Strikes to end as unions win budget concessions

1st November 2004, Comments 0 comments

1 November 2004 , AMSTERDAM — Dutch trade unions are expected to present the main points of a proposed social accord to their members on Monday amid speculation the Cabinet, employers and workers have ended an impasse over the government's controversial budget cuts.

1 November 2004

AMSTERDAM — Dutch trade unions are expected to present the main points of a proposed social accord to their members on Monday amid speculation the Cabinet, employers and workers have ended an impasse over the government's controversial budget cuts.

The aim now is to resolve the conflict over the worker disability insurance scheme (WAO), early retirement and  unemployment benefits (WW) by the end of this week, newspaper De Volkskrant reported.

In exchange for government concessions, unions are prepared to moderate wage demands and end their ongoing industrial action campaign, Dutch public news service NOS reported.

But before final talks can be entered into, union confederation bosses Lodewijk de Wall (FNV), Doekle Terpstra (CNV), and Ad Verhoeven (MHP) want union members to approve the proposals first. Employer groups are still in separate talks with the government.

When the government reaches agreement with the social partners — namely unions and employers — formal and public talks will be entered into. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende could publicly unveil an accord as early as Tuesday.

The Dutch government announced hard-hitting budget cuts in September, raising the ire of the nation's unions. In the weeks since, public transport strikes have been staged in Rotterdam and Amsterdam and up to 300,000 people protested in Amsterdam on 2 October.

Unions were particularly angered over the abolition of tax breaks on the early retirement scheme (VUT) and pre-pension early retirement schemes, cuts to the WAO and WW systems, and a reduced healthcare budget.

Defence State Secretary Cees van der Knaap then entered into exploratory talks with unions and employers. This led to the renewal of more formal talks between cabinet ministers and the social partners, and despite an initial mid-week walk-out by the FNV, the discussions continued over the weekend.

De Telegraaf reported on Monday that an agreement had been reached allowing workers in physically tough professions — such as road works and construction jobs — to take early retirement receiving 40 percent of their last wage after 40 years on the job. The jobs that come under this regulation much still be decided upon.

The proposal has been examined and approved by a so-called 'regional group' that has assessed the proposals drawn up by unions and the cabinet during the weekend's 'secret' talks.

The discussions have also led to an agreement to expand the scope of the life savings scheme (levensloopregeling) so that younger workers and low income earners can also save enough money to stop working earlier.

Het Financieele Dagblad said that the cabinet was also prepared to stimulate early retirement with tax breaks. It said plans are already on the table to implement flexible pension arrangements.

The plan will reportedly allow workers to choose when they will stop working, such as before their 65th birthday. But those who take early retirement will receive reduced benefits compared with those who stay in the workforce longer.

The plans currently being negotiated are much different from the controversial proposals unveiled on Budget Day, 21 September. The cabinet had initially planned to raise the workforce participation rate of older workers, sparking howls of outrage.

But the cabinet will still abolish the existing fiscal advantages on the VUT and pre-pension schemes used for early retirement.

Meanwhile, the government and social partners had previously reached an accord on Saturday night over the WAO, with the cabinet adopting the advice of the Social Economic Council (SER).

The WAO will now be largely privately implemented. Entry conditions will be eased and long-term incapacitated workers will receive 75 percent of their former wage, compared with the present 70 percent. This is based on the condition that the number of new WAO recipients declines.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news

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