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23 May 2017

Progress report on ‘flexicurity’ in the Netherlands: the system must provide greater security

Greater labour market flexibility has been a major focus of the Dutch Government’s policy measures over the past decade or so, and flexible (i.e. temporary or freelance) workers currently account for almost one third of the Dutch working population. A progress report has now been published on this Dutch system of ‘flexicurity’.

The report is entitled ‘For the Sake of Security. The Future of Flexible Workers and the Modern Organisation of Labour’ and was produced by the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR). In the opinion of Monique Kremer, one of the report’s authors, flexibilisation has developed as a result of globalisation, technology and workers’ aspirations of the Dutch population for more autonomy and freedom of choice, in particular its younger segments.

On 17 May, during an ETUI Monthly Forum event, she made it clear that ‘People are becoming increasingly vocal about their desire to organise their working life freely and autonomously. They want to stay in control.’ Pyramid-shaped hierarchies or structures within companies meet with widespread resistance among young workers, as do inflexible working hours. Ms Kremer held a series of interviews with flexible workers, allowing her to draw the following conclusion: ‘“I could never go back,” is an oft-heard refrain among zzp’ers (self-employed with no employees - Ed.), including those who have a long way to go before they achieve economic security.’

The researcher does, however, admit that a minimum level of security is essential, and that the Dutch ‘flexicurity’ system requires improvement in this respect. She believes that ‘A certain degree of security is a vital prerequisite for a healthy economy, because workers whose situation is insecure are afraid to be innovative or show initiative.’ Other negative impacts of a flexible labour market include the tendency for employers to skimp on training for their temporary employees, and the extremely widespread feeling among temporary workers that their efforts are not duly rewarded. A flexible labour market which fails to provide workers with secure jobs also has far-reaching social implications; according to the sociologist, ‘fewer children are born in families where both parents have flexible jobs’.

She believes that the social security system should be revamped to reflect the increasingly non-linear nature of working lives. What she refers to as the ‘hybridisation’ of career paths means that a young worker may find it more appealing to work as a freelancer at the start of his or her career before later moving into a permanent role in the interests of job security and finally, towards the end of his or her working life, returning to more flexible forms of employment; alternatively, workers may combine part-time salaried work with freelance work. Ambitions of this kind are a realistic prospect for workers thanks to the boom in the digital economy, particularly in the field of digital work platforms. Monique Kremer believes that there is a pressing need for greater involvement of the social partners in this debate, and for consideration to be given to the modernisation of the collective negotiation system.

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