Social dialogue in the Netherlands

Speech van SER-voorzitter Mariëtte Hamer bij de opening van de ETUC Spring School 2016 te Den Haag

12 april 2016
De onderstaande tekst bevat de bouwstenen voor de toespraak van Mariëtte Hamer en is daarom niet bedoeld om letterlijk uit te citeren.
The text below consists of building blocks for Mariëtte Hamer’s speech and should not be quoted verbatim.


Good morning to you all. It is a real pleasure and a privilege for me to open this ETUC Spring School. Thank you for the opportunity to share with you some insights on the social dialogue in our country.

My name is Mariëtte Hamer. I’m the president of the Social and Economic Council, the national advisory body to both government and parliament.

Just a five minute walk down the road brings you to the building where the Social and Economic Council and the Labour Foundation are housed. By the way, your movements might be monitored by representatives from the employers’ side; their headquarters are located in the office tower in between.

The Social and Economic Council, the SER, is a tripartite body. 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.

In our country we have a consultation economy at three levels:

  • at company level;
  • at sector level; and
  • at national level.

At company level we have works councils. These have to be consulted on all important economic and organisational issues in the firm or organisation. Moreover, changes in internal policies and regulations concerning labour-related issues, like working hours and health and safety, are subject of approval by the works councils.

At sector level we find some 500 collective labour agreements. These cover some eighty percent of employees.

At national level there are two institutions:

  • the Labour Foundation, which is a private organisation of trade unions and employers’ organisations; and
  • the Social and Economic Council (SER) which is a public institution, including not only trade unions and employers organisations, but also independent experts.

The SER is an advisory body to government and parliament. It can foster stability – in politics and in society – by creating a common ground.
It is financed by trade and industry – not from the government budget.

In the SER we have three trade union federations representing the employees. The employers are also represented by three central organisations.
The third group consists of independent members. They bring in their expertise. Moreover they act as mediators and guard the public interest.
The third group includes the president of the Council as well as high representatives of the Dutch Central Bank and the National Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB).

What does the SER do?

More than just advising government and parliament on the outlines of social and economic policy.

The SER is also functioning as a platform for sharing insights and agenda-setting. We organise dialogues, involve social partners and wider groups in relevant policy issues.
And the SER plays a role in self-regulation in various fields:

  • we have the responsibility for a code of conduct in mergers, to protect the rights of workers;
  • we facilitate the negotiations on covenants for international corporate social responsibility in various sectors (textiles; banking)

A last function is to promote the effective functioning of works councils and to provide for arbitration in case of conflict between a works council and the employer.

In its advisory work, the SER is guided by three common objectives of social and economic policy:

  • balanced economic growth, within the framework of sustainable development;
  • the highest possible level of employment and participation;
  • a fair distribution of income

It is the Dutch Presidency of the European Union which has brought you to The Hague today. The SER has been actively engaged in the process of European integration, for nearly sixty years. Its members were already involved in the negotiations on the Treaty of Rome which founded the European Economic Community.

More than a year ago we advised the Dutch government on the priorities for its EU Presidency. We advised focusing on stimulating growth and jobs. One might say: on reviving the Europe 2020 strategy. The further development of the Single Market and of 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. Fair solutions that will help people to regain trust in European integration and the four freedoms that are essential to it.

Later this week, on Friday, the Council will meet in a plenary session. The main subject on the agenda will be an advisory report on TTIP: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This is an issue for lively debate in our country as well as in other countries.
The advisory report contains an analysis of the various proposals from both the EU and the USA, and it contains an inventory of the positions pro and contra taken in society at large, including the worries and concerns of union members. The report formulates 7 criteria to judge the agreement between the EU and the USA when it will be finalised; it does not however state an opinion for or against TTIP.

We are also very active in the field of sustainable energy. In this field, the SER has acted as a platform, bringing together 47 different organisations, including central government, local governments, social partners, various branch organisations and a wide variety of non-governmental organisations. Two years ago all these organisations concluded an agreement. The progress in implementing the 150 actions in the agreement is being monitored by a special committee of the SER.

So thank you for your attention. I wish you a fine Spring School!