In recent years, more and more strikes occurred among more and more companies in the Netherlands. 2023 already saw strikes by train staff, regional transport, healthcare staff and waste collection services. Strikes are often unpleasant for society and employers. The question is whether they make sense. Ruben Houweling, Professor of Labour Law at Erasmus School of Law, explains to Rijnmond why there are so many strikes today and how they can have an impact.
While the Netherlands has always been famous for its ‘polder model’ (Dutch: poldermodel) – a method of consensus decision-making – where working conditions were discussed around the conference table, (the threat of) strikes seems to have become increasingly common in recent years. “The willingness to strike has increased in the past few years. This increase is due to a combination of two major factors: inflation and a tight labour market. All costs have increased, so people feel it is only right to do something about wage growth. And because there are few job seekers, people also have more room to make demands. This is the time to strike.”
The success formula for a strike
Is going on strike an effective means of achieving a better collective agreement? According to Houweling, yes: “Striking pays off anyway. It is a tool you sometimes need to take a stand. Everything becomes liquid under pressure.” However, according to the Professor of Labour Law, a successful strike does have two conditions. “The most important thing is that people feel the strike. This can be done through publicity, as with regional transport. Many people are affected, and that damages the employer's image. Also, the group you go on strike with should be substantial. When two people stand in front of someone's door with a sign, nobody will be impressed by that."
Not an absolute right
Yet the right to strike is not absolute. Workers cannot simply lay off work indefinitely without consequences, Houweling explains: “If you go on strike for a very long time, an employer may choose not to pay wages anymore. Not everyone can afford this. Regional transport has sporadically gone on strike in various places around the country, so it won’t be too bad for them. One or two days a week on strike is manageable for everyone.”
Only in exceptional cases a strike can be banned. “A lot has to be done for a strike to be banned. Essential services, such as the police, cannot just go on strike. For example, at a Feyenoord match against Ajax, the police could be banned from going on strike. So, unless a disproportionate amount of damage is caused, basically everyone is allowed to take to the streets. As you can see, people have been striking more and more lately. And that pays off.”
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