Social partners agree measures to increase labour market participation

In June 2007, the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment signed an agreement with the social partners and municipalities as part of a successful summit focusing on increasing labour market participation – particularly among unemployed women, older employees and people of foreign extraction. In response to the government’s proposal a week later to relax dismissal law, the Dutch Trade Union Federation has announced plans to prepare for industrial action.

Focus on increasing labour market participation

In June 2007, the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, Piet-Hein Donner, signed an agreement with the social partners and municipalities following a summit on labour market participation. The plan focuses on one of the trade unions’ main demands – increasing labour market participation (NL0704059I). Different target groups have been identified – in particular, women and older employees. The discussion focused on different ways and measures aimed at increasing the level of participation, for example by encouraging more telework.

Measures targeting women

The government will adopt fiscal measures to provide greater incentives for women to work. A ‘part-time plus taskforce’ will be established to boost the image of women in the job market.

Telework and ‘composite’ jobs

The social partners will have to include arrangements on telework in collective labour agreements. A greater number of ‘composite’ positions must also be created – that is, jobs with two employers, such as in the education and childcare sectors.

Combating unemployment

Unemployment benefits may be used as wage-cost subsidies. Subsidised employment opportunities will be created for people on long-term benefits who have little prospect of finding work. The municipalities will help 25,000 people without benefits to find work: this mainly concerns women whose husbands are currently the breadwinners. People in receipt of benefits will be assisted in finding paid employment or in starting their own business.

Measures targeting marginalised groups

A national registration point will be established for cases of discrimination involving foreign jobseekers. Benefits for young people under 27 years of age will be scrapped by the government and replaced by an apprenticeship/work obligation. At the same time, the social partners will contribute towards creating more apprenticeship positions. In addition, some 10,000 subsidised ‘bridging positions’ will be created in cases where disability claimants lose their benefits as a result of their claims being re-examined.

Agreement between social partners

The social partners and municipalities have agreed to the measures envisaged by the plan and signed the agreement. It is clear that their cooperation is essential for the plans to succeed – for the municipalities, in establishing subsidised labour and for the social partners, in reaching collective agreements.

Relaxation of dismissal law

Discussion relating to the relaxation of the dismissal law was excluded from the summit, as it was likely that this issue would sour relations at the summit. The exclusion of this topic pleased the trade unions, but disappointed the employers: a more relaxed dismissal law should make it simpler and cheaper for employers to dismiss employees. In the run-up to the summit, the Chair of the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (Vereniging van Nederlandse Ondernemingen-Nederlands Christelijk Werkgeversverbond, VNO-NCW), Bernard Wientjes, argued that job creation should not be seen as separate from liberalisation of the dismissal law. The confederation tabled a proposal for large-scale companies to take into service up to 200,000 unemployed individuals in the years ahead. However, in exchange, they hoped to count on a relaxation of the dismissal law. While this issue was not addressed at the participation summit, a week later the cabinet proposed measures for a more relaxed dismissal law. After the summer break, the Dutch House of Representatives will deliberate on the dismissal law plans. In response, the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) has already announced its intention to prepare for industrial action.

Marianne Grünell, Hugo Sinzheimer Institute (HSI)

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