Labour force participation top of agenda in unions’ talks with new cabinet

The three main trade union federations have proposed their points of interest for the participation dialogue with the Dutch cabinet. Both the social partners and cabinet agree that increasing the level of labour force participation is an important issue. However, differences of opinion arise on which other items of the proposed agenda are relevant for discussion. Employer organisations have noted the absence of dismissal protection in particular on the trade unions’ agenda.

The three largest trade union federations have proposed their points of interest for the upcoming participation dialogue with the Dutch cabinet. The trade unions involved are the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV), the Christian Trade Union Federation (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond, CNV) and the Federation of Managerial and Professional Staff Unions (Vakcentrale voor Middengroepen en Hoger Personeel, MHP). The new government has set aside its first 100 days of office to consult citizens and organisations in various social arenas on a range of different topics. In this context, the social partners are important collaborators in these discussions.

Government backs employability of workers

The Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, Piet Hein Donner, has indicated that he wishes to establish a joint approach with employers, trade unions and municipalities in order to substantially increase the labour market participation rate. Two areas require particular attention in this respect, namely the following:

  • the shift from job security to employment security has been highlighted. In addition to education and employability, work flexibility and the impact of dismissal law on this form of work are important issues;
  • the monitoring of groups that are difficult to place in employment is a key element of improving the labour market participation rate.

Concerning the first point, Minister Donner has joined employers in asserting that their investments in the employability of workers should be linked to the relaxation of dismissal law. On behalf of FNV, Director Wilna Wind expressed reservations in this regard. For over a year and a half, the social partners have failed to reach agreement on this point within the Social and Economic Council (Sociaal-Economische Raad, SER).

Trade unions favour more labour force participation

The trade union federations have submitted a list of points to be addressed on the agenda for consultations to take place before the summer. The seven-point plan, which could serve as the agenda for the participation dialogue between the employers and cabinet, includes the issue of increasing the level of labour market participation as a central point. In 2025, the trade union federations hope to have achieved an 80% level of participation. To this end, they want to see better training opportunities and more pay for less well-educated people. This move should help to ease the transition from receiving benefits to entering paid employment. More opportunities should also be introduced to convert temporary part-time jobs into extended and more long-term positions. Offering more day-care facilities for children would contribute towards achieving this goal.

The trade unions also encourage more individual entrepreneurship. The option of earning an income as a self-employed individual without employing personnel (zelfstandige zonder personeel or ZZP) could make a significant contribution towards labour market mechanisms. Furthermore, the trade unions hope to increase age awareness in relation to personnel policy in order to keep older employees in employment for longer. Within this scope, the trade unions believe that the dismissal of older employees must be regarded as a serious matter. Maintaining a high threshold in this respect is important.

Employers propose flexibility and relaxation of dismissal law

The Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (Vereniging van Nederlandse Ondernemingen-Nederlands Christelijk Werkgeversverbond, VNO-NCW) has expressed in advance of its dialogue with the cabinet that they support efforts to achieve a better labour force participation rate. However, the employers believe that such efforts must be paired with responsible wage trends and the relaxation of dismissal law. VNO-NCW has pointed towards an absence of the latter point on the agenda proposal tabled by the trade union federations. The trade unions would rather not see the latter topic on the agenda of the participation dialogue, because entwining these issues could accentuate mutual differences. VNO-NCW and the Dutch Federation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Midden- en Kleinbedrijf Nederland, MKB-Nederland) have made it known that their agenda for the participation dialogue differs. They wish to pay particular attention to the relaxation of dismissal law, wage moderation, lower social contributions, as well as leave arrangements that also affect employers in their daily practice.

Marianne Grünell, Hugo Sinzheimer Institute (HSI)

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