Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Union should organise precarious jobs

“The trade union movement is an emancipation movement. It’s our task to deal with this,” Chairman Henk van der Kolk of private sector union FNV Bondgenoten said yesterday at the launch of a book on the working poor. In the past, unions have not paid enough attention to the lower end of the labour market, Chairwoman Edith Snoey of public sector union ABVAKABO FNV agreed.
The number of Dutch workers who earn at most 10 euro per hour has risen to 1.25 million. Yesterday, the FNV launched the book Onzeker Bestaan (Insecure Existence), in which low-income workers are portrayed. “After this book, no-one can say anymore that the problem doesn’t exist,” Chairwoman Agnes Jongerius of the FNV Confederation said. The book was launched on the eve of the FNV Congress, which is devoted to Decent Work.
The rise in poverty among working people can be explained in part by the proliferation of flexible contracts and the privatisation of public services. Why has the FNV not stopped that development, author Will Tinnemans asked.
Snoey said that unions have in the past tended to respond to privatisation plans by negotiating compensations for the existing workforce, and have insufficiently considered the long-term consequences for the labour market. More and more mail is now being delivered by private companies where labour conditions are bad. “I very much doubt if we can reverse this,” Snoey said.
She was more optimistic about home care, a sector which is under pressure because local governments are now legally required to contract out the delivery of care delivery. Unions seem to be successful at protecting the position of home caregivers, not least because many workers have joined a union. Among workers, there is disbelief at the way their work is being dealt with by the government: ‘Don’t they see how important it is what we’re doing?’
The stories in Onzeker Bestaan show that unions can be important for workers at the lower end of the labour market. “We will have to organise in order to be treated as normal workers,” undocumented domestic worker Rosaly says.
Forklift driver Ashok ten Kate, who has two jobs, says that his co-workers at one of the companies are afraid of the boss. “People are afraid to express their opinion. They are afraid of being fired. Even though there’s nothing illegal about expressing your opinion. At Super de Boer [a supermarket], I don’t see that mentality. There, no-one is afraid to speak their mind. But then, a majority of the workers are FNV members over there.”
Van der Kolk said that unions need to launch more organising campaigns, like they did with considerable success at Schiphol Airport. There, over half the cleaners are union members. After a strike, they won travel expenses, job security and respect. Judy Lock spoke on behalf of the cleaners: “The Schiphol cleaners extend solidarity to anyone in this book.”

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