The Netherlands: The role of governments and social partners in keeping older workers in the labour market

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Social dialogue,
  • Sustainable work,
  • Working conditions and sustainable work,
  • Inequality,
  • Industrial relations,
  • Collective bargaining,
  • Agreements,
  • Published on: 02 June 2013

Robbert van het Kaar and Frank Tros

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

In the Netherlands, both the government and the social partners have issued a range of policies and recommendations to stimulate older workers to work longer or to (re)enter the labour market. Although participation has increased considerably over the past decade, little research has been done on the actual effects of the different measures and policies.


The ageing workforce is a demographic process that can cause problems related to the sustainability of the welfare regimes and more specifically to the maintenance of the pension systems. On the labour market side, the aforementioned process can have damaging implications for the reproduction of skills and for the availability of the necessary workforce with different impacts in the various economic activities. Therefore, a shrinking working age population risks acting as a drag on economic growth through labour and skills shortages. Moreover, the projections of the 2012 Ageing report suggests that there will be a considerable increase in employment rates for older persons across the EU-27 during the next half a century.

In this context the EU has recognised the importance of the ageing challenge for many years and has developed policy in several areas. Active ageing features as part of the flagship policy ‘Europe 2020’.

Active ageing recognises that if people are to work for a longer period of time, then they will need to be in good physical and mental health, with access to more flexible working arrangements, healthy workplaces, lifelong learning and retirement schemes. In this regard, the attention might go beyond the older group of workers including middle age workers, for example. In order to address the abovementioned challenges, policy measures at national level are needed to promote working conditions that can help keeping workers in the labour market for longer in their lifetime. The content and aims of these policies may vary from country to country because of the particular situation of the different EU countries as regards life-expectancy, ageing, economic and sectoral structure and budgetary aspects.

The role of social partners is essential in this context, as they are key actors in shaping and improving working conditions in the various sectors. Some sectors are characterised by more strenuous jobs, adding to the challenge of keeping older workers in employment longer. Moreover, it is important to examine if and how recent changes (increasing statutory retirement age, economic crisis, technological change, and sectoral and production changes) have impacted on the nature of the policies for improving the quality of work of older workers.

In this framework, earlier case study research by Eurofound identified examples of companies with practices intended to develop a sustainable workforce through adequate working conditions that facilitate keeping older workers in employment and at the same time making possible the presence of the necessary skills in companies. However, given the recent socioeconomic changes and lack of updated comparative information, further research is needed in order to map strategies and measures at national level, as well as to assess certain initiatives from governments, social partners and social dialogue with the aim to improve quality of work in order to keep longer workers in the labour market.

National active ageing policies

The participation of older workers in the labour market is strongly conditioned by the national policy environment, in particular by the pension system framework, employment legislation, wage policies, occupational and wider health care provisions, active labour market policies as well as the availability of education and training.

In the recent years most Member States have put policy emphasis on reforming their pension systems and restricting access to early retirement and other early exit routes, which had become popular during the 1970s and 80s as ways to address youth unemployment and challenges of restructuring. As a result of these reforms, leaving the labour market early has become much more costly for individuals.

In addition, many countries are considering – or have already implemented – an increase in the statutory retirement age, partly to take account of the rise in healthy life expectancy and the changing nature of jobs (less physically demanding), but also – and particularly in the current economic climate – to ensure the long-term viability of their public pension systems in the context of increasing pressure on public budgets.

It is also important to note that pre-retirement pensions, which are contra-intuitive to the above outlined EU policy objectives, are still commonly used in a number of EU countries (including also as a result of the crisis), although they have been rendered significantly less attractive to older workers themselves as well as companies. Similarly, the possibilities of part-time career breaks or partial retirement, intended to stimulate workers’ return to a labour market or their retention on a reduced hours basis have in many countries been used as a first step towards early retirement.

Consequently, while the Member States’ policies emphasis has been on foreclosing avenues towards early retirement and raising of the retirement age, The number of governmental initiatives which have been taken to improve quality of work and to assist older workers in retaining a foothold on the labour market seems to be much smaller. Nevertheless, the measures which have been undertaken include among others:

  • Supporting ongoing skills development and validation of existing competences. These measures spring from the recognition that lifelong learning and ongoing skills development are key to supporting sustainable employability not just for older workers, but for the workforce at large (throughout working lives). To make lifelong learning a reality at this scale the current trends demonstrating an under-representation of lower skilled and older workers in continuous learning need to be overcome. Initiatives in this area have been taken both by social partners and national governments. In France, for example, a cross-sectoral social partner agreement from 2006 (later transferred into law), encourages the development of “second half of career interviews”, skills assessments and a better implementation of the individual right to training for workers over 45, while a law from 2005 obliges all companies with more than 300 employees to agree a three-year anticipatory plan on development of competences.
  • Awareness raising measures. These include, for example, financial support for initiatives aimed at making the business case for active age management and retaining older workers in the workplace. These measures also include fighting stereotypes about older workers’ adaptability and willingness to learn, health issues and the level of absenteeism.
  • Member States can also provide support in the development of age management strategies at organisational level (such measures exist in Germany and the Netherlands, among others).
  • Active labour market policies, including:
  1. Advice, counselling, guidance, job matching and vocational training measures to update existing skills and upskill older workers active in sectors facing declining demand;
  2. Subsidies for employers offering employment opportunities for older workers. Such subsidies are often time limited and can be tied to commitments to offer longer term employment or training.
  • Comprehensive approaches, including measures to support work ability and employability. A number of countries provide financial support for “work ability” measures, which take a holistic approach to ensuring an individual’s employability and work ability throughout working life, incorporating training, occupational health and other measures. The most commonly applied approach is the so called “Work ability index” initially developed in Finland.
  • Work organisation related measures, like removing barriers and promoting flexible working. Flexible working time organisation can benefit older workers. Such policies may include regulation developed to promote among older workers flexible work schedules, part-time working, teleworking and easier transition from old (outdated) positions to new tasks, simultaneously improving the employment protection of workers on atypical employment arrangements.

Social partners and active ageing

In recent years awareness of the importance of active age management policies has increased significantly among employers and trade unions in the EU, although the extent to which this has been actively addressed varies.

Just as different countries and regions, also different industry sectors and employers will face divergent age profiles among their staff and therefore varying pressures to take decisive action, although the overall trend towards a declining and ageing workforce is widely recognised as a challenge.

On the whole, social partners’ practices with regard to active ageing can include a number of key elements:

  • Changing attitudes to older workers within organisations (being age positive);
  • Workforce mapping and workforce planning combined with age positive recruitment;
  • Training, development and promotion policies as well as succession management;
  • Health and safety/ergonomics and job design (the two categories above are sometimes referred to as measures to maintain “work ability”);
  • Flexible working practices (temporal, geographical as well as functional, including workplace and work process redesign and redeployment; and
  • Cross cutting policies including inter-generational learning.

It has to be noted that social partner agreements may cover many of the above areas in a holistic approach to modernise industrial relations. For example some social partners organisations in the Netherlands have recently agreed on a social manifesto aiming to create sustainable employment through focus on developing knowledge, improving working conditions, increasing diversity and availability of individual’s choices for all their represented workers including older employees, youth, various education levels, working time arrangements and types of contracts.

Similarly, the social partners in Spain have recently signed a comprehensive active ageing strategy covering the period 2012-2014, which includes elements such as promotion of healthy and secure working conditions through evaluation of risks for older people and corresponding training and information, enhancing companies’ flexibility with regard to working hours to suit older workers needs, re-adapting PES services in improving employability of older workers, fostering experience transfer and fighting age discrimination.

Objectives of the assignment

The main objective of this questionnaire is to describe the strategies/ policies/measures developed by the national governments, as well as social dialogue agreements or individual initiatives of social partners (on national or industry level only) that contribute to improve the quality of work and employment conditions of older workers and to create the working conditions that promote longer working life, and therefore to keep older workers in the labour market.

1. National background and policy context – the main issues encouraging or preventing the extension of working life in your country

1.1 What are the main barriers in your country for the extension of working life?

  • Pension systems which continue to encourage, or fail to provide appropriate incentives to delay retirement (including the ongoing use of early retirement systems);

These systems have been abolished by now.

  • Taxation systems which make it difficult to combine the receipt of a wage with that of a (partial) pension;
  • Unemployment benefit systems which do not require older workers to be actively seeking work or which restrict their access to active labour market policy measures;

These systems have been abolished (in 2003 and 2006).

  • particularly large sectors (of national importance) that have predominantly outdated skills or predominantly employ older workers who are shortly expected to leave the labour market;
  • poor quality of working/employment conditions or prospects of personal development in sectors of national importance that force older workers out of employment (sooner);

Older workers participate less in training and education (SER 2011, p. 70; Bovenberg et al 2009), also compared to other EU-countries (Fouarge en Schils (2008). An important reason is that they are not stimulated to participate in training and education programs.

Older workers in physically demanding jobs, especially in the construction industry, want to retire early more than average, as well as that they have less capability to work till the pension age of 65 years (Ybema et al., 2009). In the healthcare and education sectors, older workers also signal low capability to work longer.

The wish and capability to work longer, is positively related to the educational level of the workers (idem).

Older workers with a temporary employment contract have more chance to become dependent on a social security benefits, compared to those with a regular employment contract.

Empirical evident research indicates further that also long tenure in the same job/function and low mental challenges in the working career, are predictors of entry into pre-pension arrangements (Ybema & Geuskens, 2011).

  • any discrimination or stereotypes regarding older workers that hinder their employment or their re-employment;

Dutch employers have stereotypes regarding the productivity among older workers. Especially regarding ‘hard’ indicators for productivity, such as physical health, skills in new technologies, and creativity, employers prefer younger workers (Van Dalen et al, 2012). The comparative advantages of older workers, like loyalty, reliability and management, seem to be less relevant for productivity in the eyes of the employers.

The social climate at the workplace is an important push factor of older workers out of the workplace, into social security arrangement. Indicators of ‘social climate’ are social support of colleagues and impolite treatment of older workers by their managers.

  • provision in employment protection legislation which discourage the recruitment (or retention) of older workers;

The paradoxical situation in the Dutch labour market is that older workers occupy quite different positions. The ‘insiders’ – those with regular labour contracts - hold a rather strong position because of the employment protection legislation (EPL). But ‘outsiders’ – those without a job or with a flexible labour contract – hold a very weak position. Investigations of the Public Employment Service indicate that in 2009 50% of the people that are aged less than 45 years have made a transition from an unemployment benefit towards employment. The percentage among those that are aged 55+, was just 26% (UWV Kennisverslag 2011-II; Transition rates from a social security benefit towards paid jobs are even far lower. The publication refers to the literature on the subject and mentions three explanations for not developing policies to extend the working life of older workers:

  1. Short termism by employers;
  2. Employers mainly explore alternative policies, like broadening tasks;
  3. Negative stereotypes with regard to older workers (see also below).

Furthermore, the so called ‘stepping stone’ function of flexible contracts – in other words, the chance of making a transition from a fixed term or self-employed contract towards a regular employment contract – is less evident for 55+ workers then for younger workers (idem).

In the Dutch political debate, the low job-to-job mobility among older workers is seen as a problem that has to be solved. The reasoning is that more job-mobility will enhance the employability in the labour market and the flexibility and adaptability among older workers, what should promote employment participation among older people. This should promote longer productive working careers, especially in case of redundancies and health problems among the older workers ((Ybema & Geuskens, 2011). Not only EPL is seen as a barrier for mobility, but also the life-cycle wage profiles in firms that make older workers relative expensive for employers, when compared with younger workers (Euwals et al., 2009; Dhondt, 2010). In contrast to EPL, more flat life cycle wages – as are the case in e.g. Denmark - are not (yet) seen as a relevant subject by policy makers and social partners. Academic research however, concludes that the seniority-principle in wage setting institutions in Dutch companies is a more serious barrier for continuing employment participation than EPL or sickness absence among older workers (Van Dalen et al, 2012: 106).

The resigned cabinet in 2012 has made a proposal to flexibilise the EPL-system in the Netherlands and to moderate the severance payment system. One of the arguments that is underlying this proposal is that this measure will make the labour market for older workers more dynamic and that this will enhance investments in human capital (SZW, 2012: Hoofdlijnennotitie aanpassing onslagrecht en WW). This proposal is criticized for reasons of (unintended) side-effects of job loss among older workers because dismissal of older workers will become less costly if the proposal would be implemented.

  • any other contextual factors constituting barriers to longer and better quality working lives.

In the economic recession of the last years, there has been a strong decline in efforts of employers in the Netherlands to retain older workers (Conen et al, 2012). Also the recruitment behaviour of Dutch employers regarding to older workers changed parallel to the economic climate: so, less older workers have entered in (new) jobs in recent years, relative to all workers. The study compares eight countries and the figures come from the ASPA employers survey from 2009. See

There is no indication that employers are becoming more favourably disposed to recruit older workers, compared to other underrepresented groups in the Dutch labour market (such as female workers and non-native workers).

1.2 In general, what are the main existing policies and other contextual elements contributing to the extension of working life?

Social and labour market aspects

  • Flexible pension systems which significantly reward extending working lives;

Employers and employees in the Netherlands see flexible combinations of employment and pension as effective policy strategies to enlarge careers. Many social partners at the sectorial and company level have introduced flexibility in pension systems regarding to the age of entry into a (pre-) pension scheme and regarding to part-time retirement. Financial incentives raising the level of pensions when the retirement age is postponed) towards older workers and employers to delay the early retirement age seem to be effective.

  • Taxation systems which encourage working longer (for example in combination with a partial pension)

There is (or has been) a range of fiscal measures to encourage working longer, both directed at employers and employees. Examples include fiscal measures to reduce the attractiveness of early retirement, the introduction of the carry-on-working discount (doorwerkbonus, 2009: ) the essence of this measures is to grant a bonus for lower paid employees of 61 and older) , a fiscal deduction for social premiums when employers hire older workers, a compensation arrangement for employers when older workers are sick for a long period (employers continue paying the wages of sick employees for the first two years).

  • Well developed care systems (for child or elder care) which limit demand on older workers to take up such roles;

No measures

  • Active labour market policy measures which effectively encourage the recruitment of older workers (including subsidies).

Some years ago, the Public Employment Service of the Netherlands (UWV) developed special programs for the re-integration of unemployed older people, mainly by intensifying the process of counselling and intermediation between potential employers and older people.These policies were not that successful (van der Heul, 2009).

As of 1 July 2009, long term unemployed (more than one year) are obliged to accept every job offer, including jobs below their educational level... Exemptions for older workers were abolished.

In 2003 and in particular in 2006 a number of changes in the Dutch unemployment insurance (UI) benefit system have been carried through at the initiative of the Dutch government. Apart from alleged budgetary reasons (an ever increasing volume of benefits), they have been based on two policies: activation of the unemployed, and turning away from the use of the UI scheme as a smooth retirement route as it was consciously practised in the 1980’s.

Eligibility has been restricted by denying those getting unemployed after 11 August 2003 the right to a ‘continued benefit’ (a ‘flat rate’ benefit without means test, during two years after the end of earnings-related UI; for those losing their job at age 57,5 the maximum was 3,5 years to make for a ‘smooth slide’ into retirement). The declared aim of the government was both to increase the financial sustainability of the UI scheme and to contribute to the activation of unemployed workers. The measure was confirmed by a change in the law, effective as from 1 January 2004 (Wet 19-12-2003, Stb. 2003, 546).

As from 1 July 2006 the possibilities for unemployed workers to make a start as self-employed workers, while keeping part of their UI benefits, have been expanded (Wet 28-06-2006, Stb. 2006, 303).

2. Policies promoting prolongation of working life through the improvement of quality of work

General remark

A general feature of the Dutch landscape insofar it relates to the subject of this questionnaire is the abundance of policies, (SP-) agreements and recommendations, and the relative scarcity of research in the results and effectiveness of these instruments.

2.1 Developing skills (Training, lifelong learning)

  • Measures / policies / agreements to improve in-work training provision.

Although education & training can be seen as effective policies to enhance the employability and productivity of older workers, not many measures are taken in the Netherlands. Not at the national level, not at the sectoral level (in CLA), nor at the company level. The Collective Labour Agreements mostly limit their measures in this policy area by soft regulations, such as ‘recommendations’. Individual workers’ rights on training & education are scarce, but are existing in some CLA’s such as in the construction industry.

  • Other relevant measures (i.e. promotion of intergenerational skills exchange)

This is not very important in the Netherlands.

  • Others related to this area (i.e. a general initiative in this area)

To our knowledge, there are no general initiatives.

2.2 Health and safety and health promotion

  • Measures / policies / agreements to improve health and safety in the workplace (which go beyond basic legislative requirements)

In 2006, the bipartite Foundation of Labour (STAR; issued recommendation on working conditions, absenteeism due to illness and reintegration. The STAR noted that the frequency of absenteeism by older workers is not higher than for the average employee, but the duration is longer. Absenteeism however is positively related to the duration of the job-tenure. STAR recommends to make better use of the periodic health check (Pago) for older workers. In the early years of this century the Task Force Older Employees and Work has recommended the use of the so-called Work Ability Index (a checklist to keep track of the chances and risks for older workers), and active use of the so-called arbo-catalogi (working conditions catalogue, agreed between sectoral social partners) (STAR 2006, p. 32). Arbo-catalogi are developed by the sectoral social partners and by now exist in all major sectors and branches of the economy. Social partners –on certain conditions) get a subsidy from the Ministry of social Affairs and Employment to develop these catalogi, which contain a wide range of measures and recommendations to improve health and safety and working conditions, tailored to the characteristics of the sector.

  • Measures / policies / agreements to assist in the adaptation of workplaces for (older) workers with limited physical or psychological work capacity, including rehabilitation after incapacity/sickness and integration in the workplace for older workers.

TNO-research indicates low investments of employers in adaptation of workplaces for the older workers (Ybema et al., 2009).

  • Measures / policies /agreements aimed at overall health promotion in the workplace

At the sectorial level, social partners negotiate agreements on occupational health and safety (OHS), the so-called arbocatalogi. In 2011, an evaluation study was published (ITS 2011). The Labour Inspectorate had validated 142 catalogi (which implies the granting of a subsidy of €50,000). This means that in 50% of the sectors/branches arbocatalogi had been developed. Only 3% of the catologi contained specific measures for older workers.

  • Other relevant measures (i.e. a general initiative in this area)

HRM-policies for older workers in the Netherlands have more than in other European countries, characteristics of a ‘relief’- policy or ‘spare’-policy (van Dalen et al., 2012). These measures have been initiated by the social partners that have special arrangements in Collective Labour Agreements (Tros, 2010: 132-165). Measures in this strategy are: extra leave provisions, working part-time (with sometimes the facility of relatively low fall in salary-levels) and part-time retirement (see also Ybema et al., 2009). See further below in paragraph 2.3

2.3 Work organisation related measures: flexible working time, career development and horizontal mobility

  • Measures / policies / agreements to support temporal working time flexibility (flexible work schedules, part-time / reduced hours working in the run up retirement, time banks, etc.).

The STAR has issued a recommendation to stimulate the possibility for part time retirement. At present, many employers still prefer to replace older workers by younger employees, while many older employees prefer to retire completely. STAR stresses the importance of information campaigns on this issue (STAR 2006, p. 17).

A growing number of collective agreements contains so-called a la carte clauses, which allow individual employees to vary working conditions, e.g. by exchanging time for work.

In many collective agreements and other arrangements, older workers are entitled to more days off. According to research by TNO (2009), this instrument is used in almost 40% of organisations (by far the most when compared to other instruments like part time early retirement, reduction of the working week, exemption from overtime, change of tasks or demotion.

In 2011, 85 collective agreements, covering 83% of the employees under an agreement, contained specific clauses for older employees. In 58 agreements there were clauses for extra days off. The maximum was 15 days per year. 15 agreements contained clauses granting 4 extra days off for employees that are at least 60 year old, 10 agreements granted 5 days, 12 agreements 6 days and 5 agreements more than 10 days. In 43 agreements there were clauses on the reduction of working hours, sometimes starting at 45 years. In 26 agreements, the reduction of working hours resulted in a reduction of wages as well (21 less than proportional). 26 agreements contained clauses on demotion, half of them resulting in reduction of pay. In 70 agreements there were clauses on exemption of certain types of work: exemption of overtime in 49 agreement (always resulting in loss of overtime-bonus), exemption of irregular hours in 38 agreement (resulting in a loss of bonus in 33), exemption weekend work in 3 agreements (with al 3 losing the extra pay) and exemption of shift work in 15 agreements (of which 11 with loss of extra pay). (SZW 2011, p. 29-31). Compared to 2010, the number of clauses decreased, except for demotion, where the number of clauses increased.

Also in 2011, 18 agreements contained clauses on part time retirement (3 from 55 years of age, 1 from 57, 4 from 60, the remainder unspecified). In 38 agreements there is the possibility to keep on working after the retirement age of 65, either on the existing contract or under a new contract. Some of these agreements restrict the number of years of continuation of work after 65 (1 to 66, 2 to 67 and 4 to 70). Continuation may depend on permission of the employer, like in the agreement for Rabobank). Compared to 2010, the number of agreements with the possibility to continue employment after 65 has risen from 34 to 43 (SZW 2011, p.32-33).

Eighteen agreements contain clauses that aim to increase the chances of returning to work for older unemployed, mentioning equal treatment and forbidding discrimination (SZW 2011, p. 33-34).

  • Measures / policies / agreements to support functional flexibility (to achieve greater flexibility in who does what and how – for example to enable workers no longer able to do their former job to adapt to carry out new tasks). This could also mean mobility between companies.
  • Measures / policies / agreements to support career development beyond 50+
  • Other relevant measures related to work organisation (i.e. a general initiative in this area)

Some Collective Labour Agreements or Social Plans in case of restructuring provide for individual transitional arrangements in case of ‘demotion’, to make a transition towards a lower paid job more smoothly. The same is the case regarding to transitions towards part-time jobs. In theory this measure is not specific for older workers, but in practice it is only used for this group of workers.

2.4 Initiatives related to socio-cultural change

  • Measures / policies / agreements to change “early exit culture”

As mentioned before, the early exit culture is still very strong in the Netherlands, applying both to employees and employers. Fiscal measures have been very important in changing behaviour. Changing the culture appears much harder.

  • Measures / policies / agreements to promote the value of older workers in terms of performance, competencies and experience

In 2010, 24 collective agreements (out of a sample of the most important 114 agreements in the Netherlands), covering 13% of the Dutch employees, contained clauses on age-aware HR-policies (SZW 2010, p. 32). Age aware can be described as age mainstreaming (cf. gender mainstreaming), trying to get rid of policies and practices that directly or indirectly discriminate on age. Twenty collective agreements (again covering 13% of the employees) contained clauses on age related employability measures, the majority of these clauses applying to older workers (SZW 2010, p. 39). In 2011, 95 collective agreements, covering virtually all Dutch employees under an agreement, contained clauses on sustainable availability/employability. The clauses related to heath, training and education and mobility. Some clauses contain specific provisions for older employees. An example is the entitlement to a health check, which is more frequent for older employees.

  • Other policies related to promoting changes of attitudes in the society and or in an specific sector about the value of older workers

Both the Christian Trade Union Federation and the employer’s organisation AWVN have published manuals on age-aware personnel policies (levensbewust personeelsbeleid; SER 2009, p. 96-98). See also STAR (2006), p. 20 ff).

  • Other (i.e. a general initiative in this area)

2.5 Returning to work for unemployed older people

  • Policies to improve access to the labour market, especially when 50+ workers are unemployed.

Both the SER and the STAR have issued recommendations on the return of older workers (both unemployed and partly disabled) to the labour market. Research shows that the chances for older unemployed to return to the labour market are slim. When they succeed, it is often at a lower level and with reduced pay (Culuenaere & Veldhuis).

  • Others (i.e. a general initiative in this area)

2.6 Comprehensive programmes

  • Initiatives covering various aspects for the improvement of quality of work in order to contribute to longer working lives.

To our knowledge there are no such programmes

  • Programmes combining working conditions, labour market and welfare aspects.

To our knowledge there are no such programmes

3. Views of Social Partners on the role of working conditions for keeping older workers in the labour market

Social partner views appear mainly in the publications (advice, recommendation etc.) of the tripartite Social and Economic council (Sociaal-Economische Raad, SER) and the bipartite Foundation of Labour (Stichting van de Arbeid, STAR). With regard to the aims, the views more to some extent concur (improving the quality of work, fighting negative stereotypes), but on certain issues also differ (raising the pension age). With regards to the means, the differences are greater, especially concerning a reform of dismissal law and the possibility of demotion of older workers.

Employers’ representatives are generally in favour of new proposals to simplify dismissal law (drastically reducing the maximum entitlement to unemployment benefits and reducing the maximum entitlement to redundancy payments), while union representatives oppose the proposals out of fear for a massive dismissal of older workers. Employer representatives expect an increase in the number of older workers that will be hired, while union representatives state this will not happen.

With regard to demotion, employer representatives stress that, compared to other EU-countries, older workers in the Netherlands are relatively expensive. Demotion would result in better chances to keep jobs or (re)enter the labour market. Union representatives oppose this view.

4. Commentary

In the Dutch debate, the argument of the paradox of permissive’ measures regarding older workers is clearly heard. With these measures we mean the measures that make the working life for older employees easier (no overtime, reduction of working hours, more days off etc.

Although these can be seen as measures to keep older workers longer in the labour market, these are also seen as limiting the opportunities of the older workers in the Dutch labour market (Euwals et al., 2009) and continuing negative stereotypes about older workers. Employers in the Netherlands are especially sceptical about the application of these kinds of measures imposed by governments or sector-wide agreements because they reduce older workers’ employability and raise costs (Conen et al).

A general feature of the Dutch landscape insofar it relates to the subject of this questionnaire is the abundance of policies, (SP-) agreements and recommendations, and the lack of research in the results and effectiveness of these instruments.

There seems to be a tendency to shift to age aware policies (not specifically directed at older or younger workers), replacing the more focused policies from the past (e.g. a shift from specific policies towards older workers to age-independent policies; compare the shift from positive measures with regard to women to the more comprehensive policies of gender mainstreaming).


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Robbert van het Kaar and Frank Tros (AIAS/HSI).

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