Netherlands' prosperity at risk if labor market doesn't change: committee

The Netherlands is at risk of losing its high level of prosperity if the labor market does not change quickly and drastically, is the conclusion of a committee led by Hans Borstlap that investigated the state of the labor market on behalf of the Dutch government. Employers must offer permanent contracts much more often, the number of flex-workers and self-employed must be reduced, and more must be invested in knowledge and innovation, the committee concluded, NOS reports. Trade union FNV largely agrees with the conclusions.

The committee based its study on previous national and international advice and research, with which so far "dangerously little" has been done. They also spoke with entrepreneurs, employees, trade unions and experts. "It is really not going well," committee chairman Borstlap said. The current rules cause unnecessary social- and economic problems. And not intervening is not an option. "Our prosperity is actually at stake."

All the signals indicate that the Netherlands has far too many workers who are uncertain about their jobs. As a result, they do not dare to invest in their education and their future. Employers rely too much on flex-workers, and often see no reason to invest in their training because they will not stay long. This has major economic consequences, because without training and knowledge, the Netherlands can not participate properly with the rest of the world. And if employees earn less and less and are afraid to spend their earned money, that can lead to economic stagnation."

"We also talked to young people," Bortslap said to NOS. "They increasingly have a flexible job. They are afraid to buy a house or start a family. You have to think about that. There is really something going on."

Over the past years, the focus was increasingly on the form of the employment contract, and less and less on what work actually means for society, Borstlap said. "This is a serious social issues. The dividing lines between types of employees are becoming sharper, the differences must not become too large." According to him, employers too easily see offering a permanent contract as merely an extra cost. The committee believes that this is morally incorrect and harmful to prosperity and social cohesion. 

Because people who cannot find a job, or are uncertain about how long they will have one, turn their backs on society. The mutual solidarity between workers is also disappearing, and that will also apply to the support for social provisions, the committee expects. 

The committee wants short contracts to give way to longer employment relationships. That must be made financially less risky for employers. In return, employers must invest in training and innovation, which is good for the economy in the long term, the committee said. The committee suggests reducing the numerous types of employment contracts to only three types of workers - real self-employed, real employees, and real temporary workers.

The committee also proposes expanding the possibilities for part-time dismissal, striving for shorter periods of unemployment so that benefits can be increased, and introducing a national insurance or basic insurance for all workers against occupational disability. 

FNV largely agrees with the committee's conclusions and proposals, the union said in a statement, according to Dagblad van het Noorden. "We are pleased that the Bortslap Committee has come to the same conclusions as we have, namely that the far-reaching fexibilisation of the labor market must be tackled," FNV director Zakaria Boufangacha said. 

However, FNV criticized the fact that the study paid little attention to the role that employers played in the labor market's increasing flexibility. The report makes it seem that employers stumbled across the current situation, while according to FNV they actually "steered for this for years". FNV also thinks the committee is going too far with proposals for reducing the protection against dismissal.

PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher is also against less protection against dismissal. "The Borstlap Committee proposes that employers can unilaterally adjust your position, workplace or working hours, or that they can fire you in part. Without permission of the judge or [benefits agency] UWV," he said on Twitter. "In this way you make millions of employees uncertain. What a dramatically bad idea. Unacceptable."