In the Netherlands almost nine out of ten employees fall under a collective bargaining agreement (collectieve arbeidsovereenkomst: CAO). A CAO is a collective agreement between employers’ organizations and employees’ organizations that lays down collectively mutual rights and duties. Often a CAO regulates issues which are also included in a regular employment contract, like remuneration, a pension scheme, working hours and working conditions. In The Netherlands about a thousand different CAOs exist, of which about 300 per branch of industry. CAOs can be declared universally binding by the Dutch Minister of Social Affairs and Employment. This makes that employees and employers who are not registered with an organization or trade union, are also subject to the collective agreements just the same.
Regrettably a lot of disregard and neglect occurs, even the conscious evasion of CAOs. Especially in the branches of industry where wage costs heavily burden sales revenues, employers will be very much tempted often not to take the entered CAO seriously. For example, no or less days’ holiday will be paid, employees have to work days longer than allowed, or -with regard to the collectively negotiated wages- are underpaid. This kind of evasion is of all times, however, steps up in times of an economic crisis.
Furthermore, opening the European borders has made it possible to bring in cheap labour from countries where wages are far lower than in The Netherlands. Pursuing a domestic market where employees could enter free and unrestricted, that was the initial ambition of the European Union (EU). Regrettably this freedom has turned out difficult to balance with the social rights and duties in the member countries. The arrival of workers, cheaper and less bound by social agreements, indeed brings about a free European internal market. However, sometimes this brings on a competition and exploitation that is unfair and distorted.
Not only employees have every reason to be protected. Observance of CAOs in The Netherlands guarantees a fair pay and humane working conditions. And so employers too benefit from observing the CAO. If everyone observes the rules, only then we may speak of fair competition.
A few years ago -on behalf of the government, management and trade unions- a few different parties established an organization that verifies if the CAO in force is actually observed. At this moment Sociaal Fonds Taxi on behalf of the taxi sector, Stichting Naleving CAO voor Uitzendkrachten (SNCU) on behalf of the employment agency sector and the Technisch Bureau voor de Bouwnijverheid (TBBouw) on behalf of the construction sector, are the three biggest CAO upholders. A great many employees are subject to these CAOs. For instance, the CAO for temporary workers that the SNCU upholds includes over 700,000 workers.
In popular speech these three upholders are also referred to as the ‘CAO Police’. Right from the start they have chosen close collaboration with De Koning Vergouwen Advocaten for legal support of their activities. We give advice on a sensible policy and the textual undertones and overtones of a CAO, we remind businesses to observe the rules, or apply for payment, and if necessary start legal proceedings.
With fifteen years of experience in this branch we are most proficient. To date our office has conducted many hundreds of proceedings in order to keep employers alert. And so with great success. The claims in such proceedings always concern subsequent payment of wages, but often include damages paid to the concerned employers’ and employees’ organizations based on their lost prestige and credibility by conscious evasion of CAOs. Moreover, after a court decision we collect the claim, and if the worst comes to the worst we make mala fide employers to be stopped. Our legal intervention has stopped illegal and absolutely shady and dubious practices several times, where human trafficking, exploitation and modern slavery appeared to be the mainstay of the business.