Are the Dutch labour reforms a help or a hindrance to workers?


Workers across the Netherlands are bracing themselves for a “radical” raft of labour market reforms due to come into force next July.

Last week, the country’s Minister for Social Affairs and Employment, Lodewijk Asscher, said he was “very happy” that a large majority of the upper house of the Dutch Parliament had voted for the new legislation, which the government says will cut spending by €1.1 billion (US$1.5 billion).

According to Asscher’s PvdA party (Partij van de Arbeid, Labour), these changes will “ensure equal treatment and compulsory procedures in redundancy”, provide “more security for temporary workers” and “tackle sham employment arrangements more effectively”.

In a statement Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging (FNV, or Dutch Trade Union Federation) Chair Ton Heerts, described the law “as an important step in ending the excesses and false structures in the labour market.”

But the legislation will also make it easier to sack employees – a move that Heerts described in an earlier statement as “simpler and fairer” as the new dismissal procedure will entitle everyone to a “transitional allowance.”

The reforms also mean that jobseekers will only be able to claim unemployment benefits for a maximum of two years instead of three, and that people will be forced to accept job offers beneath their previous level of experience after six months on benefits.


Against flexiblisation

The government also claims that the reforms will also give more legal rights to temporary workers as a way of discouraging forced flexiblisation.

Thirty two per cent of Dutch workers are currently on temporary or flexible contracts or are registered self-employed, many because of large-scale redundancies caused by the economic crisis.

Mariëtte Patijn, who co-ordinates terms of employment for the FNV told Equal Times that a significant proportion of flexible or temporary workers are underpaid and exploited.

“People need real jobs, not temporary ones with no security, no prospects, no training and no money,” she said.

Asscher’s spokesperson, Friso Fennema told Equal Times that he agrees there is a big problem and says the new labour market reforms will help to tackle it.

“We want to cut down heavily on flexible work. We want to push it back, so that after two years of temporary contracts, you must be given a permanent contract. We also want to encourage life-long learning and provide more support for freelancers.”



As well as a rise in temporary contracts, the crisis has also resulted in a rise in freelance or self-employed workers, also known as ZZP-ers, who must work for a minimum of three different clients. Most freelance contracts require workers to be listed as ZZP.

The Dutch Bureau for Statistics cites total numbers of ZZP-ers as 714,100 in the first quarter of 2014, or approximately 10 per cent of the working population, with the largest group aged between 45 and 55 years old.

Grainne Delaney, a teacher who also offers human resources workshops, is one such worker.

She was forced into the ZZP system after losing her job. She says she had no support navigating the system and found it “crippling.”

“[ZZP] gets people off the books, but doesn’t give them jobs. At 50, I will not be offered a fixed contract. This is a fact. It gets employers off the hook with health insurance and holiday pay expenses. They have ‘get-out’ clauses in place, offering you a contract with three months in-between, so on paper it looks like you are starting all over again. But it’s not sustainable enough to feel secure, especially with dependants.”

Many ZZP-ers work without insurance to cover sick pay, or other benefits such as pension, only with the supposed “freedom” to choose clients and working times.

Michele Schuler, left the ZZP system in 2011. She had been working as a project manager in the financial sector.

“It’s an easy way to exploit people and for employers to avoid any obligations. Most of the time, when there is an ad for a job, hundreds of ZZP-ers respond, so hourly rates go down. That makes employers very powerful.”