XI. Labour market

Further improvement in the functioning of the labour market is needed for all employees. There are not enough new job opportunities for older employees in particular, and flexible workers deserve better protection. Being able to move quickly from one job to the next with as short a period as possible on benefits is in the interests of all concerned. By reforming the law on the termination of employment and modernising the Unemployment Insurance Act (WW), we can make the transition from one job to the next substantially shorter. We will seek agreement with the social partners on a social agenda which will include these plans.

•    We will maintain the assessment of proposed terminations of employment in the form of a compulsory request for an advisory opinion to the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV). Criteria for the lawful termination of employment will be clearly defined. The option of seeking termination of employment by applying to the limited jurisdiction sector of a district court will be abolished. The UWV will process the vast majority of applications within four weeks (currently six weeks).
•    The criteria applied by the UWV to assess proposed terminations of employment for economic reasons will remain the same. Employers will be required to provide the employee with a transitional budget unless the termination is due to the employer’s poor financial situation and the employer would go bankrupt if it satisfied this obligation.
•    The UWV will not assess a proposed termination of employment in cases where a collective labour agreement provides for a procedure that is comparable in terms of its substance and length.
•    An employer may apply to the courts if it wishes to terminate an employment contract in cases where a prohibition on the termination of employment applies, or if it wishes to terminate a temporary employment contract that does not provide for that possibility.
•    An employee whose contract has been terminated may apply to the courts. The UWV’s advisory opinion will weigh heavily in the court’s decision. The assessment criteria applied by the court will be identical to those applied by the UWV to an employer.
•    If the court finds that the termination of employment was wrongful or that culpability lies primarily with the employer, it may award compensation. If an employer has deviated from a negative advisory opinion on the part of the UWV, the court may also reverse the termination of employment. Redundancy pay amounts to a maximum of half a month’s salary for each year of employment, subject to a ceiling of €75,000. The court’s decision is not open to appeal.    
•    In the period between two jobs, employees will have the following entitlements. Firstly the existing statutory notice of between one and four months, depending on the duration of employment. Also, in cases of involuntary termination of employment or the non-extension of a temporary contract of at least one year, the employer must pay a training allowance in the form of a transitional budget. This budget amounts to a quarter of a month’s salary for each year of employment, subject to a maximum of four months’ salary.
•    Unemployment benefit will be payable for a maximum of 24 months, of which 12 months will be related to the employee’s most recent salary and the other 12 months to the statutory minimum wage. In their first 10 years of employment, employees will accrue entitlement to one month’s unemployment benefit per year, and half a month’s benefit per year thereafter. Existing entitlements in terms of accrued years will be respected subject to the maximum applicable under the new system.
•    Over-55s whose employment is terminated will be eligible for the Older Unemployed Persons Income Scheme (IOW), which will not be subject to a partner test or means test. The Older and Partially Incapacitated Unemployed Workers Income Scheme will be abolished.
•    The financial gain accruing to employers by virtue of this reform of the law on the termination of employment will be offset by an increase in unemployment insurance contributions. We are examining the scope for differentiating unemployment insurance contributions based on criteria relating to good employment practice.
•    In collective labour agreements it will be possible to depart from the age distribution principle, which lays down that job losses must be evenly distributed among the various age groups.
•    Flexible labour is important if the labour market and the economy are to function effectively. Businesses have to be enabled to cope with peaks and troughs in demand. But flexible labour must not degenerate into a cheap alternative where the work could be better done by permanent employees. We will introduce initiatives aimed at achieving a better balance between flexible and permanent employment.
•    Opening up the lowest pay scales will once more make it possible to hire flexible workers at the lower end of the labour market, like cleaners and catering staff, as employees. The government will set a good example in this respect.
•    Together with the social partners, we will examine ways of improving the statutory protection for various forms of flexible labour. This will include looking at the legislation on successive fixed-term employment contracts and non-competition clauses.

The Employment Capacity Bill will be replaced by a new Participation Act, to be introduced on 1 January 2014. The government is devising a quota scheme for the employment of disabled persons by larger employers. We will ensure that no one falls by the wayside. As the number of places in sheltered employment decreases, the number of places for disabled people in mainstream employment will increase. The quota scheme will be introduced in stages over six years from 1 January 2015 (the year in which the new Act will also apply to existing cases covered by the Sheltered Employment Act). This will prevent displacement effects and give employers time to make the necessary adjustments. The Participation Act differs from the Employment Capacity Bill on the following points.

•    We will scrap reassessments for young people who already receive benefit under the Work and Employment Support (Young Disabled Persons) Act (WAJONG) and the reduction in this group’s benefits.
•    Over six years we will build up a quota of 5% for employment of disabled persons by businesses. Businesses that fail to satisfy the quota requirements will forfeit a penalty of €5,000 in respect of each place for a disabled person. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees will be exempt from the quota scheme.
•    We will spread the efficiency saving on sheltered employment over six years.
•    Entry into sheltered employment in its current form will cease with effect from 1 January 2014. Municipal authorities will be given the freedom within the applicable statutory framework to organise their own sheltered employment schemes. Funding will be made available with a view to ultimately creating 30,000 places via schemes of this kind based on 100% of the statutory minimum wage. Municipal authorities will no longer have an obligation to fill one in three places in sheltered employment that fall vacant.
•    In so far as employees work for a wage below the statutory minimum, this will always be a temporary situation and the combination of wages and supplementary benefit will grow towards the level of the statutory minimum wage. On the basis of the evaluation of the current experiments involving wage dispensations, a decision will be made on their scale and substance.
•    An efficiency saving will be made on the reintegration funds available to municipal authorities and the UWV, partly in the light of the major decentralisation measures as envisaged for example in the Participation Act.

In view of our aim to work for a common social agenda, the government attaches great importance to constructive cooperation with the social partners. We would like to enter into talks with them to flesh out the measures in this coalition agreement, especially those concerning termination of employment and unemployment benefit, within the applicable financial framework. The aim is to improve the functioning of the labour market so that all participants – whether they are flexible or permanent employees – are able to find new jobs as quickly as possible.  

Almost 800,000 children attend childcare. These children constitute a vulnerable age group. Childcare facilities must therefore provide a healthy and safe environment that contributes to the children’s development. Childcare gives parents the opportunity to participate in the labour market. Reason enough to continue to safeguard the affordability and quality of childcare.

Education, childcare, playschools and early years education must be coordinated. In the preschool period it is important to prevent, identify and take prompt action to tackle developmental disadvantages. Particular attention should be paid to ensuring that young children learn the Dutch language. This also imposes demands on the skills of professionals in the sector. In the case of out-of-school care, coordination is required so that where possible a seamless daily schedule can be arranged, for example in the context of community schools or integrated child centres. Parents opt for the services that suit their children best. The procedure for making complaints must be straightforward, and once submitted they must be taken seriously and dealt with rapidly. They must also be taken into account in the exercise of supervision. Risk-based supervision will be further improved: strict where necessary, with greater reliance on individual responsibility where possible.

•    In order to optimise the coordination of education, playschool work and childcare, the funding of playschool work will be brought under the Childcare Act. Existing municipal funding will also fall under this arrangement. Obstacles to cooperation will be removed on the basis of lessons learned in ongoing pilot schemes. The existing minimum requirements for early years education will be incorporated into the agreements. Financial flows will be harmonised.
•    By means of extra investments in early years education we will improve the quality and linguistic proficiency of staff.
•    Top priority will be given to children’s safety. Staff will be screened continuously.
•    The position of parents will be strengthened. The various complaints and disputes procedures will be streamlined, so that parents will be able to call on a complaints officer or confidential adviser and a low-threshold dispute resolution mechanism for each facility.
•    The supply of facilities must meet parents’ requirements. Agreements will be made with the sector on greater flexibility in offering contracts. The objective is to ensure that the number of hours paid for corresponds more closely to the number of hours facilities have actually been used. If necessary this will be laid down in statute.