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Saturday, 14 December 2013

Young flex workers will become victims of a law that was specially elaborated to help them: a story of inconsiderate legislation and undesired side-effects

Last Monday, Het Financieele Dagblad published a very interesting and disturbing article about workers with flexible contracts: the so-called ‘flex workers’ (in Dutch).

New legislation from 'The Hague’, which is meant to protect these flex workers, will probably blow up in their faces instead. The legislation states that after two years of temporary contracts, flex workers should mandatorily receive a fixed contract from their employers.

This… probably will not happen in reality. The employers rather dismiss their flex workers after 23 months and hire new ones, than handing out a fixed (open ended) contract to a flex worker after two years.

The effect is that flexible workers become victimized by the whims of their anxious and disloyal temporary employers and spend a substantial part of their working life without having any job certainty.

Here are the pertinent snips from the FD:

More than 25% of the entrepreneurs expects to dismiss their flex workers earlier, when new legislation for discharge will go into effect in the middle of next year.

The law, in contrast, was meant to supply flex workers with a fixed contract more rapidly than now: after maximally two years of flex contracts, instead of the three years maximum of today. Only 4% of entrepreneurs thinks that they will hand out such a fixed contract to their flex workers indeed.

This was disclosed by the monthly inquiry of TNS Nipo and the FD into ‘the mood’ of entrepreneurs in The Netherlands.

Tim de Beer of TNS Nipo: ‘It is striking that almost all entrepreneurs know that the legislation for discharge will be changed. Their verdict is merely positive; in a spontaneous reaction, as well as after they received a detailed explanation about this law. 

Only for the flex workers this new legislation will not work. “That dog don’t hunt”, some of the inquired entrepreneurs said. “After 23 months, I get rid of such a flex worker in a jiffy and for him there are ten others”.

In the eyes of the inquired entrepreneurs these bold statements are NOT applicable, when it comes to unpaid trainees. De Beer: ‘These entrepreneurs are quite critical about this. One of them even calls it "modern slavery", but on top of that these entrepreneurs think that it ruins a fair competion; for instance in the case of freelance professionals, who hardly can compete with people, who are working for free'.

And that’s that: “for him ten others”. You can guess how you feel as a flex-worker, when you hear this message from your temporary employer after almost two years of loyalty and hard work.

That this story is not at all science fiction, has been proven to me by a very dear friend of mine: “Helga”.

Her son was dismissed from his job, after the maximum series of flex contracts was exhausted. 

Helga's son was a good worker and he was doing fine in that particular job. Nevertheless, he was fired, as his anxious boss didn’t dare to take the risk of hiring him on a fixed contract basis… After a cooldown period of three months, he can probably come back to his job for another limited period of flex contracts.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about the current iconization of entrepreneurs, while at the same time employees are treated as durable means of production, instead of humans.

I understand that in a supply market, like the current labour market is, the demand side has much more to demand than before.  It is a market in which employers can ask ‘the best of the best’ at a very fair price. To these eyes that is perfectly alright.

However, there is a limit to the amount of humiliation that a young and talented flex-worker can have in his job. He has to work long and hard hours, under substantial pressure, in exchange for often relatively low wages (when compared to earlier periods). On top of that, he doesn’t have any job guarantee whatsoever, after a series of flex-contracts. 

At least, such a flex-worker should be treated as a human and not as some exchangeable piece of meat, without feelings…

The most disturbing thing to me was, that a representative of a large labour union tried to downplay the situation, in an interview with BNR News Radio: ‘We have an ironclad agreement with the employer’s associations, with respect to flexible work. The situations with flex workers that you described, won’t happen in practice”.

Mr. Spock of Star Trek would say to this labour union man: “Welcome to Earth, stranger. May you live long and prosper”. I say: “Good heaven, you are so naive”.

"May you live long and prosper"
picture courtesy of Paramount Television
The whole situation with the flex-workers of this moment sounds like ‘a story of inconsiderate legislation and undesired side-effects’. 

Nobody in parliament is responsible for this: it just happened at a particular moment in time.

And now, the situation on the Dutch labour market is that the older workers still have fixed contracts with very adequate warrants against involuntary dismissal. And they will receive satisfactory discharge reimbursements, when they are fired anyway. Little has deteriorated for them under the new legislation.

Rather to the contrary: where in the past the verdict of a cantonal judge was binding for employer as well as employee in a discharge case, the employee now receives the right to appeal against this verdict.

The young flex-worker – almost all ‘normal’ youngsters (i.e. non high potentials) have indeed flex contracts – has almost no rights, after his flex contracts reached the maximum in duration. 

He must hope and pray for a steady job after this period and otherwise hope to find a new job soon.

The older worker, however, can metaphorically ‘rest on his laurels’: if he doesn’t mess up his job, his company does not default or he does not get involved in one of the many reorganizations in The Netherlands, he has relatively little to worry about. He will do fine…

This particular situation does not bring the desired and necessary flexibility to the labour market. It just brings enormous imbalances to it, between youngsters and the older generations.

And there is a substantial risk for this kind of employers too: they will spend a lot of money on educating and training their new flex-workers, every two years. When their flex-workers are dismissed after this period, all this invested money just walks out of the building. 

Further, when the economy will really improve in the future, the flex-workers of such a company won’t forget how they were treated by their employer: they will run like hell. And with courtesy to the social media, this company is branded for many years as a poor and selfish company that one should better abandon. 


  1. I agree. This new situation does not bring the desired and necessary flexibility to the labour market.