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Decent Flexibility

On Thursday 8 December at 15.00 hrs, Fred van Haasteren will defend his doctoral thesis ‘Fatsoenlijke flexibiliteit – De invloed van ILO-conventie 181 en de regelgeving omtrent uitzendarbeid’ (Decent flexibility - The influence of ILO Convention 181 and legislation on temporary agency work) at the Academy Building of Leiden University. Supervisor is Professor P.F. van der Heijden.

Temporary agency work: the road to recognition

Within the field of labour law, the position of temporary agency work has always been a source of  discussion. Tension exists between the pursuit of flexible forms of employment on the one hand, and the maintenance of decent labour relations on the other hand.

The UN organisation for labour issues, ILO, has addressed the issues concerning private job placement from the time it was established. In the early years, there was a tendency to prohibit private mediation or at least to limit it drastically. But gradually it was seen that temporary agency work, for example, did have positive aspects and that there was no point in a total ban. These developments led in 1997 to ILO Convention 181, which received broad support.

Ongoing discussion

This did not mean that the discussion about non-standard types of work had come to an end. A lack of clarity about the scope of the term contract labour, which also covers temporary agency work, led to much confusion and frustration among the parties.  

Consensus was also not reached about what types of labour could be qualified as decent and what types as precarious. One question was whether only job security was at stake or whether income security was more relevant. According to ILO standards, temporary agency work can be qualified as decent.

From the perspective of corporate social responsibility, the business community should take account of human rights. Convention 181 specifies these, also for the temporary employment agencies.

Globalisation also has consequences for labour relations. The trend is that multinationals make agreements with global labour unions. The risk then arises that temporary employment agencies are excluded from the social dialogue.  

Regional legislation

Also in the European context, much attention was given to temporary employment. The most important initiative was the Employment Agency Work Directive, which includes the obligation of equal pay and calls for a review of the limitations on temporary employment.

The Netherlands has its own unique form of public-private regulation. A system exists where the longer you work, the more rights you have, reflected in legislation and collective labour agreements, and there is also a certification system.

Is Convention 181 still relevant?

The point of departure for this book was whether Convention 181 is still of any value. After all, there are now all kinds of frameworks within which temporary employment is regulated. In addition, many other flexible types of employment are on the rise for which existing legislation is perhaps not always fully applicable. When addressing these issues, keeping flexibility decent is the main challenge.

Temporary agency work as a type of ‘labour only contracting’ appears to be well organised both nationally and internationally.

Fred van Haasteren (1949) began his career as a member of the academic staff of the Stichting Maatschappij en Onderneming (Society and Enterprise Foundation). He worked in the temporary agency branch from 1978 onwards.  In 1982 he became a board member of Randstad Nederland and in 1991 he became Vice-President of Randstad Holding. He was also President of the European Confederation of Private Employment Agencies and of the worldwide Confederation of Private Employment Agencies CIETT. He remains a member of the board of the Dutch Labour Standards Association and an independent member of the National Contact Point for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The social policy of temporary agencies has always been a key aspect in his activities.

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