Saturday, 23 March 2013

Strikes and the interests of temp workers

A strike of distribution workers at Dutch supermarket giant Albert Heijn has resulted in an agreement with their employer. Among other things, 200 agency workers will get a contract with Albert Heijn. “In this strike, permanent workers and agency workers stood shoulder to shoulder to fight for more security. This is unusual”, Ron Meyer of FNV Bondgenoten commented.
Over the past years, many have criticised the unions for letting down ‘outsiders’, such as temp workers. You might have thought those critics would support the distribution workers, but that didn’t really happen.
This probably has to do with the fact that the distribution workers have gone on strike, while we Dutch have an aversion to social conflict. This culture of harmonious social relations has its value. On the other hand, change doesn’t happen by itself.
In this respect, it’s interesting to look at the rest of Europe. Most countries have more strikes than the Netherlands. But in various respects, temp workers are better off in countries where unions are more assertive. In those countries, fewer temp workers have low wages and there is better employment protection for temp workers (click on the graph for a larger version).
The data also shows that the position of temp workers in the Netherlands compares unfavourably to the rest of Europe. The distribution workers have shown that a strike can be an effective means to change this.

Strikes: Eurostat, mean number of working days lost per 1,000 workers per year (average 2000-2007; cutoff at 35 days). Employment protection for temp workers: OECD. Low wages for temp workers: Eurostat.

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