Unions aim to take moderate approach in bargaining

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In November 2001, in the course of the customary 'autumn consultation' between Dutch employers, trade unions and government, the union federations announced their intention to adopt a moderate approach during forthcoming collective bargaining. They are also prepared to accept more sector-specific wage increases.

The customary 'autumn consultation' (Najaarsoverleg) between the central employers' and trade union organisations and the government took place on 15 November 2001. In the course of the discussions, the chairs of the trade union federations conceded that they would adopt a 'moderate' approach during the forthcoming collective bargaining round (NL0110101N). Willem Vermeend, the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, expects a wage increase of around 2% to 3%. The government has agreed that employees should be compensated if the wage increases fall short of the inflation rate. If, however, employers' labour costs rise too far, their cost burden will be reduced. This will be discussed further during the 'spring consultation' (Voorjaarsoverleg), which has been brought forward to March 2002.

The unions' wage demands had already been lowered somewhat during the weeks preceding the autumn consultation. The Christian Trade Union Federation (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond, CNV) quoted a 'bandwidth' for pay increases of 2.25% to 4%. According to the CNV chair, Doekle Terpstra, this range would allow for sector-specific agreements. In sectors where labour productivity is declining, the maximum wage increase should be set at 2.25%. According to Mr Terpstra, a 4% demand would be more appropriate in the public sector. In November 2001, De Unie-Federation of Managerial and Staff Unions (Unie Middelbaar en Hoger Personeel, De Unie MHP) lowered its wage demand from 3.5% to a minimum of 3%. In the run-up to the autumn consultation, the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) reiterated its maximum wage demand of 4%. Immediately after the autumn consultation, the largest FNV affiliate, Allied Unions (FNV Bondgenoten), expressed its expectation that the increase would be approximately 3.5%. In contrast to previous practice, FNV would be prepared to accept greater differentiation in terms of wage trends.

The most radical standpoint was adopted by the Federation of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (Midden- en Klein Bedrijf, MKB), which is calling for a national 'zero line'. Previous collective agreement , which largely specify wage increases of around 3.5%, should be extended to cover the coming year according to the MKB chair, Hans de Boer. Additionally, the employers' associations are calling on the cabinet to lower social security premia. For the time being, the government has not responded to this request. According to Prime Minister Wim Kok, lowering social security contributions further would undermine the government's financial balance.

The trade union federations appear to be struggling to find a way to justify relatively low wage increases to employees, union members and non-members alike, who point to high inflation (3.5% in 2001), ongoing shortages in the labour market and lagging terms and conditions of employment in the public sector, as well as substantially increasing top executive salaries (NL0107137F). A survey conducted among 600 employees (of whom a third were members of a union) at the start of November found that 71% of those interviewed want a wage increase of 4% or more.

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