European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Strikes in the Netherlands - background summary

The compromise-seeking culture has heavily curbed recourse to strike action. One of the notable facts about the Netherlands is that the right to strike is not recognised either in the Constitution or in law. Judicial case-law alone recognises the right to strike as fundamental.

Low levels of conflict

  • The level of conflict in the Netherlands is relatively low. On average, nine working days were lost for every thousand employees over the period 2009-2013, well below the figure for the three Member States that lost the most days to strikes over that period, namely France (171), Denmark (82) and Belgium (66).
  • The latest statistics published by Statistics Netherlands (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek – CBS – In 2015 hoogste aantal stakingen in negen jaar, 1 May 2016) show that 27 strikes were recorded in 2015, involving 42 000 employees and the loss of close to 48 000 days’ work. The number of strikes recorded in 2014 was above the average figure of 22.5 days of strikes per year since the turn of the century. Since 1999, the only years in which there were more strikes were 2005 and 2006 with 28 and 31 respectively.
  • Of the 27 strikes, only 15% were about wages alone.
  • The number of strike days varied considerably year on year over the period 1999-2014, from 245 000 in 2002 to 5 000 in 2009. The number of strike days has risen continually since 2013 from 19 400 to 42 000 in 2014, and to 47 000 in 2015.

A basic right recognised in judicial case-law

  • The right to strike and the right to take part in collective action still do not appear in Dutch legislation or the Dutch Constitution. They are based solely on judicial case-law.
  • Case-law acknowledges that, in conformity with Article G of the European Social Charter, the right to strike cannot be subject to restrictions or limitations ‘except such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others or for the protection of public interest, national security, public health, or morals’.
  • Additionally, until 2015, case-law imposed restrictions on the right to strike; for example, it had to be preceded by a sufficient notice period or could be triggered only after an attempt at negotiation between the parties. That case-law was criticised by the European Committee of Social Rights that oversees compliance with the European Social Charter on the ground that this allowed the judge to exercise the trade unions’ prerogative of deciding whether a strike was necessary.
  • A significant change took place following a judgment of the Supreme Court of 19 June 2015 in which the Court found that case-law had to conform to the European Social Charter. The right to strike can be restricted only on the basis of Article G of the Charter, and case-law cannot introduce other limitations such as compliance with a notice period or implementation of the right to strike as a last resort if a resolution has not been reached through collective bargaining. Since that date, a strike cannot automatically be rendered unlawful by a failure to give notice or on the ground that it has occurred prior to a negotiation.

Unprecedented situation for the unions

  • In January 2015, the union De Unie representing around 50 000 members announced its intention not to organise strikes any more. Strike action was, according to De Unie, pointless, expensive and a nuisance to the public. The Secretary General of the FNV, the largest confederation in the Netherlands, criticised that position on the ground that ‘a union that never goes on strike is like a tiger with no teeth. Taking strike action is not a basic right for nothing.’

Is the right to strike under threat?

Currently, there is nothing to indicate that the right to strike is under threat, especially since the judgment of the Supreme Court in 2015 limiting the power of the courts to intervene in order to determine the lawfulness of a strike.