- Country report: The Netherlands
- Number of pages
- Modena: Adapt/YOUnion - Union for Youth
- Adapt special bulletin: 2281-4469
- Volume | Edition (Serie)
- Document type
- Faculty of Law (FdR)
- Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS)
Young workers have a relatively weak labour market position in the Netherlands, both in terms of high youth unemployment and low quality of employment. For this reason, they could potentially benefit from union representation to improve their wages and working conditions. For the trade
unions, young workers could potentially be the source of new and more diversified membership and the basis for the unions’ long-term relevance and existence. Still, although both parties might benefit from a more intimate relationship, youth membership has been low and declining.
Low youth membership cannot simply be explained by an assumed lack of interest from the side of young people or by their supposed individualistic attitudes that do not match with trade union objectives and values. Indeed, surveys rather point towards a lack of knowledge about unions among young people, combined with a latent support for collective employee representation and for the protective functions traditionally provided by union membership. However, unions have not yet found a comprehensive way to fill the knowledge gap and tap into the potential interest of young people in unions.
The Dutch unions have developed a number of activities to represent the interests of young people and recruit them as members. Some of these activities are part of broader union activities and therefore not very visible as youth initiatives. This concerns for example the inclusion of youth issues in regular collective agreements. But they have also developed a range of specific youth
initiatives, ranging from the establishment of youth unions that promote the interests of young people both within the unions themselves and in public policy fora, to information programmes in school, to participation in sector plans with youth objectives and in a national youth employment task force.
Still, youth trade union membership remains very low. One way to address this problem is to further cement the reputation of unions as representatives of young workers by increasing the visibility of what unions do and can do for young workers as well as strengthening their participation in public policy fora. However, while such activities may be important to shape the conditions to increase youth membership, they are unlikely to indeed lead to a substantial increase in membership.
To address the low youth membership and youth participation in the unions more comprehensively the key point of concern seems to be the lack of weight that these issues carry within the unions. Although many youth activities are developed, the priority and resources assigned to youth activities are often limited and sometimes symbolic and a clear coordination is missing. What is more, within
the unions there is still a debate concerning the necessity and potential effectiveness of attempts to organize young workers. As a result, youth activities are often of a too general nature, reach too few young people and often do not manage to establish a direct and personalized contact with potential young members. Making organizing young workers a real priority, backed up by real resources is a necessary step if the Dutch unions want to secure their long-term survival. Among others, this would require extensive direct one-to-one contacts between trade unionists and young workers at the workplace to promote membership, develop long-term relationships and provide tailor made services, including more educational and labour market services for young members in their early working careers (e.g. guidance in school-to-work transitions and vocational training). Similarly, it would require adjustments in the internal organization and practice of the unions to provide young members with better options to become active within the unions and to effectively influence their
policies. In particular, young workers seem to lack well-organised representation and ‘voice’ in collective bargaining processes in the sectors and companies.
- December 2014
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