Brussels' assault on unfair dismissal laws

8 December 2007

Brussels' assault on unfair dismissal laws

Now that the liberalisation of labour laws protecting the rights of workers in the face of unfair dismissal has for the time being been removed from the agenda of the Dutch government, the PvdA (Labour Party), the centre-left element in the centre-right/centre-left coalition, appears to have won its first victory. But this is no time to lower one's guard. The real threat to these rights comes, in fact, from Brussels, where there is no question even of a stay of execution, let alone of a reprieve.

by Kartika Liotard, Member of the European Parliament for the SP and parliamentary rapporteur on flexicurity and gender equality

Kartika LiotardFlexicurity has for years dominated the European discourse on employment, and the enactment of actual, concrete European Union directives is coming ever closer. It is the magic formula which is needed to bring about the drastic liberalisation of the European jobs market. It is assumed by many, including Employment Minister Piet Hein Donner, that employers will be willing to employ more people more rapidly if they can be sure that they will also be able to get rid of them in a straightforward and inexpensive manner. In exchange for this flexibility, workers will gain the security which comes from the availability of more jobs. The security of a steady job will be no more, but it will be replaced by the security of knowing that work will always be readily to be found. What goes for resistance to the government's proposal from trade unions and progressive parties in the Netherlands, should also go for resistance to this European plan. This is something for which I will be arguing in the strongest possible terms.

If the cabinet should next year decide that it is indeed unwilling to torch the laws on unfair dismissal – the decision as it stands not yet being final – this could yet turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. Before the end of this government's term of office, the EU's member states might still be confronted with obligations created by rules issued by Brussels. In such circumstances, even a PvdA threat to bring about a crisis within the cabinet would be of no help.

Donner can happily put his plans into deep freeze in the contented knowledge that his prayers will yet be answered via the European Union, something which I cannot quite believe is not already at the back of the mind not only of the Christian Democrat Employment Minister, but of Labour's Deputy Prime minister Wouter Bos as well.

Broad resistance to the weakening of the law on unfair dismissal should also represent the overture to a more active participation on the part of Dutch trade unions and progressive political parties in the European debate. Decisions are being taken at European level which in the near future will affect the Netherlands. The social democrats in the European Parliament feel themselves, however, ever more at liberty to go along with the whole flexicurity process, much more so than their colleagues in the national parliament would dare. The twenty percent of Labour Party members who have said that they would leave the party should Wouter Bos give way on this issue would do well to keep a close eye on the way in which their representatives in Brussels vote in the coming weeks and months.

It augurs far from well that the Chair of the so-called Socialist group – the social democrats – in the European Parliament, Ole Christensen completely rejected the report on the consequences of this flexicurity for women in the labour market. We must keep up the pressure.

This article appeared originally in Dutch in the daily newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad on 6th December 2007

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