Emergency funds urgently needed for freelancers, hotels & catering: Experts

The coronavirus Covid-19 and the national measures taken to fight its further spread is wreaking havoc in the hospitality and recreation industries, and among the around 3 million people in the Netherlands who work on flexible contracts or as freelancers - many of which work in hospitality and recreation. Quick measures are needed to make sure these workers don't sink, according to experts.

According to Robèr Willemsen, chairman of national association for the hospitality industry KHN, a package of measures involving 5.1 billion euros is needed to keep the hospitality sector afloat. Over the past two weeks, hospitality entrepreneurs already saw their turnover halve, he said on program Op1. "Now the turnover goes to zero, but the fixed costs continue. In that industry there is not enough fat on the bones to last long. We have many small self-employed persons who will no longer have an income."

KHN expects that the hospitality industry will see a 50 percent loss of turnover for 2020. "Everyone understands that the most important thing is healthcare. What surprises us is that there is not yet a clear package of measures to keep hospitality companies afloat," Willemsen said. "Commitments are being made, and it's good to hear that as a country we have deep pockets with 93 billion in them. But now it is time to indicate where that money should go. Part of that is needed very quickly."

Freelancers and people with flexible contracts are the first to be hit by economic uncertainty, and that is no different now that the coronavirus is hobbling the Dutch economy. And the measures the government announced against the virus on Thursday and Sunday especially affect sectors with many flexible workers. According to figures from ABN Amro, 260 thousand temporary workers and freelancers work in the hospitality industry, compared to 120 thousand permanent employees. In the cultural sector, 60 percent of employees are self-employed freelancers, the Volkskrant reports.

"We run the risk that business risks are now passed on to employees," labor law professor Evert Verhulp of the University of Amsterdam said to the newspaper. "That is also the reason why employers work with such a flexible layer." KLM already announced on Friday that up to 2 thousand of its temporary employees will not have their contracts renewed. The general association for temporary employment agencies ABU also noticed that more temporary workers have been given notice. And for freelancers, no assignments simply means no money. 

Stichting voor de Arbeid, a foundation in which the largest employers'- and trade unions are united, are calling on the government to come up with an emergency fund for flexible workers who are in trouble due to the coronavirus. The foundation said it appreciates that the government is expanding the working hour reduction scheme, through which permanent employees can keep their jobs with the help of public money. But that doesn't help freelancers and people with a temporary or flexible contract. 

An emergency fund is therefore needed for this group, to continue to pay them as long as employers and clients have less or no work for them due to the coronavirus, Stichting voor de Arbeid said, according to De Limburger. 

The foundation also wants companies that indirectly suffer damage from the coronavirus to be able to rely on working time reduction, and that benefits agency UWV, which implements this scheme, start paying after two weeks instead of six. "This will prevent bankruptcies," the foundation said. 

The government does not seem eager to jump to freelancers' aid. "It will mean a decline in income for many freelancers. They also opted for this themselves," Minister Eric Wiebes of Economic Affairs said on television program WNL op Zondag. "The freelancers have said themselves that they do not want permanent employment. These people have consciously taken that risk themselves."

He pointed out that freelancers can also make use of tax cuts the government announced last week, to help entrepreneurs struggling due to the coronavirus. They cannot make use of the extension of working time reduction. But they can use the the so-called Bbz, an existing scheme for self-employed persons who run into financial difficulties. If they meet the conditions, freelancers can make use of this scheme by contacting their municipality.