Strikes called off as social accord agreed
8 November 2004 , AMSTERDAM — Industrial peace has returned to the Netherlands following the signing of a social accord between the Cabinet, employers and unions. The deal breaks a bitter deadlock over the government's hard-hitting budget cuts.
8 November 2004
AMSTERDAM — Industrial peace has returned to the Netherlands following the signing of a social accord between the Cabinet, employers and unions. The deal breaks a bitter deadlock over the government's hard-hitting budget cuts.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said he was "very happy" with Friday night's accord. He added that the talks held in the Social Economic Council in The Hague had been of a positive character. The union movement has since called off further strikes.
The agreement will see the cabinet abolish as planned its tax breaks on the VUT and pre-pension early retirement schemes from January 2006. The policy had initially sparked outrage among unions and older workers in the Netherlands.
But in concession, the cabinet has agreed to drastically expand the scope of life savings schemes (levensloopregelingen), in which people can save for various forms of leave from work.
Workers in psychologically demanding professions will also be allowed to retire early by taking out part of their pension before the scheduled retirement age. This means they could stop work in future from the age of 60.
The cabinet has also agreed to reduce its cuts to the WAO worker disability scheme and WW unemployment benefits, news agency ANP reported. It means that more people than the cabinet wanted will still come into consideration for the social security net.
In exchange, trade union confederations FNV, CNV and MHP have agreed to moderate wage demands next year, assuaging employers groups VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland. The government will implement a wage freeze in the public sector and maintain social security benefits at present levels.
Unions have waged a bitter industrial campaign in recent months, orchestrating a mass demonstration in Amsterdam attended by 300,000 on 2 October and a nationwide public transport strike on 14 October.
Trade union FNV Bondgenoten — one of the nation's most militant — said it would suspend its strike planned for the port of Rotterdam on Tuesday and urged its members to back the accord.
Union chief Henk van der Kolk said the cabinet had "finally yielded" to union demands, offering offered considerable improvements on its plans for early retirement, the WAO pension and WW benefits.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news