Saturday, 10 April 2010

Industrial unrest in the Netherlands

“Fortunately, some major collective agreements are still reached without industrial unrest,” Hans van der Steen of employers’ organisation AWVN sighs in NRC Handelsblad (subscription only). According to Statistics Netherlands, a quarter of all employees covered by collective labour agreements (cao’s) have not seen their agreement renewed yet. The institute speaks of a ‘turbulent cao season’.
There are conflicts in the cleaning sector, the Rotterdam Port, nursing homes and homecare, local governments and companies including Corus, KPN, Rabobank and ABN Amro. “Remarkable,” Erik Poutsma of the Radboud University told NRC Handelsblad, “for the Netherlands is a very stable country regarding industrial unrest.”
The crisis is generally identified as a major cause of the industrial unrest. However, Labour Law Professor Evert Verhulp thinks that unions also have a strategy to improve their visibility. “They are seeing their membership age. Meanwhile, youth tend not to be attracted by unions.” In addition, executive pay plays a role as well: “Employees are told to moderate their claims, but the incomes of those at the top are not reduced. There’s a discrepancy there.”
In NRC Handelsblad, Jenneke van Pijpen of public sector union Abvakabo FNV says that employers are taking advantage of the crisis. “Last year, we reached a social accord in which we agreed that the unions would make responsible wage claims at the level of inflation, in exchange for maximum employment. We’re living up to our word; we’re not making absurd demands. But we’re dealing with employers who offer zero wage increase and don’t want to move. It’s a total deadlock. Conflicts are piling up and the end isn’t nearly in sight.”
An example is the nursing home and home care sector. Wim van der Hoorn (also Abvakabo FNV): “Employers are offering no wage increase whatsoever. In addition, they want to cut employee benefits. For us, that’s unacceptable. Especially considering that the directors of care institutes will get a raise.” He is now going to mobilise his members. “There’s no real strike tradition in the health care sector, but it’s about time to stand up and take matters in our own hands.”

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