The country’s biggest trade union federation, the FNV, will take part in negotiations with government on a new round of austerity measures, but will not back ministers’ plans to slash jobless benefits.
Union officials have agreed to take part in the talks but say the unemployment benefit (ww) reforms will only win approval if it can be proved they will have a positive effect on the economy.
‘We are going into the talks in an open and realistic manner,’ said FNV leader Ton Heerts, adding that ‘it will be very difficult’.
Prime minister Mark Rutte has called for a broad debate with unions, employers and political parties on a new round of austerity measures following forecasts which say the Netherlands will break eurozone budget deficit limits again next year.
FNV members said last week they would not talk about the plans to slash jobless benefits, and social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher has indicated he may be prepared to think about softening the impact.
The cabinet is planning to cut the maximum jobless benefit claim from 38 months to 12 months at 70% of last earned salary plus a further 12 months at 70% of the minimum wage. Ministers also want to cut golden handshakes to make it cheaper to sack staff.
The unions also want more concessions from the government on flexible labour as increasing number of companies turn to short-term contracts.
‘We are not hear to solve the government’s budget problems,’ said Henk van der Kolk, leader of the biggest FNV union, the general workers union Bondgenoten.
The government needs to be able to present its new package of austerity measures to Brussels by the end of April.
There is also opposition to the ww plans among parties in parliament which are sympathetic to the government. Arie Slob, leader of the Christian party ChristenUnie, said on Monday evening he did not accept the jobless benefit reforms.
There can be no broad agreement on further reforms unless the cuts are dropped, Slob said. In particular, he said, making it easier and cheaper to sack staff will affect older workers disproportionately.
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