Complaints about discrimination and inappropriate treatment during job applications

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Recent studies published in the Netherlands show that discrimination on grounds of age and other factors occurs frequently in job recruitment and selection, while inappropriate treatment of applicants is also common.

Two recent reports have shown that age discrimination is common in job recruitment and selection. The first report, drawn up by the Labour Inspectorate (Arbeidsinspectie), contains the results of an analysis of 124 collective agreements and 1,182 companies that had one or more vacancies in 1996. The second report concerns information compiled by the Job Application Complaint Registration Desk (Meldpunt Sollicitatieklachten) in the period between 15 January and 15 March 1997. This Registration Desk, set up by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, provided a free telephone number to receive complaints about the job application process.

Of the total number of complaints received by the Registration Desk, 62% concerned discrimination. Age discrimination was by far the most common complaint, constituting 36% of the total number. The report issued by the Labour Inspectorate also indicated that age is an important selection criterion. Age discrimination is not currently illegal, but in 1996, the Cabinet asked the bipartite Labour Foundation (Stichting van de Arbeid) for advice about its plan to prohibit such discrimination in the recruitment and selection of job candidates.

Despite the fact that it is already illegal, discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and gender still occurs. From the study carried out by the Labour Inspectorate, it became clear that in between 26% and 31% of the companies involved, gender "sometimes to always" plays a role in recruitment and selection, and for between 3% and 14% of the companies it "always" plays a role. Ethnicity is "always" used as a selection criterion in 2% to 3% of the companies. Of the total number of complaints received by the Registration Desk, 4% concerned discrimination on grounds of gender, race or ethnicity.

The Labour Inspectorate's study also found that in 36% of cases, health or disabilities "sometimes to always" played a role for small and medium-sized businesses, and 38% for large companies. Furthermore, these criteria are "always" used for selection in 9% and 5% of the business sizes respectively. The Minister and the State Secretary regard these figures as confirmation of the importance of the currently adopted initiative which forbids the standard and routine use of pre-appointment medical examinations. The Cabinet has also proposed that employers be required to have certified health and safety services carry out such examinations.

Finally, the two studies revealed that a considerable number of applicants were treated inappropriately by prospective employers. Of the total number of complaints registered, 52% concerned this subject. Close to one in four applicants indicated that they did not receive a response to their letter of application. Other complaints regarded non-compliance with agreements reached, intimidation or rude behaviour and sexual harassment. The Labour Inspectorate's report also showed that many companies do not offer the opportunity to complain about carelessness or inappropriate treatment during recruitment and selection.

Employers' and employees' organisations within the Labour Foundation frequently draft recommendations to combat such phenomena. Examples include recommendations on recruitment and selection, and recommendations directed at promoting equal treatment. However, the continued effect of the various recommendations appears to vary widely in both business practice and in negotiations on collective agreements.

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