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PM urges unions to protect economic recovery

27 August 2004

AMSTERDAM — Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has appealed to disgruntled trade unions to exercise restraint in order to allow the early stages of economic recovery to take root in the Netherlands.

Balkenende made the appeal in a letter issued on Thursday in reaction to the country’s main unions who have launched a major offensive this week against the Dutch government’s budget cutbacks.

Union confederations FNV, CNV and MHP began a leafleting campaign in Amsterdam on Wednesday to protest at the government’s cutbacks in relation to early retirement pensions, WW unemployment benefits and social welfare and moves to increase the work week from 36 to 40 hours.

There are further protests planned around the country in the run up to the presentation of the 2005 Budget on Prinsjesdag, the third Tuesday in September. The campaign will climax with a protest in Amsterdam on 2 October when tens of thousands are expected to participate.

But Balkenende hit back on Thursday evening in a letter in which he noted the unions had agreed in talks last autumn not to seek wage increases when negotiating CAO wage and condition deals with employers.

The prime minister said the unions had also agreed in principle to make deals further down the track with the government about cutbacks to the WAO workers disability benefits scheme (with its worrying number of recipients), early retirement pensions and a workers savings scheme.

“It might appear tempting to avoid taking painful measures, but (if we do that) one thing is certain: the road to recovery would be twice as long and doubly difficult,” Balkenende wrote.

He said the unions had acknowledged this in a joint declaration issued with the government following the autumn talks.

Relations soured during the second round of talks in spring this year and the two sides failed to agree on measures to restrict early pension schemes. The unions announced afterwards that they would seek pay increases when negotiating CAO deals with employers.

[Copyright Novum Nieuws 2004]

Subject: Dutch news