Why public sector workers are revolting

28th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

As more local government officials prepare to line up on the picket lines on Wednesday, we ask why public section workers are so militant.

Typical. You stand and wait for ages for a tram and suddenly two come along at once.

And when industrial action threatens the buses, trams and metros in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Utrecht, you make other arrangements to ensure you can get to work, to your child's school or to that local government agency to sort out your paperwork.

Unions want to get the pay talks back on track

Not so fast: a whole host of other civil servants plan to join public transport workers industrial action.

Trade Union CNV Publieke Zaak indicated on Tuesday that employees in social service departments in Amsterdam as well as fire and ambulance crews in Amsterdam, Arnhem, Wageningen and Utrecht will stop work or operate limited Sunday hours.

All services will operate normally in The Hague.

No stopping

Regional bus company Connexxion has announced that out of solidarity and "to avoid escalation" it has had to alter its services in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht because of the public transport strike.

Connexxion buses will travel  their normal routes to and from Amsterdam but will go directly from the borders of the city to their end destination without stopping.

Passengers using the company's buses in Rotterdam and Utrecht will be allowed from disembark within the urban limits, but drivers will not allow passengers waiting at stops within the city to come abroad.

Commuters travelling from the city to "outside" will not be allowed to get off within the city limits. The sneltram service will operate normally in Utrecht.

Connexxion is not happy with the strike. "This is the third time in a short period of time. Innocent passengers are being made to suffer and it damages the image of pubic transport". Wednesday's strikes and go slows come hard on the heels of local government, public transport and train strikes earlier in June.

Summer of discontent?

Some 190,000 local government workers are angry negotiations over a new CAO pay and conditions agreement are deadlocked. The unions rejected the offer made by the government in May and there doesn't appear to be a new proposal on the horizon.

The government wants to adhere to the tight spending plans that underlined the annual round of collective bargaining (Najaarsakkord) but the public sector unions don't like it.

Meanwhile, the private sector has been agreeing CAO agreements left, right and centre in recent months. 

Trade union federation FNV has estimated the recent agreements cover at least one million workers and most came about without resort to industrial unrest.

Yet as Paul de Beer, professor of labour relations at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) told newspaper 'NRC Handelsblad' on 17 June: "when local government personnel go on strike they always chose actions that will generate the most attention such as public transport or the police. If a factory is shut down (by a strike), nobody notices".

Did you notice the industrial action at steel-maker Corus in April?

CAO agreements

The differences between the public and private sectors go deeper. The fall wage accord calls for wage moderation and tougher arrangements for workers who want to take early retirement.

The government is trying to keep its budget deficit under control so it insisted on zero percent wage increases for civil servants, while companies and sectors in the private sector were only committed to "responsible wage movements".

The FNV argues that while workers in the private sector saw real increases in pay, local governments have not received any more funds from Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm to improve pay and conditions for their staff.

After several years when public sector pay was approaching that of the industry the momentum has stalled. Hence, the buses and trams will stall tomorrow.

The summer could be a long and slow one as you stand at the tra

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