Unions launch protest action against government policy

Download article in original language : NL0409102NNL.DOC

In August 2004, the Netherlands' three main trade union federations launched a programme of protest action against government policy on a variety of issues, notably early retirement and lifelong leave arrangements. The planned action includes a strike on 21 September.

In August 2004, the Dutch trade union movement initiated protest action against government policy under the slogan 'The Dutch deserve better' (Nederland verdient beter). This followed the breakdown in June of tripartite talks over new arrangements for early retirement and a 'life-span regulation', enabling workers greater scope to save and manage periods of time off over their careers (NL0406102F and NL0407101N). With the christian democrat/liberal coalition government now intending to continue with its own plans, the unions see no other alternative than to launch large-scale industrial action.

The chairs of the three largest trade union federations - the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV), Christian Trade Union Federation (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond, CNV) and Federation of Managerial and Professional Staff (Middelbaar en Hoger Personeel, MHP) - emphasised at the start of the protest action on 24 August that although they support the Dutch 'consultative model', entering into consultation with the government no longer seems possible.

In a letter addressed to the government, the union federations listed the policy topics where they believe that the government is currently ignoring their input (NL0408104F):

  • early retirement schemes and life-span leave arrangements;
  • changes to the Unemployment Insurance Act (Werkloosheidswet, WW);
  • changes to the Occupational Disability Insurance Act (Wet op de arbeidsongeschiktheidsverzekering, WAO) (NL0404101N);
  • policy on the extension of collective agreements (NL0403102F);
  • payment of wages during an employee's second year of sickness absence (NL0407102F);
  • policy on the national minimum wage (NL0402102F);
  • social security benefits; and
  • employee savings.

The protest action kicked off with the widespread distribution of pamphlets and the establishment of a dedicated website at http://www.nederlandverdientbeter.nl. The intention is for the protest action to culminate in a strike on 'budget day'- 21 September 2004 - when the government traditionally announces its policy plans for the forthcoming year, to be followed by a national demonstration on 2 October. From 2 October onwards, the protest action should spread to affect individual companies. This is more than reasonable, according to the chair of FNV, Lodewijk de Waal, since employers drafted at least part of the government’s plans

This is the first time since 1991 that the trade union movement has joined forces to oppose government policy. At that time, the issue at stake was the government’s intervention in WAO occupational disability insurance.

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