Labour Market ‘Flexibility’: Netherlands must ‘offer the strongest possible resistance’

15 March 2007

Labour Market ‘Flexibility’: Netherlands must ‘offer the strongest possible resistance’

“The government is quite correct to reject European legislation in the area of labour law,” said SP Member of Parliament and disability spokesman Paul Ulenbelt yesterday in a meeting between the Tweede Kamer, parliament’s main legislative chamber, and the newly-appointed Minister of Social Affairs, Christian Democrat Piet Hein Donner. This does not, however, put an end to the matter. The European Commission is launching a new attack on workers’ job security, going all out for further flexibilisation of the labour market. “The Netherlands must offer the strongest possible resistance to this,” Mr Ulenbelt said.

Paul UlenbeltThe European Union is attempting to agree on “common starting points” regarding labour law. This may sound reasonable, but what it actually means, first and foremost, is that pressure will come from Brussels on member states to further “flexibilise”. Or to put it in plain terms: fewer rights for working people. “More flexibility in forms of contract will lead inexorably to more precariousness,” Ulenbelt says. “The prospects for secure employment, especially for young people and women, will deteriorate.”

Increasingly workers are being treated as disposable personnel. For Paul Ulenbelt, this problem needs to be addressed: compensation for dismissal clauses could be added to temporary contracts, or hiring temporary employees to do core tasks, as is increasingly the practice, could be put to an end.

“What does flexibilisation actually mean?” Ulenbelt asked the minister during today’s debate. “Is it the twenty-year-old cashier who’s thrown out and replaced by a seventeen-year-old? Is it the young person who’s already on his seventh temporary contract? Whose side is the government on here? Is it on the side of the employers’ organisation, the VNO-NCW, which wants to put getting rid of rights to protection from dismissal on the agenda of the coming summit? Or is it on the side of the workers?”

“Flexibilisation is presented as the panacea to forestall the definitive failure of the Lisbon strategy. But studies show that countries with more flexible conditions of employment and less protection against dismissal have more top-heavy management structures, lower productivity growth, fewer innovations and greater disparities of income. Is that really the way you want to go?”

The SP called on the minister to make it clear in Brussels that we are really not prepared to sit back while labour law in the Netherlands is further eroded.

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