How many individuals and organisations are advocating the topic of working time reduction in your country and do you form partnerships?
The idea is introduced by the FNV, the largest trade union in the Netherlands, with 900.000 members. It is advocated by other trade unions, like the Christian CNV, the second largest union. It is also advocated by some employers that have introduced the idea in their own organisation.
What is your group`s actual proposal for the reduction of working time?
Generations agreements. This is an important item for collective bargainings in 2017 and 2018. The idea is that older workers (57+) have the opportunity to reduce their working hours to make place for younger workers (35-). This will reduce unemployment for younger workers. The older worker will be able to reach their retirement age more fit, healthy and motivated. Their income cut as a result of their working part time is partly supplemented and their pension premium is payed up to 100% by the employer. And they can use a part of their pension to add to their income. The employer is able to solve some problems as a result of the “babyboom-generation”. They will not leave at once but in phases, the employer can get a better staff balance and can keep workers in irregular jobs fitter and healthier.
Examples are 60-80-100 (60% working, 80% income, 100% pension premium), 80-90-100 (working 80%, 90% income, 100% pension premium) and “triojobs”: 66,7%-85%-100%, with 3 older workers filling up two jobs. The first agreements were made for the Municipality Officials, and now it’s brought to practice in a variety of different companies and sectors, like Tata Steel, (small and medium) metal sector, the hospital sector, mental health care, companies for watermanagement and postal delivery services. Our goal is to reach Generations agreements in 20% of the collective agreements in the next few years. The agreements are payed by the difference in income between the older and the younger, reduction of sick leave and several special items for older workers, like extra free days in the existing collective agreements.
Who do you encounter as opponents and what are their counterarguments?
There are different groups of opponents to the idea. Some employers have problems with the costs of the generations agreements. As said, a part of the costs are covered by already existing special items for older workers like extra free days. Many employers already had problems with the costs of these extra fee days for older workers and want to get rid of them, now the number of older workers, and the costs going along with it, is rapidly rising. There is also a group of younger workers that have some problems with the idea that older workers have the opportunity to work less hours with a partly compensation of their income, and the younger workers have not. They consider that as an inequality.
Our counterargument for that is that we create new jobs for younger workers. We have asked the government to attribute a bit to the costs of these generations agreements. They refused partly because they consider it as something for social partners. But also because they are afraid of the effect that attributes to the fact that olders workers are more expensive for employers than younger workers. And that is not good for their position on the labour market. We do not deny this kind of arguments, but we see that a lot of older workers really need the opportunity to work shorter hours to reach their pension age, which has risen to 67 years in the Netherlands in a short period of time.
What is the public opinion on working time reduction in your country?
The public opinion on reduction of working time for older workers through the generations agreements is divided as said before, but not negative. The public opinion on shorter working hours in a broader sense is another thing. The labour market is booming at the moment. Many employers in different sectors as industry, ICT, hospitals and care, complain that they can’t get enough workers for their jobs. So it’s not hard to imagine that talking about shorter working hours is difficult. We need to think about the best way to start this discussion, and the kind of arguments we use. It’s not impossible because people are well aware of the large shifts that are going on the labour market. This means that talking about re-division of labour is important, and it’s all about the type of arguments we use.
What is your next step in the campaign? And what are your short-term, medium-term and long-terms objectives?
At this moment we are preparing a discussion in the FNV about working time reduction for the following years. This is the effect of a congress resolution in the FNV in 2017, giving the board the order to start such a discussion. There are different arguments for this discussion, like the effects of robotisation and digitalisation on the labour market; the division of paid and unpaid work; working in heavy jobs or under difficult circumstances such as shiftwork; gender inequality; environmental arguments, etc. This kind of arguments urge for a discussion about the redivision of work through shorter working hours because the actual average working week of all workers in the Netherlands is 32 hours! We will take a year for this discussion within the FNV and with other organisations.