» Archive for category: ‘labour union

downloadIn the coming weeks we will be featuring a number of contributions written by course participants of the MA elective ‘ISS-4235 Young People and Work: Theory, Practice, and Policy‘ (for an early post in this series see HERE).

There are many views on minimum wage regulations for young people and especially on youth rates. The ILO encourages its member-states to implement minimum wage regulations for reducing poverty and ensuring social protection (ILO 2013, p: 35). However some countries have a specific minimum wage for young people, a so-called youth rate, next to a general minimum wage. The Netherlands has taken this exercise yet another step further and has minimum wage regulations by age for young people aged 15 through to 22. It is only at age 23 that young people qualify for the adult-level minimum wage.

In the Netherlands the minimum wage for 15 years is € 2.57 per hour (gross, and calculated on the basis of a 40 hrs workweek) and there is 15%-17% increase for subsequent ages till 23. The minimum wage for adults (23 years and older) stands at € 8.57 per hour – more than three times the minimum wage of 15 year olds.

The Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs & Employment justifies this age-based minimum wage because it considers young workers less trained and experienced; their needs are less than those of adults; and because it is feared that high earnings would make work relatively more attractive compared to education (lecture notes ISS-4234, minimum (w)age session; lecturer Karin Astrid Siegmann).

Age-based minimum wage regulations seem favourable to employers and business persons as it allows them to legally exploit the productivity of young people at relatively low costs. This was illuminated in our visit to Albert Heijn, a large Dutch retailer.

We were told that more than 75% of the employees were employed on the basis of short term, fixed contracts and more than 40% of them belong to the age group of 15-18 years. It is noteworthy that various forms of work were done by adults as well as young people (e.g. work at check-out counters), and that there was no age difference in expectations about the performance of this work. Hence, by employing young people instead of adults Albert Heijn appears to cut its salary expenses with no loss of productivity. A situation made possible by Dutch age-based minimum wage regulations.

FNV, a Dutch trade union, has argued against age-based minimum wages as it views it a form of discrimination. It argues that when young people reach the age of majority (18 in the Netherlands) they should qualify for the adult-based minimum wage. Employer’s organizations in Netherlands argue that such a proposal world lead to an increase in youth unemployment. Such a position appears indeed supported by Canadian research on the abolishment of a youth rate, it found ‘some evidence that abolishing…youth rates significantly lowered employment and work hours of 15- to 16-year-olds’. But it also notes cautiously that there are also ‘questions regarding the interpretations of the results’ (Shannon 2011, p: 629).

Coming from India, I strongly feel that there should be protective tools regulating the labour market especially the employment of young people. This includes minimum wages and decent work conditions. Hence, while there is reason to be critical of age-based minimum wage regulations, not having any (effective) minimum wage for young people might still be a worse situation.

Guest contribution by Pranab K. Chanda (ISS MA in Development Studies, major Social Policy for Development)


posted by Roy Huijsmans

Despite all the concern about youth unemployment in the Netherlands, a probable mass lay-off of young part-time workers by a major Dutch retailer is met with silence.

Part-time employment during term-time is widespread among Dutch school-going teenagers. A NIBUD report found that 42% of the Dutch school-going teenagers in the age group 12-18 worked during term-time. However, this figure has come down from 48% in 2008, which NIBUD suggests is due to the Global financial and economic crisis which seems to be affecting employment opportunities for teenagers too.

Working in a supermarket is the third most common job, 7% of the Dutch school-going youth aged 12-18 is involved in this work (after baby-sitting (10%) and newspaper rounds (13%)). However, supermarkets typically only employ teenagers of at least 15 years of age (although employment is technically permitted under certain conditions from age 14 onwards), which means that the overall ranking of supermarket employment among Dutch teenagers is kept down due to child labour regulations. This is illustrated by looking at age-disaggregated figures. Among the 15 and 16 year olds, 14% is working in supermarkets, and among 17 and 18 years olds this is 23%.

One of the largest retailers, Albert Heijn, has a market share of about 30% in the Netherlands and is a major employer of Dutch teenagers. The majority of these teenagers work on a part-time basis as shelf-stockers and it is their jobs that are at risk following the announcement of Albert Heijn to introduce ‘shelf ready packaging‘ as a measure to cut costs and increase revenue.

Interestingly, the discussion about these plans have hardly addressed the labour dimension and Dutch labour unions, who are usually quick to jump on cases of mass redundancy, have met this case with massive silence. How shall this be understood? As a missed opportunity on part of the unions to demonstrate their lasting relevance to a new generation of workers? Or, as a confirmation that Dutch unions appear far more concerned with keeping youngsters from working than protecting their employment?

International Institute of Social Studies

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