Working on at Batavus
If Piet Hein Donner, Dutch Minister for Social Affairs and Employment, has his way, things will be made easier for people who want to go on working after their 65th birthday. Under the motto, 'You're only as old as you feel', Mr Donner wants to introduce measures to enable older employees to work longer if they want to.
By Anna Westerdaal*
A nice idea but, given the number of people over 50 who can't find a job, it would seem like one the Netherlands isn't really ready for. Happily, though, there are exceptions: Dutch bicycle manufacturer Batavus has been running a 'senior employees' department where life runs a little more slowly.
In a factory thick with the smell of rubber tires, Roelof Hagendoorn leads us past a storeroom packed with pedals, bells and other bike parts, all the way to the rear of the factory and the 'handlebars department': 100 percent equipped for the elderly employee. It 's a bright and sunny space - not at all like the traditional idea of a damp, dark factory - five men are hard at work. Mr Hagendoorn himself, a spry 65-plusser, talks enthusiastically about the department.
"It used to be an assembly line in here but, happily for us, it's no longer a race against the clock."
And that's something that his colleagues, in his words the 'somewhat older experts', are also happy about.
(Photo above: Batavus bicycle )
'A little easier'
A man fixing handgrips to handlebars at a fast but deliberate pace explains, in a strong Friesian accent, that he stopped suffering from back pain when he came to work in the department. "Now, finally, I can take it a little easier."
It has to be said, though, that 'easier' isn't the first word that springs to mind when you see him working at such a furious pace.
Around noon, all these seniors retreat with their lunch boxes to their own canteen, fitted out with apple-green chairs. A nice colour for a baby's room, you'd think at first glance but - to judge by the good spirits of the men using it - also highly appropriate for its current occupants.
Fighting the shortage
Minister Donner's plan was inspired mainly by the looming shortage of employees as people continue to age and the population continues to 'grey'. Since such a shortage could seriously threaten the country's economic growth, Mr Donner came up with his proposal at the end of May this year. He wants to turn the tide by allowing employees to decide whether they want to collect their pensions or continue working when they hit 65.
These days there are many prejudices about older employees. It'sd thought that they go off sick more often, work more slowly and that they cost more. These seem to be the reasons - however inaccurate - why most employers still want nothing to do with them.
The Friesian bicycle manufacturer Batavus, on the other hand, is one of the few Dutch companies that sees the advantages in Mr Donner's plans - and in older workers. This is why, five years ago, the firm set up its special department for employees over 65.
Annemiek Hiemstra, Human Resources manager at Batavus, explains that not only do older employees not report in sick more often, but their involvement in their work and their enormous fund of knowledge about what they do actually makes them a huge advantage to the firm.
General Manager Rob de Set adds that in contrast to what's commonly thought, it's also financially advantageous to keep older employees on. He sees it as his job to make sure that the specific job knowledge such people have built up in - often - decades of service isn't lost:
"The Netherlands is presenting itself more and more as a knowledge economy, and knowledge is power! We have to hold on tight to that. Because if we want to compete with other countries in the long term, we're going to need all that knowledge more than ever."
24 June 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]