ABN chief breaks 'taboo' on 40-hour week
3 August 2004 , AMSTERDAM — Following increasing pressure in France and Germany for staff to work longer hours, the chief of Dutch bank ABN Amro has said employees should return to a 40-hour working week instead of the current 36. ABN Amro is the first large Dutch company to place the issue of a longer working week on the agenda of CAO workplace agreement discussions.
3 August 2004
AMSTERDAM — Following increasing pressure in France and Germany for staff to work longer hours, the chief of Dutch bank ABN Amro has said employees should return to a 40-hour working week instead of the current 36.
ABN Amro is the first large Dutch company to place the issue of a longer working week on the agenda of CAO workplace agreement discussions.
But company chief Rijkman Groenink also said it was premature to discuss whether staff would be paid more for extending their working week.
Unions were enraged by the proposals, labelling the 40-hour working week "unmentionable". A spokesman from trade union FNV Bondgenoten said the ABN chief was concerned only with "pure economising" in his relations with the bank's workers.
The CAO talks in the banking sector will start in the autumn. Banking staff have enjoyed a 36-hour working week since 1996, Dutch public news service NOS reported on Monday.
The announcement by the ABN chief came after the bank reported on Monday net profits of EUR 987 million in the second quarter of 2004, a solid 26 percent rise compared with the EUR 782 million it earned in the same period last year.
The bank confirmed a forecast that net profit would rise by at least 10 percent this year, but given the fragility of the economic recovery, job cuts loom in coming years to shore up operations.
Groenink said the bank aims to sharply reduce costs and cut jobs, with the intention to save annual costs by EUR 500 million come 2007. It is not yet certain how many jobs will be cut, but it is certain some job losses will be felt in the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, Unilever chief Burgmans said in reaction to the comments from his ABN counterpart that he was not opposed to a 40-hour week either.
"The entire world works 40 hours," he said, but has not placed the issue on the agenda for CAO talks with unions.
A 40-hour working week was introduced at furniture manufacturer Smead in Groningen on Monday, but unions were scheduled on Tuesday to demand in court that the new regulation be abandoned.
It was reported last month that based on responses from Unilever, Philips and Akzo Nobel, Dutch multinationals do not consider it a priority to extend the working week. The pressure to increase productivity was not yet strong enough to put the issue on the agenda.
The firms said a longer working week was not part of the current negotiations with unions. Instead, the concentration at the moment was on zero percent pay rises and pension rights.
Employers association VNO-NCW is in favour of a longer working week, claiming that it is necessary to improve the Netherlands' competitive position and to counteract the costs of an ageing population.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news