Changing societies – labour markets for the future

Toespraak SER-voorzitter Mariëtte Hamer tijdens conferentie Changing societies – labour markets for the future.

20 mei 2015
Het gesproken woord geldt.


Good afternoon,

Let me start by welcoming everyone to our building. Here the Social and Economic Council tries to stimulate dialogues and create common ground for social and economic policy. It is a wonderful initiative from the Swedish Embassy in the Netherlands to welcome such a international audience to the SER. A perfect place to, in the tradition of this house, stimulate a dialogue between our countries. I would like to thank the Embassy for organizing this event, and for inviting me to speak.

The Social and Economic Council is not something that exists in Sweden. Therefore I will start by explaining what it is we do and why this house is such a good place to stimulate a dialogue between Sweden and the Netherlands.

The Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands is the main advisory body to the Dutch government and the parliament on national and international social and economic policy. We aim to help create social consensus on national and international socio-economic issues. It is our goal to find the common ground between employers' representatives, union representatives and independent experts. As you all know is not always easy, but I can proudly say we manage it more often than not.

During the coming period the changes in the labour market due to globalisation, ICT developments and increased flexibility are central to our work program. As such, we are working on projects on skills and learning in the future, new types of jobs and labour relations, such as self-employment and combining multiple jobs. This is in addition to the work we do on economic growth, sustainability and international corporate social responsibility.

Sweden and the Netherlands have a rich history together. It was only last year that we celebrated 400 years of diplomatic ties between us two. In an international perspective Sweden and the Netherlands are often seen as similar countries. Both welfare states of some sort, whom love salty fish and football. Because of our similarities, also on an institutional front, it is easy to compare Sweden and the Netherlands and at the same time learn from our differences.
And that is exactly why we are here today. What can we learn from each other, in a time of changing societies? A time of globalization and fading boarders, where more and more people get a change to work and live elsewhere. But also a time of changing expectations between work and private life, for both women and men. How do you combine these multiple responsibilities?

I would like to tell you what we, as the Social and Economic Council, learned and concluded on these topics, but also about issues and projects we are still working on. Projects where we could use the knowledge and experience of a country like Sweden.

As the main advisory body we cannot ignore the changing societies and labour markets, as a consequence of globalization and developments in information technology. Challenges around labour migration, robotization, the combination of work and care, and inclusion have been, and are, on the top of our agenda.
I will now highlight 2 of our projects. The first, labour migration has already been finalized. The second is a project we have just started on, and is called living and working in the future.

It was only last December that the Council finalized a report on labour migration. A subject that both impacts the Netherlands and Sweden. The report discussed labour migration within the EU, knowledge migration from outside the EU, and labour migration in the future. We advised on how to overcome issues related to this labour migration, something all European countries face.

Even though labour mobility and migration represents an addition to the Dutch labour supply, labour migration is still very contested in the Netherlands. It gives our companies the possibility to recruit high-skilled workers. But labour mobility and migration affects the domestic labour supply, and can end up competing with that supply. This possibility, in the context of a economic crisis, made a lot of Dutch citizens reject labour mobility, fearing that it would create even more uncertainties. Also, labour migration is seen in the light of increasing flexibility and insecurity in the labour market and gives rise to a heated political debate. The council tried to rationalize this problem, analyzed how labour migration is really effecting the Dutch labour market, and what we can do to anticipate to this.

To overcome the suspicion against labour market migration, the council found that it is important to create labour market policy that focuses on making as much use as possible of domestic labour potential, while keeping the rise of flexibility and the changing society in mind. This means high quality education, prevention of unemployment, helping job seekers and promoting adaptability. In addition, we need to restore trust in the positive effects of free movement and safeguard that trust for the future. We concluded this could be accomplished by:

  1. Making the national system of labour law and social security ‘mobility proof’
  2. Better compliance with, visibility of, and enforcement of the rules that apply to international labour mobility and protection of employees against social dumping, both at national level, as well as at EU and individual Member State level, like the EU Posting of Workers Directive
  3. Revising the rules regarding the free movement of services (posting) and achieving a level playing field for employees and businesses
  4. Attention to the societal and job-market position of labour migrants
  5. Examining how the skills of labour migrants can best be deployed, both in the interests of migrants themselves and in the interests of the host country.

Realizing there is a negative image of labour migration in the Netherlands, it is interesting to see how Sweden has one of the most open labour migration systems in the world. Even though Sweden has such an open system, Sweden is not being flooded by labour immigrants nor does it have large societal issues with labour migration. It is interesting for the Netherlands to see what the impacts of an open system are, and what we could learn from this different kind of policy. It could also help to diminish the uncertainties in the Netherlands.

The changing labour market does not only apply to a growing foreign workforce, but also to our domestic workforce. This brings us to another subject around labour market dynamics the Social and Economic Council is working on. Over the years the labour market inclusion of women has improved. This labour participation comes with a new division in the household. Especially for women the combination work and care can be stressful. Women are in general still expected to be the main caregiver, but also want, and are expected to have a career. Interesting about the Netherlands, in comparison to Sweden, is the large amount of women working part-time. Around 75 percent of the women's workforce in the Netherlands works part-time, while around 35 percent of the Swedish women work part-time (Reference Eurostat 1).

Because of the issues involving work and care, we are starting a new project around the combination private and working life, and the multiple responsibilities that come with this combination. How do you cope with the multiple responsibilities of caring for children, elderly parents and neighbors while at the same time prepare to work longer and staying employable? What if uncertainty becomes the new certainty? Questions we will thoroughly analyze.

Not only will we look at the combination of the private and working life, but also at the effects of early childhood education and care. On this aspect the Dutch can learn something from the Swedes. Childcare, early childhood education, and parental leave for both men and women are very elaborate in Sweden. Sweden has been praised for their early childhood education and care. Sweden has a national curriculum, which helps to ensure an even level of quality across different forms of provision and for different groups of children. (Reference OECD 2). This kind of curriculum does not exist in the Netherlands. Comparing these different systems is very interesting and educational for our upcoming project and can give us new insights in the way we organize our childhood education and care.

All in all the changing labour market brings a great amount of challenges. Challenges around work, family, education and inclusion. Challenges where we can benefit from the knowledge and experience from our surrounding countries, and with this knowledge can create common ground.
I hope today will be a prosperous start to a more intensive dialogue between our countries. A dialogue that helps us understand our differences and similarities even better and that will help us find innovative solutions. May this building inspire you!

Thank you.