Major changes afoot for biggest union federation

The structure of the biggest employee organisation in the Netherlands, the Dutch Trade Federation (FNV), is to change drastically in 2013. The federation, which has 1.3 million members, will have a new ‘members parliament’ advisory body and the biggest unions will be split up by sector. FNV’s biggest trade union, De Unie, split from the Federation of Managerial and Professional Staff Unions at the end of 2012.

Background

Key decisions were taken about the structure of the biggest employee organisation in the Netherlands, the Dutch Trade Federation (FNV) which has 1.3 million members, at a conference held on 8 and 9 October 2012.

Discussions about the federation’s new structure had gained momentum in mid-2011 when biggest of the FNV-affiliated unions – the Allied Industry, Food, Services and Transport Union (FNV Bondgenoten) and the Abvakabo FNV public service workers’ union (Abvakabo FNV) – rejected the new pension agreement finalised with the government by FNV officials.

This precipitated a power struggle between the various unions and the federation, and affected the FNV’s ability to act decisively in the Netherlands’ traditional social dialogue arenas, the tripartite Social and Economic Council (SER) and the bipartite Labour Foundation (STAR). Both the FNV Chair, Agnes Jongerius, and the vice-chair, Peter Gortzak, resigned in 2012. A working group was appointed to resolve the problems (NL1205029I).

Members’ parliament

At the conference, the vast majority of the 17 unions affiliated to the FNV agreed with the proposals tabled by the new FNV Chair Ton Heerts. Only the General Dutch Pensioners Union (ANBO), which has 182,000 members and the FNV-affiliated union for the self-employed (FNV Zelfstandigen), withdrew from the federation. At the conference, a decision was reached to establish a ‘members’ parliament’. In time, this will become the highest body within the trade union federation, responsible for appointing – and dismissing – its chair. The intention is to install the members’ parliament as an advisory body, and then it will mature into a controlling body that is elected by the members. The new structure took definitive shape from 15 May 2013.

Sectoral segregation

In addition, it was agreed that the three biggest unions – FNV Bondgenoten, Abvakabo and FNV Construction (FNV Bouw) – would be split up and organised into smaller units by sector covering specific areas such as the fire brigade, security services and the steel industry.

Other smaller unions will continue to exist independently as they are to a large extent already organised by sector. Examples include the Hotels, Restaurants and Cafés Workers’ Union (FNV Horecabond) and the General Teachers’ Union (AOB). A number of these smaller unions only agreed to remain affiliated to the FNV on condition that the bigger unions would be spilt up. Unions in sectors related to the security services, such as the Royal Military Police Corps Union (Marechaussee Vereniging), threatened to withdraw from the FNV if this condition was not satisfied.

New chair elected

Although earlier discussions had focused on disbanding the trade union federation, which would then have been replaced by the New Union Movement (DNV), a less radical change was ultimately decided upon at the conference.

The federation’s name, FNV, has been retained and new Chair Ton Heerts was appointed directly by the members in a general election conducted via email.

However, it is not certain that all the decisions reached will be put into action. For example, the members of the bigger unions have yet to agree to the reorganisation of their umbrella unions. Various commentators point out that even under the new structure, the membership of the three biggest unions will still be substantial, and structural changes cannot simply wipe away all existing differences of opinion.

It remains to be seen how the financial resources of the restructured federation will be allocated to its various sectors, particularly in view of the need to invest in sectors where unions still have scant membership bases and therefore contribute less to the FNV’s funds.

It was also announced on 1 October 2012 that the industry and services union De Unie would be withdrawing from the Federation of Managerial and Professional Staff Unions (MHP). De Unie is not in agreement with the MHP’s approach towards unions in the public sector (Ambtenarencentrum), even though its members work in industry and the services sector.

Robbert van het Kaar (AIAS/HSI)

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