government started any social dialogue or social concentration in the electricity sector since 2008? Please illustrate the features and results of any such initiatives.

No. (The national legal ruling is out of 2006.) The government has in the meantime corrected the policy of some companies who had again tied production and distribution together - in one holding.

Have bipartite and/or tripartite bodies dealing with specific issues of the electricity industry been created since 2008?


Have there been since 2008 any joint initiatives of cooperation between social partners to influence or steer the energy policy developed by the government in your country? Or have such initiatives been taken separately by certain social partner organisations?

Joint initiatives of the social partners are directed at the employment in the sector; they try to interest and enthuse young people for working in the sector. These initiatives are serious and are materialised in that own vocational schools are being (re)established.

Have the social partners been involved in the making of the national action plan to reach the 2020 target, or in issues aiming to secure the supply of enough electricity?

At national level, in the SER, the Social-Economic Council, the social partners have been involved in the national policy on energy and the 2020 target. (See question 1.4)

Within this national and global policy, the social partners select ideas and initiatives which they bring in cooperation into practice.

4.4. Please provide information about the views of the trade unions and employer organisations on the main changes regarding employment and working conditions affecting the sector since 2008 and especially on the impact of the current crisis (for instance on employment trends, quality of jobs, working hours, wages, fixed-term employment, part-time, temporary agency work, participation in training, outsourcing, subcontracting etc.).

The social partners share the opinion that the economic crisis has had a weak impact on the energy sector. Nevertheless, the national recommendations of the SER have had their impact in the sector, for example on pay moderation or on the assessment of older workers. Although many public workers became private sector employees, the terms of employment did not deteriorate dramatically. Given the high degree of employee organisation and the expected shortages of personnel it is not to be foreseen that the terms of employment will change drastic.


The division into production and into distribution companies and the market mechanisms are responsible for the challenges faced by the electricity sector. This present competition between companies in the market implies that information on number of companies and its employees is not publically available. The effect of the crisis has up till now been negligible. Internationalisation has had its influence on the autonomy of companies and on employee pay levels. So far, the effect on the number of employees turns out lower than has been expected. The social partners have addressed the challenges following this process in collective bargaining by keeping a sharp eye on the level of pay, but also with the introduction of new remuneration mechanisms. The social partners want to tackle the foreseen shortage of staff by offering new opportunities for scholars and trainees.

Marianne Grünell, University of Amsterdam, HSI


  • Mr. P van der Vlugt (Employer association WENb)
  • Mr. R. Cornelisse (FNV Union Abvakabo)
  • Mr. F. de Haan (Dutch Energy Council, Nederlandse EnergieRaad)
  • Mr. P. Meijer (Association Dutch Energy, Vereniging Energie- Nederland)


  • Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, CBS
  • Goverrnment’s Energy Policy, 2011 (Rijksoverheid, Energiebeleid 2011), Den Haag
  • Rademaekers K., J.D. Ouwens, L. Meindert e.a. (2010) Versterking van de Nederlandse Duurzame Energiesector, ECORYS Research and Consulting, Rotterdam, 2010
  • Poel, P., N. Tijsmans, P. Wit, C. van Rij (2008) Effecten van marktwerking op arbeidsvoorwaarden in twaalf sectoren, Regiopan, Amsterdam 2008
  • Van der Meer, M., M. Schaapman, M. Aerts (2007) Marktwerking en Arbeidsvoorwaarden - de casus van het openbaar vervoer, de energiebedrijven en de thuiszorg, AIAS, (Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies), Amsterdam 2007
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