Dutch unions and the left reject employment report
The Dutch government commission investigating ways to increase labour market participation, known as the Bakker Committee, released its long-awaited report on Monday. The Bakker Committee was created after the coalition cabinet failed to reach an agreement on reforming the laws governing dismissal procedures. Under Dutch law, a company always has to apply for permission to fire an employee; employees have the right to challenge their dismissal and a judge always hears such cases.
By Jacqueline Carver
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's Christian Democrats had proposed relaxing the regulations, but the Labour Party was adamantly opposed to any changes to the current laws. In an attempt to prevent the disagreement from splitting the cabinet and toppling the government, the Bakker Committee, chaired by Peter Bakker, CEO of TNT which runs the Dutch Post Office, was charged with coming up with a series of proposals to increase labour market participation to 80 percent.
The main recommendations
• gradually increase the pensionable age to 67
• cut unemployment benefit from 38 months to a maximum of 12 months
• compel companies to continue paying workers for a six months after they have been dismissed and help them find a new job
• give every worker a personal 'work budget' to be used to finance periods of unemployment or pay for further education
The Bakker Committee emphasised that the measures will help to prevent unemployment and improve job security across the board. According to the committee, companies will do their best to help soon-to-be redundant employees find another job if it is in their own financial interest. The government and employers organisations have largely welcomed the committee's recommendations but the opposition parties have dismissed most of them. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende says he sees many of the cabinet's ambitions reflected in the Bakker report, and called on the political parties and the social partners to "weigh the analysis and the recommendations" contained in it.
The coalition partners, the Labour Party and the Christian Union, both responded positively to the report. According to one Christian Union MP, the report offered a solid base that will lead to the necessary measures to improve labour market participation. The Labour Party said the report offered a number of clear short-term measures but the long-term recommendations needed to be further for through.
The conservative VVD said the report had some interesting recommendations but failed to tackle the laws governing dismissal saying, "the committee left that hot potato well alone". The party also said that requiring small companies to keep paying fired employees for six months was "unworkable". The opposition Green Left party said the Bakker Committee had delivered half a report, dismissing some of the recommendations as, "incomplete and not specific enough". The Socialist Party slammed the report as "a blueprint for the dismantling of employees' rights".
The unions have welcomed some of the short-term recommendations, but have dismissed the long-term goals as unworkable, characterising some of the recommendations as half-baked proposals that still need to be worked out. In an initial response, the FNV, the largest Dutch trade union federation, said the report was, "a concept with a considerable number of unfair elements". FNV chair Agnes Jongerius welcomed the improvements to childcare, but said some of the long-term goals were unrealistic. Employers welcomed the report wholeheartedly but still demanded guarantees that red tape and costs would be slashed.
The government created the Bakker Committee in order to prevent the cabinet from splitting, but the committee's recommendations appear to have polarised the unions and employers organisations and raised the hackles of the opposition parties. Whether it will solve the dispute between the Christian Democrats and the Labour Party remains to be seen.
17 June 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]