Dutch court blocks firm's 40-hour-week plan
6 August 2004, AMSTERDAM — A Dutch court Friday blocked a financially-struggling firm from making its staff work 40 hours a week for the same wages in place of the current 36.
6 August 2004
AMSTERDAM — A Dutch court Friday blocked a financially-struggling firm from making its staff work 40 hours a week for the same wages in place of the current 36.
Office supplies manufacturer Smead Europe, which is based in Hoogezand in the north of the Netherlands, announced in July it would become the first Dutch firm to get its employees to work the extra four hours without additional pay.
Smead staff agreed to the change and the 40-hour week came into force on last Monday.
But their trade union FNV Kiem insisted management had threatened to move production to a low-wage country if they did not accept the plan.
The services sections of the FNV and CNV union confederation took the matter to court.
Their lawyers said Smead was covered by the CAO pay and conditions agreement drawn up for the graphic media industry. This CAO spells out the working week should be a maximum 36 hours.
Smead Europe told Groningen Court on Tuesday that it did not fall under this CAO. The unions countered by claiming this was a spurious argument by the company.
Smead manufactures a wide assortment of office supplies including binders, plastic and paper filing systems and notebooks.
CNV official Siegbert van der Velde noted that if Smead was covered by the CAO for the cardboard industry the 36-hour week would also apply.
The judge agreed with the unions and ruled Smead Europe must adhere to the CAO for the graphic media industry.
The court also ordered Smead Europe should pay a penalty of EUR 15,000 to each of the unions for each day the CAO was not complied with. The judge set a EUR 100,000 ceiling on the uppermost limit of the potential fine.
The unions welcomed the court ruling. FNV Kiem official Cees Peijster told Novum Nieuws: "The primacy of negotiations about working hours is back where it belongs – with the social partners (unions and employers) at the CAO table."
Dutch employers' federation VNO-NCW said however that it was sad that a company in financial difficulties cannot implement a quick solution because the rules don't allow it.
There has been growing pressure in France and Germany for staff to work longer hours for no additional pay.
It was reported on Friday that one financially-troubled German firm is to have its staff work 60-hour weeks for the next few weeks.
And earlier this week, the chief of Dutch bank ABN Amro 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.
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.
While most fulltime employment contracts in sectors covered by a CAO the Netherlands stipulate a 36-hour working week, most people work from 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. They are compensated by an extra leave day a month.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news, working week, CAO