Dutch social partners agree agenda for collective bargaining

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National employers' and employees' organisations in the Netherlands established guidelines in November 1997 for future collective bargaining. The most important items on the bargaining table are the introduction of flexible payment schemes and agreements regarding training and leave.

In mid-November 1997, Dutch employers' and employees' representatives on the bipartite Labour Foundation (Stichting van de Arbeid, STAR) agreed on a collective bargaining agenda for the years to come. One of the most important elements of the agreement concerns continued pay moderation. Despite protests from the trade unions, the social partners decided on a pay increase that is barely above the level of inflation. Pay may also be adjusted to match employee performance in sectors and companies where this is considered necessary or desirable. By introducing a "flexible incentive scheme", the social partners hope to create a pay policy that corresponds to the degree of employability, skills, qualifications and experience of individual employees. However, signs of conflicting interpretations have already begun to surface. Employers feel that pay on the basis of merit should replace structural wage increases, while trade unions consider this scheme to be supplementary to regular wage increases.

Bedrijvenbond CNV (a union recently established after a merger of two member unions of the Christian Trade Union Federation, CNV) has stated that up to 1.5% additional purchasing power may be demanded over the coming two years. This is tantamount to a 3.75% pay rise in 1998, and thus clashes with the recommendations made by STAR. Recent wage demands by unions such as BVV (the union for bank and insurance company personnel), De Unie (representing senior staff),Dienstenbond FNV (the service sector union of the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions, FNV) and the Organisation for Managerial and Executive Staff (VHP) also exceed the limits agreed upon by the social partners.

Another essential part of the agreement is that both employers and employees share responsibility for the occupational qualifications of the employee. The social partners view training as an ongoing activity to maintain the employability of an employee. Employers should make efforts to establish training plans and offer employees the opportunity to enter training programmes. Although primary responsibility for the design and financing of the training rests with the employer, the employee is also expected to use this opportunity to enhance his or her position in the labour market. Long-term training sessions may require an official leave of absence as established by law. Moreover, training must also be made sufficiently accessible to older employees in order to improve and promote their labour market participation.

In addition, agreements have been reached on specific kinds of leave. STAR recommends that, as a supplement to legislation employers and employees should make additional arrangements in this area. Employees should be able to take time off to care for seriously ill family members or housemates, and be allowed to save up time and money to this end.

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