Trade union extends membership to self-employed workers

In the summer of 2007, the Christian Trade Union Federation (CNV) opened its ranks to self-employed workers. By taking this measure, CNV is following the Dutch Trade Union Federation, which took the lead in making membership available to self-employed persons. Representation by CNV does not cover wages, but does affect health and disability insurance, pregnancy benefits and pension provisions.

Less security for self-employed workers

In the summer of 2007, the Christian Trade Union Federation (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond, CNV) opened its ranks to self-employed workers. In so doing, CNV is following the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV), which already opened membership to self-employed workers as far back as 1999; at that time, FNV introduced a trial phase of representing independent hauliers.

The Chair of CNV, René Paas, describes self-employed workers as a new type of employee, who may experience poorer working conditions than his or her colleagues in salaried employment. Self-employed persons have to work harder and are more vulnerable when the economic climate deteriorates. Furthermore, these workers often have no disability insurance and inadequate pension provisions (NL0611059I). Trade union support is therefore sorely required.

Mr Paas identifies an increase in the number of self-employed individuals in the construction, transport and communication industries. Workers in these sectors do not always deliberately choose the status of self-employment, as they may be forced into this situation by company restructuring and outsourcing (NL0504103F). Moreover, a move to self-employment is often accompanied by cancelling trade union membership. CNV has for this reason lost some 4,000 members over the past 10 years. It is estimated that self-employed workers account for over 10% of labour, in the construction sector in particular.

Self-employed workers fastest growing group within FNV

The number of self-employed workers totals half a million individuals in 2007, with expectations that this figure will increase further. CNV now hopes, following the line adopted by FNV, that more self-employed workers will opt for trade union membership. In recent years, FNV trade unions that focus on self-employed workers have grown faster than traditional trade unions. The specific trade union for self-employed workers, FNV Zelfstandigen, continues to expand by some 2,000 members a year. Traditional unions, on the other hand, are faced by an ageing and dwindling membership. FNV counts a total of 25,000 self-employed workers among its members. The two largest trade unions for self-employed workers are FNV Zelfstandige Bondgenoten, established in 1999, and FNV Zelfstandigen Bouw.

Benefits of joining trade union

Trade unions have found it difficult to define their position in respect of self-employed workers. As the latter are not employees in the strict sense of the word, they were for long viewed as entrepreneurs. Furthermore, employees who took up self-employment represented a potential threat to former colleagues as far as employment conditions were concerned. However, with the growth in the number of self-employed workers, CNV has revised its opinion on their admission to trade union membership. These workers will not form a separate trade union, but can instead join the particular CNV trade union which represents their area of expertise. Nonetheless, they will be entitled to an extra package of services tailored to their specific needs.

While the services provided by self-employed workers mirror those provided by regular employees, the former group does not have the benefit of a collective agreement. This is practically impossible as it would involve illegal price agreements, according to the Dutch Competition Authority (Nederlandse Mededingingsautoriteit, NMa). CNV is now considering the possibility of working with the other trade unions towards including rate agreements in the collective agreement of the user enterprises.

As part of their CNV membership package, self-employed workers can now also arrange health or disability insurance at more attractive rates than they could do individually. CNV also has plans to create pension provision for self-employed workers. FNV and the Alternative Trade Union (Alternatief voor Vakbond, AVV) (NL0510103F) led the way in developing a pension scheme for self-employed workers.

Court rules against pregnancy leave for self-employed

Meanwhile – together with seven self-employed women who did not receive pregnancy benefits – FNV and the Clara Wichmann Institute (Clara Wichmann Instituut), which works on behalf of women’s rights, initiated a test case against the Dutch state. In 2004, the government scrapped the Occupational Disability Insurance (Self-Employed Workers) Act (Wet arbeidsongeschiktheidsverzekering zelfstandigen, WAZ). Each year, some 5,500 self-employed women received pregnancy benefits under the terms of this act. It now appears that, with the abolition of the WAZ, half of those women who are self-employed fail to take out pregnancy benefits insurance due to the high costs involved (NL0512104F). On 25 July 2007, the court rejected the appeal: it ruled that self-employed workers themselves have to bear responsibility for their insurance provisions.

Marianne Grünell, Hugo Sinzheimer Institute (HSI)

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