14 October 2004
AMSTERDAM — Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm hinted the Dutch government might renegotiate some aspects of its controversial social security reform package just hours before Thursday’s public transport strike was hailed as a great success.
Speaking to the Dutch Parliament on Wednesday, Zalm said agreeing on a partial pension savings scheme, or “spaar-VUT”, could break the impasse with the unions over the planned cuts to the fiscally attractive VUT and pre-pension early retirement schemes.
Trade unions called Thursday’s transport strike as the latest in a series of actions mainly directed against government moves to abolish tax breaks for early retirement pension schemes.
FNV union official Henk van der Kolk told a rally of strikers in Rotterdam on Thursday morning that the strike which had brought train traffic and much of the regional and city bus network to a halt was perhaps the best action so far.
It is estimated that 70 percent of staff at Dutch rail operator NS had joined the strike. Some drivers turned up for work, but as network controllers were on strike no trains could be run safely.
Zalm’s olive branch on Wednesday followed exploratory talks State Secretary Cees van der Knaap had with union officials earlier this week to see if a way out of the impasse could be found.
The FNV’s Van der Kolk acknowledged the feelers the government was putting out in a bid to restart talks, but he warned the union protests would continue until the government withdrew its budget plans.
“Industry, the health sector, the police and teachers will follow the public transport strike,” he said.
Van der Kolk also conceded that causing a transport stoppage was not a decision taken lightly because it generated a lot of criticism. But he said “better 24 hours inconvenience than life-long problems”.
The strike forced many commuters to travel by car to work. There were three times as many cars as normal on the roads at 7am and twice the usual amount by 8am. Things were back to normal or quieter than usual an hour later, news agency Novum reported.
Motoring organisation ANWB reported there were more traffic jams than normal on Thursday morning, with the peak at 8am rather than 8.30am as would be the case on a normal day.
The ANWB said most traffic jams averaged 5km at 8am, with 12km tailbacks on the A6, A7 and A9 to Amsterdam. There were a total of 46 tailbacks with a total length of 200km on Dutch roads at about 8.20am.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news