Workplace reform deal puts end to public sector protests

The government and trade unions in the Netherlands have reached an agreement on public sector workplace reforms after months of unrest.

Last October, about 200,000 firefighters, bus drivers and civil servants staged one of the largest anti-government protests in decades, followed by numerous short-term strikes.

“The government was quite impressed by the large number of people who protested,” said Paul de Beer, professor of labour relations at the University of Amsterdam. “The government feared a lot of social unrest in the coming months [and] felt it would hurt the Dutch economy if it continued,” he said.

However, de Beer said it is not yet clear who has won the fight.

The unions have agreed to government plans to abolish tax breaks for early retirement programmes, but thanks to the way Dutch pension schemes operate, workers can save more for their pension and still retire before 65.

Another part of the agreement focused on disability. In the Netherlands, 10% of the workforce is classed as disabled, a far greater proportion than in other EU countries. Both the unions and government agreed the system was being abused. The government wanted to limit disability payment to those who are permanently and fully disabled, but a new agreement includes the long-term disabled as well.

As to wage negotiations, unions have agreed to demand only “extremely limited increases” in the coming year.

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