Proposal to give individual employees a say over working hours

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In July 2000, two Dutch political parties proposed new legislation to grant individual employees a greater say over their own working hours. The proposal garnered support from the trade unions and the majority in the Lower House of parliament, but ran into opposition from employers' associations.

In early July 2000, the Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid, PvdA) and the social christian ChristenUnie party introduced in parliament a proposal for legislation amending the Working Hours Act (Arbeidstijdenwet) to reflect their belief that individual employees deserve a greater say over their working hours.

The current 1995 Working Hours Act states that employees may work on Sundays if working conditions require and if an agreement is reached with the works council. Under the new legislative proposal, the employer must ask the individual employee's permission for Sunday working. This new measure is not intended to cover employees who work Sundays in their profession as a matter of course, such as those in healthcare and energy supply.

The proposal also includes a provision that the employer must take an employee's personal circumstances outside regular work into consideration when establishing working hours, in order to achieve a more harmonious balance between work and care responsibilities or other social commitments.

A majority of parliamentary groups support the proposal, with the sole opposition coming from the liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie, VVD), one of the parties in the coalition government. Responses from the main trade union confederations, the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) and the Christian Trade Union Federation (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond, CNV), are positive, but employers' associations reject the proposal. According to the VNO-NCW confederation, although employers should not summarily dismiss employees' private circumstances in setting working hours, employees should appreciate the importance of company interests.

Survey results on problems relating to working hours fail to provide a uniform picture. According to a trade union survey, more than half of retail employees interviewed work on Sundays against their will. By contrast, two researchers from the Social and Cultural Planning Agency (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau) conclude that the reforms introduced by the 1995 Working Hours Act have not resulted in any social breakdown, and that the rise in the number of individuals working irregular hours has been minimal.

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