Increasing waiting lists in healthcare, factories that have to refuse orders, restaurants that shorten their opening hours. For employers, the staff shortages are starting to hurt. But ask Zakaria Boufangacha, vice-chairman of the trade union FNV about the shortage on the labor market and he starts to put things into perspective.
“I also hear a lot of cry-cry stories from employers,” he says. He points to the catering industry, the shopping street and Schiphol Airport. “I see low wages, poor quality of work and flex workers that companies said goodbye to en masse at the start of the corona crisis, even though wage subsidies were available to them. It is obvious to me that employers have caused this problem themselves.”
This Friday, the FNV will present a new report on the labor shortage in which the union mainly describes what should not be done. The FNV does not want the Dutch to work more hours to combat the shortage.
Also read: The staff shortages are back, so how do you bring in people?
That is what economists and employers regularly advocate. The Netherlands is known as the European champion of part-time work. In no other EU country is the average working week so short: 30.6 hours. According to the FNV, that is not a problem. That short working week is more than made up for by the fact that so many Dutch people have a job in the first place: few people choose to stay at home. The Dutch also retire relatively late.
In addition, the FNV report puts the blame for the staff shortages mainly on employers themselves. The hospitality industry and commerce (including the shopping street) have made themselves unattractive due to an increase in flexiwork and lower wages. ‘Real wages’ – adjusted for inflation – have fallen by around 5 percent in ten years, FNV economists have calculated.
Boufangacha has little compassion for employers in shortage sectors, he says in the library of a chic hotel in The Hague near Noordeinde Palace. “It is their own fault that they have not invested in quality work. And that flex workers they sent out last year are not coming back. Own fault.”
You now refer to the hospitality industry and trade, but the entire labor market is tight. There is a record number of vacancies. Shouldn’t that be resolved?
Not all vacancies have to be filled. Look at shortage sectors such as trade, hospitality and aviation. Should Schiphol be a hub for the world if necessary? With eight companies for baggage handling? If only those were high-quality jobs… But experience has shown that there are a lot of pulp jobs there. Just like in the catering industry and trade.”
Some jobs have to disappear?
“Exactly. If we see low-quality jobs that offer little added value, then we should choose to reduce that a bit.”
How do you determine which jobs are not useful? That’s a harsh judgment.
“It is a harsh judgement. But maybe the market will find its own solutions. In any case, we should not try to maintain all jobs, but take a good look at which sectors we think are really important for our society, such as care and education. We have to invest in that.”
What should be done with non-useful jobs?
“The government must ensure that employers can no longer so easily opt for endless flexible work: disposable jobs. They have to start giving permanent jobs again. Companies that say: I cannot afford higher wages or permanent jobs, you can ask yourself: do they still have a right to exist?
And crucial sectors? How should they combat the shortage?
“In healthcare, education and technology, it also starts with sustainable employment relationships and good pay. And improving the quality of work. Make the sector more attractive to work in.”
Is the problem in the terms of employment? There are already many permanent jobs and high wages in technology?
“There are also many temporary workers there: in the process industry and the chemical industry we still see a flexible workforce of 20, 30 percent. And look at the metal sector. After years of fighting, we finally succeeded this year in making that sector attractive by abolishing the lower wage scales for young people. Even there, in a sector with large shortages, that did not happen automatically and we had to go on strike.”
Many healthcare and education employers are trying to get their staff, especially women, to work longer hours. Does the FNV oppose this?
“I am firmly convinced that part-time work is often born of necessity. My son’s teacher recently said: a part-time contract is actually a full-time job, if you see what it takes. So when you say let them work as much as possible, you’re doing phantom control. You have to start with the cause: how do you tackle the workload?”
We are also willing to discuss what kind of employment we want in the Netherlands and how we can focus on automation
Can it be both? Reduce the workload and encourage more hours?
“I think one thing flows from the other. You do have to start with the real problems: the workload, the increasing number of tasks. First, the quality of work must improve. Let’s not drive each other crazy by wanting to work more and more.”
One in three women is not economically independent. Isn’t that a reason to encourage them to work more hours?
“Yes, we support that. But not as a solution to the shortage, but from an emancipation issue. You can do this by making partner leave and parental leave more attractive: it is often a financial choice that the man continues to work. In this way we want to increase the labor participation of women. But on the other hand, men are allowed to be at home much more.”
The CNV union advocates the opposite: a full-time working week of 30 hours. What does the FNV think about this?
“We have long believed that the 32-hour working week should be the norm. But our difference with CNV is that we do not put this firmly on the agenda in collective bargaining everywhere. In many sectors, employers say: we don’t start with that, we just need extra hands. And we don’t think this is the most urgent topic everywhere.”
Also read: Work four days and get paid for five. Does that work?
According to forecasts, the shortage will become even more acute due to an aging population. Should the government focus on destroying jobs in the Netherlands, for example by stimulating robotisation? Then more people will become available for other vacancies.
“That would go a long way. But I do think that in recent years, perhaps decades, the Netherlands has failed to develop a good vision on this: what kind of work do we want in the Netherlands? Indeed, government could promote such innovation. But the most important thing is that low-quality forms of employment – cheap flex contracts – are made less attractive.”
Does the FNV support companies that want to automate? Even if that leads to job loss?
The union usually opposes job loss, isn’t it?
“The most important thing is that a company does this in consultation with trade unions and employees: how do we deal with the consequences of automation and robotisation? And how can employees also benefit from this? If we can enter into that conversation, then we will stand side by side with the employer.”
Suppose a company says to the FNV: we have a fantastic plan for robotisation. Half of the jobs will disappear. What is your reaction?
“Very good. That leads to more labor productivity.”
That’s not your first reaction, is it?
“Okay, we have to be critical of ourselves. Of course, your first reflex is that it’s no fun when jobs disappear. But it is then up to the employer to make agreements with us. To keep as many jobs as possible, to allow people who are close to retirement to retire earlier, or to shorten the full-time working week while retaining salary – that would be very appropriate here.”
Also read: In ten years half of the Netherlands will no longer be suitable for his work
Such agreements actually mean that these people do not enter the labor market. That’s not how you fight the shortages, is it?
“That’s true. But then my question is: are these people still capable of doing something completely new? Some have already burned out. And sometimes it is difficult to retrain people.”
You point a lot to the responsibility of government and employers. What can unions do themselves?
“Maybe it’s a clincher, but we feel empowered in our agenda of more permanent jobs, higher wages and better quality work. But we are also prepared to discuss what kind of employment we want in the Netherlands and how we can focus on automation. I don’t think it’s a bad development that you can now place an order in the catering industry itself with such a QR code. If you therefore need fewer people in the hospitality industry, more people can work in care.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of September 17, 2021
FNV vice-chairman: ‘We should not try to maintain all jobs’
Source link FNV vice-chairman: ‘We should not try to maintain all jobs’