Government plans to take a critical look at the tax advantages enjoyed by freelance workers (zzp’ers) have met with mixed reactions.
The solution to the problem, according to Thijs Peters on z24.nl, is not to make freelancers more like contract workers. ‘Employees are paying more and more income tax, social premiums and pension premiums, ‘he says. ‘A freelancer’s expenses can reduce his gross income to a level where he is paying low taxes and is eligible for subsidies on rent and healthcare. This is unfair.
‘But taxing him as heavily as a contract worker and obliging him to save up for his pension is not the answer. This will result in slightly more people on contracts and a little more tax revenue but mainly in economic damage and higher unemployment.’
Peters’ solution is to make contract workers more like freelancers. ‘Dutch companies need staff they can use according to economic need. Or they might need someone with specialist knowledge but only for a few hours a week. Hiring these people on a permanent basis would be very expensive and consultancy bureaus wouldn’t come much cheaper. (..)
‘Make it easier to fire people so employers won’t have to be afraid they can’t get rid of someone. This will force staff to improve their skills so they will remain attractive to their employers. Shorten the period for unemployment benefits. Lower income tax so employees are left with more at the end of the month.’
The Financieele Dagblad points out that many freelancers are among the worst-paid and deserve support. ‘Freelancers are to be praised for doing everything they can to avoid living on benefits. (…) But a balance is needed. We need to look at whether existing measures are still working.’
Employers would do well to look beyond the considerable financial advantage – some 30% – of using freelancers, the paper writes. ‘Financial gain makes employers forget that freelancers are less productive, do not form part of an organisation and form a weak link in the collective memory of a company. The duty to improve freelancers’ skills is less urgently felt and more management is needed to assist a constant stream of new staff. The financial benefits evaporate quickly in view of the fact these companies do not show a faster turnover’, the FD writes.
The paper also thinks the practice of firing people and then taking them on as freelancers, even if they are nothing of the kind and don’t have any wish to be self-employed, as has happened to thousands of care workers, should be taken into account. But it will be a difficult balancing act to protect the interests of contract workers, freelancers and those who have been forced to become freelancers, the paper concludes.
In the Volkskrant freelance journalist Max Pam gives his side of the story. ‘Freelancers have never had much status’, he writes. ‘The 20th century has seen enormous strides made by social democrats and unions to improve the lot of the workers. This is a great achievement. But the consequences are that contract workers have gained an almost endless list of privileges: pensions, paid holidays, redundancy pay, collective and thus cheaper healthcare insurance, unemployment benefit, free courses, Christmas hampers, cheap sandwiches in the office canteen and so forth. And that’s fine. I’m not jealous.
‘But now the government is thinking of taking away the one fiscal advantage left to a freelancer – the self-employment tax break. (…) And of all parties, it is the VVD, the entrepreneurial party, that is tripping up the freelancer. It verges on madness.’
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