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Barend Barentsen on increase in strike action

With inflation skyrocketing, more and more workers are willing to take action for better working conditions. From regional transport to municipal officials, and from healthcare staff to pharmacy workers, it’s one strike after another in the Netherlands.

Substantial cao increases

‘During the coronavirus pandemic and the years before, there were fewer strikes than we’re seeing now, but it’s hard to say if that is structural,’ says Barend Barentsen, Professor of Labour Law at Leiden University. ‘You can see that after 2015, the public sector had more money. For example, the State did not have to pay interest on the national debt, so pay rises were less of a problem. But at present the belt has to be tightened. There are now a lot of strikes in these sectors, certainly if you include regional public transport as well.’ However, he does note that ‘it could be that in certain sectors the collective bargaining agreements (cao) are about to expire; if a new cao can be reached quickly, there will probably be fewer strikes.’ Barentsen notes that the ‘classic issues’ are usually at stake. ‘In many sectors, it’s ultimately about money. And because of inflation, we’re talking about substantial pay increases.’  

Legal action

On another front, Barentsen does see a difference compared to a few years ago. ‘We're seeing hardly any attempts to ban strikes via the courts. In the two years before the coronavirus pandemic, that happened quite often. Postmen who wanted to strike, for example, were not allowed to because it was right before the Christmas period. Now there are few cases of legal action, but I don't have an explanation for that.’ Research shows that in 60 per cent of cases, employers came up with a better offer after a strike. Barentsen cites the Dutch railways strike last summer as an example. ‘That led to better cao’s for NS employees. When employees in related sectors saw that, they wanted the same. As a result, regional transport workers now want the same as NS staff.’

Read the full article in Dutch newspaper Parool

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