Soualiga Newsday Focus

Soualiga Newsday Focus (1570)

Part-time work more popular, 7% would like fewer hours

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Some 7% of working people in the Netherlands would like to cut their hours while 9% would like to work more, according to research by national statistics agency CBS.

In particular, women who work full time would like to work less, the CBS said. Some 14% of women and 8% of men who work at least 36 hours a week would like more time off.

Research published at the end of last year showed Dutch women are working slightly more hours a week, particularly after the birth of children but are still European champions at part time jobs.

In total, 74% of women work part time, compared with an an EU average of 31%. But in terms of spending time taking care of children, parents in the Netherlands spent a similar amount of time as elsewhere in Europe.

Labour economist Ton Wilthagen told RTLZ that people without children are also keen to cut their hours. ‘They want a free day for their hobbies,’ he said. ‘In addition, lots of people spend a day working at home.

So, they are really only in the office three days a week.’ Some pay agreements now give staff the option of working 4×9 hours a day so they can have a day off, he said.



Wages rise 3.1% this year, FNV union is targeting 5%

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Pay deals agreed in collective bargaining between unions and employers have resulted in an average rise of 3.1% so far, but the FNV trade union federation is setting its sights on 5%.

The FNV, the biggest Dutch union grouping, has been involved in 105 pay deals so far this year and in 40% agreements have also been made about increasing the number of permanent contracts.

‘Things are moving slowly and with difficulty,’ working conditions coordinator Zakaria Boufangacha said on the union’s website. ‘Despite the shortage of staff and economic growth, in general employers and not yet prepared to give workers their fair share.’

Ten of the pay rises agreed so far this year include a pay rise of between 4% and 5%, while cleaning sector wages will rise 3.8%, the union said. On Saturday, prime minister Mark Rutte told the VVD party congress the government may reconsider cutting corporation tax if big companies did not start putting up wages significantly.

‘The only thing which is going up is the salaries of senior staff, not people covered by collective labour agreements (cao),’ Rutte said. ‘They are not going up enough, and I do not consider that to be acceptable.’

Unions, economists and the Dutch central bank have all called for higher wages in recent months. However, last November the government’s macro-economic think-tank CPB said wages in the Netherlands are only rising by modest amounts partly because workers are not productive enough.



Council bill for jobless aldermen tops €126m in five years

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch local councils have spent €126m over the past five years on special unemployment benefits for former aldermen, according to research by current affairs show EenVandaag.

In total, 1,500 aldermen received the civil service benefit known as wachtgeld after losing their jobs when councils changed political colour or because they were not reappointed.

Lelystad, with a total bill of €1.8m, topped the list of big payers, the research, involving 297 councils, found. In 10 local authority areas no benefits were paid out at all. Oude IJsselstreek and Eindhoven also had bills of over €1m.

The biggest payout – €510,000 – went to a former alderman from Capelle aan den IJssel. The aldermen’s association Wethoudersvereneging said it is concerned that employers are reluctant to take on people who have served as local council officials because of fears they can no longer accept not being in a position of authority.

But it cautioned against calls to cut the benefit, arguing that would make the role of alderman less attractive. Aldermen who lose their jobs are entitled to 80% of their salary for one year.

Subsequent payments, which can last several years, are made at 70% rate. Former aldermen who get a lower-paid job can also claim top-up benefits.



‘Food has become unbelievably cheap,’ says Dutch farm minister

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The government is setting aside hundreds of millions of euros for experiments to reduce the impact of farming on the environment, agriculture minister Carola Schouten told the AD on Monday.

‘In the last decade the aim was to produce enough food to feed everyone,’ she said. ‘My new adage is to produce food with as little impact as possible on nature, the environment and the climate.’

A more sustainable approach to farming will raise prices, the minister said. ‘In the 1970s we used to spend 20% of our income on food but that has now gone down to 10% to 12%,’ she told the paper.

‘Food has become incredibly cheap.’ Research published by the national statistics agency CBS on Monday shows that food prices have risen 14.5% over the past ten years, with the cost of fruit and vegetables going up the most.

Households are now paying around 10% of their income on food, with 25% spent on fish and meat and 22% on fruit and veg.

Animal welfare

Currently farmers carry the financial cost of improvements to animal welfare and demands for better food, but if standards are to be further improved, they should earn more, Schouten said.

Supermarkets should pay a fair price for produce and there needs to be a complaints commission where farmers can go if they feel they are not properly paid, she said.

Farmers in five areas will be allowed to deviate from the current rules to see if alternatives can be found. Farmers in the Peel region, which straddles Limburg and Noord-Brabant, will be allowed to use more manure on their land, in an effort to cut the use of artificial fertilisers.

The minister also wants to sanction experiments with alternative sources of animal feed, such as insects and seaweed, but needs the green light from Brussels first. Ten farms will also experiment with using technology to determine how best to improve the quality of grass and how to protect animals that live in areas used for mowing.



‘Road pricing would make electric car owners pay their fair share’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The ruling right-wing VVD is looking into the option of introducing some form of road pricing in the Netherlands and could include the option in its manifesto for the 2021 general election, parliamentary party leader Klaas Dijkhof has said.

Road pricing would be a new way of taxing motoring, given so many people are switching to electric-powered cars, Dijkhof told podcast Betrouwbare Bronnen. At the moment, ‘the more you drive the more you pay,’ Dijkhof said.

‘If you can’t raise taxes via the petrol pump, we need to think how we can do it,’ he told the programme. ‘You need to find a way to make sure electric car owners pay their fair share.’

Earlier this week, road pricing was part of a package of measures to cut pollution and car usage proposed by an alliance of motoring and public transport organisations. ‘We are aiming for 2024 as the start of a road pricing scheme which will cover everyone, not just in rush hour,’ Steven van Eijck, chairman of the Rai motoring organisation, told the Telegraaf.

In January, the Volkskrant published a survey showing there is growing support in the Netherlands for some form of road pricing, through which motorists pay a tax on every kilometre they drive.

In 2009 the then transport minister Camiel Eurlings dropped plans to introduce road pricing from 2011 because it would be too complex and would cost too much to run.



Asparagus farmer faces fines for paying pickers 55 cents a kilo

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – An asparagus farmer from the south east of Brabant has been exploiting 23 ‘labour migrants’ by paying them per kilo of asparagus they cut and putting them up in caravans without electricity, social affairs ministry inspectors said on Friday.

The inspectors were alerted to the situation by local council officials but did not say where the farm was located, or which company was involved. The 23 people found at the site said they were required to work seven days a week and often 12-hour days.

They were working without a contract and did not have health insurance. The workers were paid 55 cents for every kilo they picked, even though piece work is illegal in the Netherlands.

This meant they earned around €230 a week, picking up to 70 kilos of asparagus a day. Farmers earn up around €7 per kilo of asparagus. The group lived in caravans without electricity and with two showers between them.

There was no fridge and little in the way of cooking facilities. The farmer can expect fines for breaking minimum wage and working hour rules, the inspectors said.

In 2011, an asparagus farmer in Brabant was sentenced to three years in jail for 33 infringements of minimum wage and employment legislation and for employing illegal immigrants.



Dutch police union concerned about forensic staff shortages

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The ‘chronic shortage’ of police forensic staff is hampering investigations and the problem is only likely to worse in the future, according to police union NPB.

The union has now written to justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus expressing its concerns about the severe shortage of forensic staff and calling on the government to take action.

The national police’s forensics department has a current workforce of 1,500 but needs about three times that number, the union said. Budget cuts and the ageing police population are among the reasons for the shortfall which is only likely to get worse in the future.

Some 40% of staff are currently over the age of 55. The ‘chronic shortage of manpower in forensics’, is putting excessive strain on the staff, union chief Jan Struijs said in the letter.

The average waiting time for DNA tests is currently 60 days, and crime scenes are not being examined completely. ‘The number of requests for forensic investigations has increased enormously, and the government’s response to this has been inadequate,’ Struijs said.

The workload and the stress of having to deal with human suffering on a day-to-day basis are taking its toll on the staff, with absenteeism averaging 9% in the last five years.

The union is urging the minister to ‘recognise the severity of the situation’, and to ‘come up with an integral plan to improve working conditions.’



10 arrested after cocaine found in flowers at two Dutch airports

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Ten people who work or worked for a logistics company which does business via Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport have been arrested on drugs smuggling charges.

The arrests follow the discovery of 27 kilos of cocaine hidden in cut flowers in January. The investigation also led to the seizure of 160 kilos of cocaine hidden in flowers at Maastricht airport several weeks later.

The suspects are aged between 30 and 40 and were arrested at the airport, in Amsterdam and Almere. Eight of the 10, who include Dutch, Polish, Azerbaijani and Latvian nationals, remain in custody.

The logistics company is located close to Schiphol but the military police who are investing the smuggling efforts have declined to give further details.



Floating solar farm group targets 2,000 hectares of water

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A consortium of local and national government, and private sector companies is working on plans to develop massive floating solar farms in the Netherlands which they say could contribute ‘substantially’ to Dutch renewable energy targets by 2023.

The Floating Solar consortium has a target of establishing 2,000 hectares of floating solar farms by 2023 – involving a hundred thousand solar power panels. This would make the Netherlands the leading European country for floating solar power, the consortium says.

The Netherlands aims to derive 16% of energy usage from sustainable sources by 2023. Nature organisations, however, are concerned about the plans, which they say will have a serious impact on fish and bird life.

‘If you cover the surface water so that no sunlight gets through, you will destroy the ecosystem,’ Kees de Pater of the bird protection group Vogelbescherming told Trouw.

However, Wiep Folkerts of research group TNO, which is also involved in the project, says the impact on nature will be looked at carefully. ‘Furthermore, the countryside is not high on the list of possible locations,’ he said.

The Netherlands already has a couple of floating solar farms, in Drenthe and on Texel. The advantage of a floating farm is that it can be turned to face the sun, boosting energy production by 30%.

Green groups say more should be done to utilise other options, such as the tops of buildings. In 2017, environmental organisation Natuur & Milieu calculated that is enough room on the roofs of Dutch homes for 145 million solar panels.



Digitisation leaves the Netherlands vulnerable to cyber attacks: NCTV

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands is particularly vulnerable to IT failures and attacks because almost all vital processes and systems have been completely digitised with no analogue back-ups, the Dutch counter terrorism unit NCTV said on Wednesday.

‘The Netherlands is dependent on a limited number of providers and countries. This makes us vulnerable to changed intentions,’ the report said. ‘For example, a large part of the hard and software is designed and produced in China and the US.’

In addition, little expertise is needed to launch a cyber-attack which could, for example, knock out gas, electricity and water supplies. The best way to reduce the risks is to improve security systems.

And while companies and government are taking action, they sometimes think the cost of the improvements are not worth it ‘until things go wrong,’ the NCTV said. The biggest threats come from China, Russia and Iran, the NCTV said, in a restatement of earlier reports.

China presents the greatest threat in terms of economic espionage while Russia considers the Netherlands ‘interesting’ because of MH17, the report said.


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