Inadequate compliance with collective agreements

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A recent study from the FNV union confederation has shown that Dutch employers, and especially small and medium-sized enterprises, often do not fully comply with the terms of collective agreements. The most common violations concern working hours, overtime and holidays.

In a study commissioned by the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) , 50 collective agreements were scrutinised to discover the extent to which they had been observed in practice. The study found that the level of compliance appears to be rather poor, particularly in firms with fewer than 25 employees. Medium-sized companies (which have up to 100 workers) enjoy a slightly better record of compliance. Aside from company size, there also seems to be a relationship between compliance and the level of union presence and employee education. Furthermore, collective agreements are not properly observed in sectors which have to deal with price competition. Examples of poorly complying sectors include the cleaning sector, road transport and haulage, and the health and caring services sector.

The study also contains the results of interviews held with leaders of eight unions affiliated to the FNV across 15 sectors. Of all the collective agreements, the union leaders could not think of any which had been complied with perfectly. Compliance varies from mediocre to poor, especially with regard to agreements covering working hours, overtime and holidays. The hours that employees are expected to be present at work are often imposed unilaterally - even when collective agreements state that this can only be arranged only following consultations. Agreements on wages, holiday allowances and fringe benefits are generally observed.

Enforcement is further complicated by the fact that most trade unions do not keep track of the extent to which individual complaints by union members relate to non-compliance with the terms of collective agreements. Because of this, union leaders involved in collective bargaining may lack relevant knowledge. The study therefore recommends that union administration systems be improved in this regard.

According to some of the union leaders interviewed, the various ways in which the texts of collective agreement can be interpreted promotes non-compliance. Several FNV unions have even called in linguistic experts to help produce unambiguous texts. The Confederation of Netherlands Industries and Employers (Verbond van Nederlandse Ondernemingen-Nederlands Christelijk Werkgeversverbond, VNO-NCW) admits that texts of collective agreements can lead to misunderstandings and that they might be subject to further discussion between the parties at decentralised levels. However, basing its view on the impressions of sector representatives, VNO-NCW is of the opinion that in general compliance is adequate.

Another problem, according to the study, concerns the wide range of companies covered by the collective agreements. Some enterprises view the agreements as too restrictive and therefore attempt to evade them. However, this problem can be dealt with by applying framework agreements and by establishing custom-made agreements at a company level.

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