Talks on reaching agreement between unions and employers on a string of economic reforms are nearing completion and a deal could be signed as early as Thursday night.
Social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher told reporters on Thursday afternoon the talks had ‘entered a new phase’ and that unions and employers are now in formal talks with the cabinet.
Asscher and prime minister Mark Rutte will join talks with the unions and employers on Thursday evening, website nu.nl said.
Unions and employers have been trying to come up with alternatives to the cabinet’s reforms for several weeks, and had an original deadline of April 1 which they failed to meet.
Ministers are keen to see an agreement between employers and unions because it will make it easier to push reforms through the upper house of parliament where the cabinet does not have a majority.
In particular, it will be difficult for opposition parties to claim they cannot support the measures if unions and employers have already agreed.
The negotiations have centred on a number of controversial areas, including changes to unemployment benefit and redundancy law and a pay freeze for health workers.
On Thursday morning, the Volkskrant said a deal had been agreed on unemployment benefit which would allow people with a long employment record to claim the benefit for up to three years. The government wanted to slash this to one year at 70% of salary and one year at 70% of the minimum wage.
Reports also say plans to make it easier and cheaper to sack staff will be put on ice until after the economic crisis is over and that a quota for disabled workers will become voluntary.
Others say government plans to freeze health workers salary will not go ahead.
RTL correspondent Frits Wester said if the unions have won as many concessions as thought, the deal is unlikely to appeal to supporters of Rutte’s right-wing VVD party.
But the fact that Rutte is joining the talks this evening means a deal is imminent, Wester said. ‘He will want to appear in public with his head held high.’
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