Pay increase in hospitals and special provisions for older employees

The collective agreement concluded in April 2009 for hospital staff overrides the zero policy on wage increases and contains innovative provisions for older employees. The two-year agreement encompasses an annual pay rise of 1%, as well as an increasing end-of-year bonus. Age-linked schemes will be converted into uniform schemes for all employees. Engaging older employees at the weekend and for evening shifts will be compensated through a personal time budget.

Retaining purchasing power

The Dutch Hospitals Association (Nederlandse Vereniging van Ziekenhuizen, NVZ) and trade unions in the healthcare sector reached an agreement in principle in April 2009 on a new, two-year collective agreement for 190,000 hospital employees. The two trade unions concerned are the civil servants’ union Abvakabo FNV, affiliated to the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV), and New Union ’91 (Nieuwe Unie ’91, NU’91). The collective agreement overrides the zero line for wages specified in the social agreement between the government and the trade union movement in 2008. Wages and end-of-year bonuses will increase in 2009 and 2010: the annual wage increases for all staff will amount to 1%, while the year-end bonus will increase in two years from 5% to 7.3%. A one-off payment of 0.3% will also be made in September 2009. In addition, employers will now pay 50% of the pension premium; previously, they had to pay 48%. The internship allowance will increase to €300 and will remain linked to inflation.

Wage agreements are an important component for the trade unions because this will ensure the retention of purchasing power. The hospital sector has now breached the principle of freezing wages, as set out in the social agreement between cabinet and the social partners. It is always difficult in the healthcare sector to coordinate wages with those of employees in other sectors. Furthermore, given the degree of ageing in the sector, it is important to maintain its attractiveness for new personnel.

Protective policy for older workers too restrictive

The new collective agreement brings to an end the debate that started in 2007 on reforming schemes for older employees and represents a policy breakthrough based on its innovative elements. Age-linked schemes will be converted into uniform schemes for all employees. On average, a greater number of older people than younger people work in hospitals; the average age of the workforce is 42 years. Because hospital staff aged 55 years and older are not required to work in the evening, night and weekend shifts, irregular shifts are increasingly left to younger employees. Therefore, NVZ has been trying to include on the agenda the need to reform the protective stipulations governing older employees. While the trade unions were not enthusiastic about this strategy, they were prepared to consider schemes for older employees in more detail in 2008. However, they concluded that such schemes would become untenable in time given the proportion of older employees active in the sector.

Greater time flexibility regarding older employees

The new collective agreement specifies that employees can work evening and weekend shifts up to the age of 60 years rather than 55 years. Night work has been a crucial point in collective bargaining for some time. In this respect, it has been decided that, from 2011, employees may be assigned to night duty up until the age of 57 years. However, this provision will become obsolete if NVZ and the trade unions agree alternative solutions for problems related to the duty roster before that date.

Furthermore, extra days off will be scrapped for older employees. In exchange, they will be assigned a ‘life-cycle budget’ along with all other employees. Each employee will be awarded a personal life-cycle budget of 35 hours a year, to be used for care leave or study purposes. While a transitional arrangement will apply for current employees aged 45 years or more, it will now be possible to assign shifts to everyone in the duty roster in the same manner. In 2010, 20 hours will be deposited into the life-cycle budget. In 2011, 30 hours will be added and from 2012, hospital employees will be awarded an additional 35 hours off. They will be free to earn and use these hours of leave as they see fit. Employees currently aged between 45 and 54 years will be awarded extra hours within the scope of the transitional arrangement.

Marianne Grünell, Hugo Sinzheimer Institute (HSI)

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