Advising government and parliament
The SER’s primary function is to advise the Dutch government and the parliament on social and economic issues, with the aim of promoting:
- balanced economic growth and sustainable development
- the highest possible level of employment
- a fair distribution of income.
Upon request or at its own initiative, the SER advises the government on the main outlines of policy. The arguments put forward by the SER are also used by parliament in its debates with the government.
Issues covered include:
- medium-term social and economic developments
- regulatory issues
- social security
- labour and industrial law
- employee participation
- the relationship between the labour market and education
- European policy
- environmental planning and traffic accessibility
- sustainable development
- consumer affairs
The SER’s advisory reports are usually published in book form and are available to the public. The recommendations in these reports are not binding. The government is not obliged to follow the SER’s advice, but informs the SER in detail of whether or not the advice will be followed, and why.
In order to carry out proposed policies, the government requires broad social support. The opinion it receives from the SER – unanimous or divided – allows the government to determine whether it has sufficient support among the various representative members . Unanimous advice clearly indicates broad support, whereas a divided opinion shows the government that support is lacking in certain important sectors of society.
Supervising commodity and industrial boards
The Industrial Organisation Act (Wet op de bedrijfsorganisatie) charges the SER with supervising 17 boards, including commodity and central industrial boards. Together these boards are referred to as the statutory trade organisation (publiekrechtelijke beroepsorganisatie, PBO).
An industrial board represents the interests of a particular branch of industry, and is made up of employers’ representatives and union representatives. The members meet regularly to agree on key issues for their branch and to discuss activities individual sectors cannot manage alone, such as a collective advertising campaign.
Industrial boards may also be called upon to implement government measures and guidelines set by the European Union. They are the ideal party for these as they have in-depth knowledge of their particular branch of industry. Naturally, all agreements and actions taken by an industrial board must conform to the law.
The SER is the highest authority of the statutory trade organisation. It is therefore responsible for setting up, revising and discontinuing boards, as well as deciding on the composition of their executive committees, made up of both employers’ and union representatives.
See also Statutory Trade Organisations
Although the government is responsible for enacting and enforcing laws, the SER is sometimes asked to help enforce certain acts that are important for trade and industry. The SER helps to enforce the Works Councils Act (Wet op de ondernemingsraden).
Works Councils Act
In general, every firm in the Netherlands with 50 employees or more is legally obliged to set up a Works Council. Some firms may be entitled to exemption from this rule, and must apply for that exemption. The SER is responsible for deciding whether to grant an exemption.
The SER also imposes levies for the training and education of Works Council members. These levies are paid by those firms obliged by law to have a Works Council. The levies are collected by the Tax Authorities, at the request of the SER.
Supervising conduct in mergers
The SER Merger Code was first drawn up in 1971 to protect the interests of shareholders and employees in the event of a public takeover bid or merger. The Code has no legal foundation, nor is it based on any statutory power of the SER: it depends entirely on the willingness of Dutch enterprises to comply voluntarily with its rules.
The original Code comprised two sections. Section 1 contained rules to protect shareholders in the event of public takeover bids. Section 2 contained rules to protect the interests of all employees with regard to all types of mergers and takeovers. For mergers affecting 100 or more employees, the Code stipulated that trade unions must be informed in time and must also be invited to enter into consultation.
On 5 September 2001, the SER instituted a new code of conduct for mergers. All rules concerning public takeover bids (section 1) were transferred, without any important modifications, to the Stock Exchange Surveillance Act. This gave the supervision of public bids a legal foundation and transferred responsibility for this to the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets ( Autoriteit Financiële Markten ). Section 2 remained largely unchanged, although the conceptual framework was brought into line with the Works Councils Act and the threshold of 100 employees was lowered to 50. To compensate for this last point, mergers involving businesses being taken over with fewer than 10 employees no longer need to report this to the SER.
In drawing up the new code, the SER advised the government that the content of section 2 should also have a basis in law, and should be extended to include the government, the non-profit sector and the liberal professions. This advice was rejected.
Under the new code, proposed mergers must be reported to the Secretary of the SER. In the event of a conflict regarding adherence to the code, the parties involved may appeal to the SER’s Arbitration Board, which comprises five members.
Promoting business/consumer self-regulation
One of the SER’s statutory tasks is to promote desirable trends in business and industry.
To achieve this, the SER encourages business and consumer organisations to consult each other about mutually satisfactory general terms and conditions (General Terms and Conditions make up the ‘fine print’ that applies when consumers purchase goods or services from businesses). This type of self-regulation ideally leads to the establishment of Consumer Complaints Boards made up of members representing both business and consumers.
The SER has provided the basis for many such boards in many different sectors of the economy, and the number of Consumer Complaints Boards in the Netherlands is still growing.