Address at the meeting of Group I of the EESC

Address by Mariëtte Hamer at the meeting of Group I of the European Economic and Social Council at the SER.

6 June 2016
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Welcome to you all. Thank you for visiting us here at the Social and Economic Council, the SER.
My name is Mariëtte Hamer. I’m the president of the SER, the national advisory body to both government and parliament.

The SER is a tripartite body, advising government and parliament on the outlines of social and economic policy. It is the platform for trade unions, employers organisations and independent experts to discuss important social and economic issues – and as such, it forms an important element in our system of social dialogue. It can foster stability – in politics and in society – by creating a common ground. That common ground and the willingness to co-operate we need in these turbulent times. There is a lot of dynamism in the economy and in society, creating new possibilities for many of us, but also making people feel insecure. In order to be able to face the challenges of the future, our solutions need to be smart, sustainable and inclusive.

In facilitating and organising the social dialogue in our country, we interact with our sister organisation, the bipartite Labour Foundation. The Labour Foundation acts as a platform for social partners to negotiate with the government. The 2013 Social Agreement concluded by social partners in Labour Foundation was also accepted and implemented by government. Parts of the agreement have been taken up by the SER, for instance in an advisory report we prepared on reforming our labour market infrastructure and our unemployment insurance system.

Another important issue is what will be the consequences of technological change – like the progress of robotics - for the labour market, and what this should mean for our education system. People have to well prepared, not only in education and but also by training during their careers, to face the challenges of the digital revolution. This revolution can lead to a polarisation in the labour market. Retraining can be part of te solution. But for some people, the capacity for formal learning is limited. And we should be able to offer everybody a real perspective for a job.

In our country, the diversity of labour relations and contracts is increasing. A logical response to the increasing dynamics in the economy. And a response to preferences of a part of the labour force. Many young people are not satisfied with the prospect of life long career with a single employer.

But our institutions are still primarily based on the fixed contract. Workers with a flexible contract are worse off in facilities for training or when they want to buy a house. These institutions need to be adjusted, in order to offer a similar protection and similar chances to workers on a more flexible contract.

Well, these are only some examples of the kind of issues we discuss in our advisory reports. We cover a much broader range of subjects, including European integration.
The SER has been actively engaged in the process of European integration, for sixty years now.

More than a year ago, we advised the Dutch government on the priorities for its EU Presidency. We suggested focusing on stimulating growth and jobs. One might say: on reviving the Europe 2020 strategy. The further development of the Single Market and the Economic and Monetary Union are crucial to this.

But there is also a social dimension to European integration. We managed to find common ground between employers and trade unions on the sensitive issues of labour mobility. The SER was able to formulate a common Action Plan for Fair Labour Mobility. Its purpose is to find fair solutions for some specific bottlenecks in labour migration within the European Union, between the member states. Fair solutions that will help people regain trust in European integration and the four freedoms that are essential to it.

And more recently, we managed to find common ground in our advisory report on TTIP. This report discusses the various concerns and objections advanced in the public debate on TTIP, as well as the guarantees in TTIP for protecting public interests. Employers and trade unions have jointly formulated 7 basic principles for assessing TTIP. They jointly express the expectation that TTIP will set a ‘gold standard’ for future European trade and investment policy. It should promote European values, including the protection of human rights and workers’ rights, the environment, democracy, and the rule of law.

The SER is an advisory body. As such it acts as a platform for sharing insights and agenda-setting. We organise dialogues, and involve social partners and wider groups in relevant policy issues.

A prime example of this platform function of the SER, seeking solutions for imminent global challenges, you’ll find in the field of sustainable energy. Here the SER acts as a platform, bringing together 47 different organisations, including central government, local governments, social partners, branch organisations, financial institutions and various NGOs.

Three years ago these organisations reached an agreement, and officially signed it. This agreement was needed to create the broad support for a long term perspective that will stimulate investments in energy saving and renewable energy. Until then, our energy policies were not coherent and not consistent, changing with every new coalition government. That explains our backlog in the production of renewable energy. The Energy Agreement has broken the deadlock.

The 47 organisations are jointly responsible for the successful implementation of the Energy Agreement. The Agreement sets out some 150 actions. These actions relate to energy saving in various fields and to investments in the production of renewable energy (like wind power); these actions should also result in extra jobs. The responsibility for implementing specific components of the Agreement are explicitly allocated to defined groups of organisations.

A special committee of the SER now monitors the progress in implementing the 150 actions. If necessary, partners in the agreement are disciplined by peer pressure – and of course, by the expectations of society that are expressed in parliament.

Another example of our platform function is that we facilitate negotiations on covenants for corporate social responsibility and responsible business conduct in global supply chains. Corporate Social Responsibility has been a subject of various advisory reports. Two years ago we advocated that branches and companies should take the initiative to set up agreements on responsible business conduct in global supply chains. Such agreements enable companies to take up the challenges of implementing the OECD Guidelines for multinational enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles for Business & Human Rights. The effective reduction of child labour, for instance, is a complex problem for an individual firm. This can better be solved by groups of companies co-operating in branch organisations, together with national governments, trade unions and other NGOs.

Facilitated by the SER, a first agreement has been reached, for the garment and textile industry. We are now in the process of collecting the adherence of individual companies. We have set a minimum of 35 companies, representing at least 30 percent of the market, and hope to reach this minimum in the coming weeks.

This month we’ll conclude an agreement in the banking sector, and we expect other sectors to follow.
This is now a Dutch initiative. But we do not intend to be exclusive. Responsible business conduct in global supply chains is part of the core business of companies worldwide. I hope this initiative will help and inspire others, in other EU member countries.

Well, I’ve tried to give you an idea of the broad variety of subjects we discuss in our SER. Véronique Timmerhuis, our General Secretary, and Marko Bos will be happy to give you some additional information and answer the specific questions you may have.