The cabinet is prepared to talk to unions and employers about bringing forward plans to reform redundancy law and cut unemployment benefits, prime minister Mark Rutte said on Thursday.
Speaking on the second day of debate on the government’s 2014 spending plans, Rutte said he considered there to be a ‘limited, possibly very limited’ chance of unions and employers agreeing to the changes, the Financieele Dagblad reported.
Rutte said during his speech he would like to meet their demands but that he considers there will be more understanding for changes in other sections of the agreement.
In particular, Rutte said he is keen to ensure that employers and unions do not withdraw their support for the deal. This prompted D66 leader Alexander Pechtold to ask ‘who runs the country? Politicians or the polder?’, referring to the collective term for unions and employers.
Rutte also said calls for a reduction in the size of the €6bn austerity package are not an option. This would not be acceptable to Brussels, he said. The Netherlands has to implement cuts to bring the budget deficit back in line with eurozone limits.
The cabinet needs the support of the big opposition parties to get its more controversial proposals through the upper house of parliament, where it does not have a majority.
Opposition leaders on Wednesday were disappointed that Diederik Samsom, leader of the coalition Labour party, did not make any gesture towards the other parties. In particular, Samsom said he did not support D66 and CDA calls to bring forward planned cuts in unemployment benefit.
‘If the prime minister wants opposition support he is going to have to make it clear that he is willing to change course in some significant areas,’ said RTL commentator Frits Wester. ‘What is crucial is how much room he will be given or dare to take from Labour.’