The Dutch government has proposed and/or implemented a number of [changes (most of them temporary)] to help employers during the ongoing recession. A few of these measures are discussed below.
Draft bill extending period for which younger employees can be given temporary contracts
During the crisis and for employees below the age of 27, the government is proposing to extend the period during which an employer is allowed to employ the relevant individual on a temporary employment contract (i.e. a contract for a definite period). At present, an employer must offer an employee a permanent contract (a contract for an indefinite period) if he/it wishes to retain the employee after the latter has worked for him/it for three years or after the third temporary contract. Following a proposal from the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, the council of ministers has agreed to a draft bill increasing the above to four years or after the fourth contract, respectively. The draft bill has been sent to the Council of State (Raad van State) for urgent advice.
The aim behind this temporary measure is to combat unemployment among youth, as the government considers this group as being the hardest hit by the crisis. In principle, the measure will apply for a period of two years. After the Council of State has issued its advice, the draft bill will be submitted to the lower house of the Dutch Parliament.
Dismissal of employees: relaxation of indispensability criterion
With effect from 1 August 2009, the indispensability criterion has been relaxed. This means that it is now easier for employers to deviate from the principle of proportionality when deciding which employees to dismiss or retain. The new measure helps employers retain employees whom they consider to be indispensable to the functioning of the enterprise both during the crisis and afterwards (when business picks up again), and the avoidance of whose dismissal is therefore crucial. However, certain conditions must be met:
- the employer must have a clear and sustainable policy imposing requirements on employees with regard to the acquisition of knowledge and skills;
- it must be shown that the employee in question actually possesses that knowledge and those skills;
- application of the criterion may not result in an increase of more than 10% in dismissals within the age groups 15-25 and 55-plus.
The measure is temporary and terminates on 1 September 2011, after which the old rules on the indispensability criterion will again apply.
Reintroduction of partial unemployment (WW) benefits scheme
1 April 2009 saw the introduction of the partial WW benefits scheme, aimed at making it easier for businesses that are sufficiently healthy to get through the crisis to retain employees. Under the scheme, the employer can reduce an employee's number of working hours for a certain period of time, during which the employee will receive WW benefits for the hours no longer worked. The scheme terminated on 23 June 2009 because the budgetary ceiling had been reached. However, it has been revived with effect from 20 July 2009, but with stricter rules. According to the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, the rules have been made stricter so that employers are more careful in making use of the scheme, enabling a larger number of employers to benefit from it. In addition, the purpose of the stricter rules is that businesses use the scheme for coping with a substantial, temporary drop in orders, and not for postponing painful decisions to reorganise. More information about the reintroduction of the scheme can be found on www.szw.nl (in Dutch).