Government plans to reform the current definition of self-employment aim to make it clearer who should be considered a freelancer but have already been criticised for being vague and unnecessary.
The proposals, contained in a package of measures to reform the labour market, were published by social affairs minister Karien van Gennip on Friday, and have now been put out to public consultation. So far 87 people and organisations have responded.
Van Gennip says her proposals will meet the demands of both freelancers (ZZP’ers) and unions. Unions in particular want an end to the way self-employment is used by platform and other companies to get around labour laws and are pursuing several cases through the courts.
The new definition is based on three main questions, all derived from current case law. Firstly, how is someone directed and controlled and do they have complete freedom to do the work? Secondly, is the work being done structurally within an organisation and are employees doing the same work? And thirdly, do you work independently, for your own account and risk?
In addition, if someone earns less than €32 an hour, it will be up to the worker to prove that they do not need an employment contract, which, the government says, will have a preventative effect.
In some cases, the ministry says, workers are forced to become self employed or there is unfair competition between workers and between employees. There are also macroeconomic concerns because of the impact on unemployment benefit and other premiums, which are not paid by the freelancers.
“What is very important is that we have added these criteria to entrepreneurship,” Van Gennip told the Financieele Dagblad. “This is what came out of our discussions with freelancers and freelance organisations.”
Freelancer organisations, however, have already criticised the government’s plans. “The law offers no additional upfront clarity and directly affects self-employed entrepreneurs’ right to exist,” said Cristel van de Ven, from freelancer association VZN. “The freedom of entrepreneurship, a fundamental European right, is being taken away.”
An organisation representing freelancers in the healthcare system, where thousands of specialists, nurses and other care staff work on a freelance basis, has also called on the minister to withdraw the proposals, saying thousands of people will leave the sector if they have to become employees.
Current legislation covering freelancers gives sufficient scope to determine if someone is properly self-employed or not, the VZOZ said. “The minister’s proposed law is like an elephant in a china shop and a potential danger to society itself,” the organisation said.
Economist Mathijs Bouman, writing in the FD, said the government’s plan misses concrete figures about how many self-employed people there are in the Netherlands.
“I read: ‘Hard data on the number of false self-employed in the Netherlands is not available,” he said. “Then there is a wild guess that it could well be 200,000, but a warning that such a figure ‘should be used and interpreted with caution’.”
The government then goes on to “rubbish the entire self-employed market based on that ‘rough estimate’,” he says. As with the childcare benefit fraud scandal, “it is first the policy, then the figures,” he said. “We never learn.”
According to national statistics office CBS, last year some 1.2 million people in the Netherlands were classified as freelancers or self-employed.
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