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Friday, 19 April 2013

Dutch unemployment rises to over 8 percent… and the Prime-Minister made a motivational speech!

The Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics presented its monthly unemployment data. Stating that the Dutch unemployment is rising at an alarming rate currently, would be an understatement.

The following press release comes from the CBS:

Unemployment rises to over 8 percent

According to figures released today by Statistics Netherlands, seasonally adjusted unemployment in the Netherlands rose by 30,000 in March, to 643,000 people.

Figures published by UWV – the organisation responsible for implementing unemployment benefits - show that the number of unemployment benefit claimants rose by 3,000 to 380,000 in March.

Unemployment rose further in the Netherlands in March, to 8.1%. Three months previously, 7.2% of the labour force were out of work. In the first quarter of 2013, another 24,000 people per month became unemployed.

In the last three months, the increase was strongest among 25-44 year-olds. In this age group an average 11,000 people per month became unemployed. Unemployment among over-45s rose by 8,000 a month, among under-25s it increased by 4,000 a month.
Unemployment according to the definition used by the ILO was 6.4%, up from 6.2% in February.

The number people claiming unemployment benefit rose by 0.8% in March 2013. The increase was above average among the over-45s, while the number of people younger than 25 years claiming unemployment benefit  fell slightly.

This is a tell-tale statement. However, there is a difference between reading this statement and looking at a chart, based on the aforementioned data.

As a basis, I took the chart which I created from the January 2013 unemployment data, and added the unemployment data of February and March in it. Besides that, I also collected the youth unemployment for the same period. The resulting chart is real bad news:

Dutch (youth) unemployment 2008-2013
Data courtesy of:
Chart created by
Click to enlarge
Last week, a social agreement was set between the largest labour unions, the employer’s organizations VNO/NCW and MKB Nederland and representatives of the government.

I didn’t write about this social agreement yet, as I didn’t have the time to fully read, translate and elaborate this agreement and not simply wanted to copy-and-translate the content from the Dutch newspapers.

However, summarized the agreement came down to:
  • Adding a pinch of flexibility in the labour market;
  • Throwing a few grains of change into the Unemployment Benefit legislation;
  • Withdrawing all proposed legislation and austerity measures, which were either bad for the employers or bad for the labour unions’ grassroots: the 55-plus generation;
  • And most important… giving the can a smashing kick down the road;

I must admit, I was happy that the Unemployment Benefit and lay off-reimbursements for the newly unemployed 45-plus generation have not deteriorated too much, as a positive consequence of last week’s agreement.

If you don’t make it easier whatsoever for older workers to find a new job, through reforms of the labour market itself, but take away their lay off-reimbursement and their 70% of last earned wage Unemployment Benefit for 2.5 years, then you sentence older workers to a quick fall into poverty.

The unfortunate part is that all three parties involved in this social agreement – labour unions, employers and the government –didn’t do much, in order to make it slightly easier to fire, but especially hire the older workers. These older workers still enjoy the fixed contracts, but once fired, their future on the labour market is currently very, very grim!

The older unemployeds are considered too risky and too expensive to hire, when companies are looking for new workers. These companies rather hire a less experienced 30-plus worker than the very experienced older workers.

The three parties did also not enough about the awkward situation of the current generation of youngsters, with their flexible and zero hour-contracts and their virtually zero percent chance of acquiring a fixed contract, currently. This is definitely a missed opportunity…

And please remember that today’s alarming unemployment data by the CBS are only the tip of the iceberg:

  • The many freelancers that currently don’t have an assignment, are not mentioned in the CBS unemployment data;
  • Neither are the youngsters that have a zero hour labour contract, which supplies them with zero percent certainty for working sufficient hours per month to live or study from;

Although these people are not considered unemployed, you can bet that their economic situation is just as awkward (or even more) as the situation of the official unemployed in The Netherlands. And there is no signal that the Dutch unemployment situation might improve in the coming months. In my humble opinion, the chance for further deterioration of the Dutch labour market is very, very big!

A few days ago, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the liberal-conservative /social-democrat cabinet Rutte II held a flabbergasting speech, which could be summarized in the following lines:

Let’s stop with feeling pessimistic and miserable. We should go shopping, we should visit a fancy restaurant, perhaps buy a new car or even a new house. 

By doing so, we all help the Dutch economy to get healthy again and we help ourselves in the process.

The not very sensitive and emphatic, but often razorsharp debater Geert Wilders of the PVV ‘Party for Freedom’ (‘give to the emperor what is legally his’) asked the Prime Minister with hardly revealed sarcasm:

“‘Did you eat Magic Mushrooms?! Did you take two slices of Space Cake?!”

These remarks by Geert Wilders made me imagine for a moment, that it indeed had been the Prime Minister, who left the famous ‘Bulldog’ coffeeshop at the Leidseplein square in Amsterdam, at the same time that I left the Stadsschouwburg on the other side. 

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