Covid-19: Municipalities open aid counters for freelancers; employers want to postpone vacation pay

The Zuidas, Amsterdam’s large commercial business district, was virtually abandoned. 19 March 2020
The Zuidas, Amsterdam’s large commercial business district, was virtually abandoned. 19 March 2020Jacqueline TellingaSupplied to NL Times

The first aid counters for freelancers who are in financial trouble due to the coronavirus are opening in several large cities on Monday. Despite government measures, many companies are struggling under fixed costs like profit payouts and holiday pay. Postponing these payments are "on the table", trade union FNV said to the Telegraaf.

Last week the government announced a package of measures intended to support the economy through the coronavirus crisis. The total package involves some 250 million euros. One of these measures is a simplified scheme for assistance for freelancers suddenly without income. Another is that employers in need can have up to 90 percent of their wage costs paid by benefits agency UWV.

While the freelancers' simplified assistance measure is not completely implemented yet, a number of larger municipalities decided to give an advance and open counters so long, the association of Dutch municipalities VNG said to the Telegraaf. Freelancers will be subjected to a simplified screening to see whether they are eligible for a benefit. The screening does not take account of partner income or viability, among other things, according to the newspaper.

Trade union FNV is concerned about companies for whom the government's emergency measures are coming too late, collective coordinator Zakaria Boufangacha said to the Telegraaf. "So we are looking at how we can ensure more liquid assets for that group. One of the options is for companies to apply for deferment of income tax payments at the Tax Authority.. But the suspension of holiday pay and profit payments is also on the table."

"Many small entrepreneurs are nearly drowning," Dirk Beljaarts of the hospitality industry's association KHN said to the newspaper. "That is why we want to talk about this now, so that everyone has time to arrange something." 

"It is a wish from employers to do something about the holiday pay," Jan Meerman, director of retail sector organization Inretail, said to the newspaper. "That has already been discussed informally with our unions. We now live in a time when the unthinkable has become conceivable."

Employer organizations VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland hope that holiday pay can also be covered by the UWV. But whether that is the case, a spokesperson for Minister Wouter Koolmees of Economic Affairs and Employment could not yet say. "The regulation is now being worked out," the spokesperson said to the newspaper. 

Trade unions and employers will meet again on Tuesday to discuss the Covid-19 crisis.