The Netherlands

Lees het kamp verslag in Nederlands: TIE_nederlands_colour[1]


Five young people from the Netherlands participated in the exchange programme. One of them was a bank employee and active union member for FNV Bondgenoten (a union of the Dutch Labour Movement Federation). The remaining four were working for FNV Bondgenoten as organizer for migrant workers in the agricultural sector; as a union official in the retail sector (supermarket branch); as a consultant on compliance in the transport sector; and as educators on unions at schools.


The Netherlands is not an exception in the global trend: there is a declining organization rate among young workers. The reason should be found, except in the union itself, particularly in the position of young people in the labour market. Young people are vulnerable, they generally are two to four times as likely to be unemployed as adults and it is difficult to get a job. If they find work, they often start with temporary contracts, working below their level. Reasons why it is so hard to join the union for young people are among others: a lack of information and contact with the union, young people do not feel attracted to the “white, male and industrial” image of the unions, young people often work on contract basis or fast changing jobs and they think that the union in that precarious position can do little for them. It is striking that these are the reasons that are referred to also by young unionists from Turkey, Belarus and Brazil.

In the Netherlands there are trade unionists with (positive and less positive) experiences with increasing the participation of young people in the union that could be instructive for colleagues in other countries. The discussion that comes up here is that unions are not present in places where many young people work. To ensure attracting young people, trade unions should seek a greater presence and visibility in less-traditional companies. This applies both for the Netherlands and other countries. More attention to the importance of ‘security’ in employment could support youngsters to become active in the unions. For unions to be successful, it is important that young people who tend to loose jobs and work contracts can see what a union could offer them. So union issues need not be limited to employment and income. Young people appear to have interest in things beyond the immediate work. International solidarity is an important theme here. Furthermore, bridges exists between youth and the union must respond to trends. These are issues that are increasingly addressed by young people within the Dutch unions.

There are experiences with the establishment of independent youth organizations within the union (such as FNV Jong). Questions that were adressed by Dutch youth include: should young people have their own unique structure or are they “locked” into their own ‘playground’? Can youth-oriented specializing campaigns be conducted without a separate youth organization? Or should unions makes these campaigns ‘owned’ by the whole union? In short, how do you handle the balance between “the interests of workers in general ‘and’ specific interests of young workers?

Some data on trade unions and youth

In total, approximately 1,9 million people in the Netherlands are a member of a trade Union. That is approximately 25% of all workers in the Netherlands between 15 and 64 years old

The biggest organized sectors are: Railways, Harbor and Metal Industry.

The Dutch Federation of Trade Unions (FNV) functions like an umbrella organization. FNV has a total of 1.4 million members. The Federation includes 17 unions, among others the FNV Catering industry; FNV construction; FNV Women; FNV for self employed; FNV public sector or FNV Sport.  The biggest union in the Federation is FNV Bondgenoten: it has more than 465.000 members; among whom 26.00 active members, and 700 employees.

FNV Bondgenoten includes both workers and retired people. It represents members in different sectors, such as:

–          Agrarian and facilitating sector;

–          The service sector;

–          Retail trade sector;

–          Transport sector;

–          Industrial sector;

–          Metal and technology sector;

–          ICT sector.

All employees in the Netherlands are covered by the collective agreements, independent from whether they are a member of the union or not. Only in case an employee is working for an unorganized employer and the collective agreement is not declared to be Generally Binding, the collective agreement doesn’t apply.

In a company with at least 50 persons, workers can start a workers council. Any company with more than 50 employees should have a workers council. The workers council consists of workers who confer with the employer on the wishes and interests of the workers.

The most important role of FNV Bondgenoten is to negotiate for collective agreements. The second important role is to organize workers.

The biggest threat to FNV Bondgenoten is  the fact that the average age is getting higher while there is a lack of commitment from the youth.

In FNV Bondgenoten, approximately 10% of its members is young (below 35 years old)

The average age on which young people enter the labor market is 16 years old.

The sector employing most young people is the supermarket branch.

The participants of the exchange don’t think they, as young people, are able to influence the collective agreement, because they are not enough organized yet.


Tasks and services of FNV Bondgenoten

FNV Bondgenoten represents collective and individual interests. An example of the former is to conclude a collective agreement and to get involved in drawing up a social plan. FNV Bondgenoten also represents individual interest. An example of representing individual interests is to offer information, advice and support to members about work and income.

Workers who become a member of FNV Bondgenoten have several benefits, such as:

–          Answers on  general questions about the union, membership and contribution;

–          Personal advice about work, wages and dismissal

–          Legal advice and support on: Labor dispute, occupational disease, social security or injury

Members can influence their own working conditions by voting for the content of a collective agreement. Concluding of a collective agreement is the core business of FNV. FNV negotiates with the employer about among others:

–          Wages, retirement payment;

–          Leave arrangements and holidays;

–          Education possibilities

FNV has influence on a social plan in case of reorganization and merging. In a social plan members can find the number of workers who keep their work; the departure premiums; or guidance to another job.

Additionally, FNV gives free tax advice, career coaching and training, and advice for people who are temporarily unemployed. Members get a membership card which provides discounts in many shops. FNV has a medical assurance on which members gets a discount and the member magazine is sent six times a year.

Young people in the retail sector

One of the participants presented about her work as a union official for FNV Bondgenoten in the retail sector.  She conducts negotiations for collective agreements and she is responsible for organising employees in supermarkets.

Due to increasing globalization and ‘flexibilisation’ on the workfloor, employers try to reduce costs. We see that employers try to cut on personnel costs. The supermarket sector is characterized by many young workers (around 65 %) with temporary contracts (around  75%). Employers try to employ the young people as flexible and cheap as possible. We call this the increasing `flexibility` in advantage of the manager. The employers don’t give fixed contracts and offer ‘all-in salaries’. There are even examples in which older employees are bullied until they leave, just to replace them with younger workers.  The young workers initially work temporary, usually besides their studies. Therefore, they are not well capable to have  a realistic view on the consequences of their situation. These consequences are:  competition between young and old employees; undermining of job security; more and greater ‘flexibility of labour’; older people work less hours, and they cannot sustain themselves.

My work consists of making youth conscious of their situation and the consequences. I think that it is necessary to:

  • Raise the minimum youth wages. Equal work equal pay. (agreements on higher minimum wages in collective agreements)
  • Strive for decent work: a job that allows you to sustain yourself or that allows you to have another job aside.
  • Start earlier with talking to youth about trade union work (more education on unions)
  • Focus communication more on youth (creating youth networks; making more use of social media)
  • Create more visibility in places where young people meet each other; both online and offline

Urgent questions related to this case are: What are your experiences with youth and trade unions? And: How can we involve more young people to the union?

Marketingplan to involve Youth

In March 2010 FNV Bondgenoten commissioned one of the Dutch participants the writing of a marketing plan on retaining young members. Young members often don’t see the benefits and added value of a membership. The insights from prior conducted studies are used as a guide in the marketing plan. The assumptions of the marketing plan were:

• The ignorance of the target group on the activities of FNV Bondgenoten.
• Young people are less likely to join a union; they do not know what a union can do for them.
• The current services of FNV Bondgenoten don’t fit close enough to the wishes and needs of the target group, therefore, they don’t see the benefits and added value of a membership.
• Young people feel that a union is only relevant to older generations.

• The individual interests of young people are less represented by the collective services of FNV Bondgenoten.

It was concluded that to retain young members, FNV Bondgenoten should focus more on the individual interests of youth. It will have to provide additional services FNV Bondgenoten in  line with the wishes and needs of the target. This can be achieved by adapting existing services to the target group. An example is the Tax Service of the FNV Bondgenoten. All members can use the Tax Service, but this is less done by the young members. To make young people accustomed to using this service, FNV Bondgenoten should approach them and offer them to send the necessary data by e-mail. This makes the service accessible and motivates the audience to make use of it.[1]

[1] The results of the marketing plan have not been presented at the Young Workers Gathering 2010

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