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Sunday, 30 October 2016

“Finally, Big Brother has a name and a face. And we call him... Detective Toin!” Or how the search for privacy and an anonymous life in the shadows of the internet can make a person a suspicious target in future police investigations!

Even though I have become a “public person”, by regularly putting my personal blogs on the internet under my own name and expressing my opinion in and out of season on Twitter, I appreciate the fact that “everybody does not know anything” about me.

That, for instance, was a good reason for me to abolish “the exterminator of privacy” Facebook and it motivates me on a daily basis to not utter more private information about myself and my beloved family than I WANT to let loose on social media.

On the internet “I am my opinions and my opinions alone” and nothing more. That is what I want to share and that is for which I am accountable. I don’t cause anybody any harm and I lead an honest, unglamourous life, filled with work, blogging, family time and leisure time.

Yet, I don’t want to share real private stuff about what I and my family do when we are together and where I eat, sleep and spend my leisure time, unless it is my desire to say something about that. Does that make me a suspicious person with a suspicious private life? I don’t think so! However, some persons and institutions happen to differ in their opinions about this.

A few years ago, I already read about American companies abandoning resumees from job applicants, when these people did neither have a Facebook nor a LinkedIn account. And that for the reason that such persons “probably had something to hide and therefore caused a longterm risk for the company”. I looked at this phenomenon as “a typical American abberation”and not really something to worry about in the (formerly) open and laid-back country The Netherlands. I was dead wrong...

Today, in a groundbreaking article in the NRC newspaper in The Netherlands, George Orwell’s Big Brother suddenly became a face. And his name is... Detective Toin.

Detective Toin – who seemingly hasn’t got a surname – is a so-called cyberdetective, who spends his days with hacking and cracking computers and smartphones, that have been obtained from crime and terrorism suspects. Here is his story in the NRC:

Toin (52) is involved in ‘reading out’ computers and smartphones, that have been obtained during investigations, with the help of Israeli equipment. “The whole life of people is in such smartphones nowadays. It’s a goldmine in information”. The data can now be collected easily, “but these days the problem is the interpretation of all these pictures, text message and mails”.

The average vilain is not very digitally nurtured. This makes the policework easier. “It are the manufacturers of smartphones, which make it harder and harder to retrieve the information from telephones. One can’t access certain iPhones without the codes. The privacy is protected tightly”.

Detective Toin warns for exaggerated expectations from his activities. “One cannot use the evolving technique as a solution for every problem”, he states.Overacted, I say on some occasions: in one hundred years, we don’t investigate criminal offences anymore, but we investigate why someone withdrew himself from the surveillance by the internet... as your telephone, your car and even your coffee machine know exactly what you did in the hours and days before. In the future, the police will first and foremost find out why someone does not let himself monitor”.

And with this bombshell, this NRC article was a wrap...

In the future – irrespective of the circumstance whether Detective Toin was charging his message or not – this Dutch POLICEMAN thinks that everyone, who does not let the internet monitor him, might be treated as a possible suspect of criminal offences. OH...MY...GOD!

I could tell you the usual blahblah that every person is innocent until proven guilty in the court of law, but you will probably reply: “yeah, yeah”. And I can tell you that some people just don’t want to have their whole life displayed online, but many people will answer:’But hey... I have nothing to hide. So what’s the problem?!’.

No, I just want you to think about the implications of Detective Toin’s statement.

I want you to think about how many people show suspicious behaviour in Detective Toin’s (mentally) distorted world view, caused by his detective work. People, who are just as innocent as you and me, but want to life their lives in the shadow of the internet and Facebook. And who prefer an offline car and a dumb coffee machine and fridge, without online connection. Because those people are his future suspects.

And I want you to think about being stalked in the future by all your electronic equipment, like you are already stalked nowadays by (increasingly) your car, your computer, your smartphone, your Nest thermostat, your online refrigerator, your smart electrical power meter or your intelligent television! Does this bring you into your comfort zone? Or does this drag you far out of it?!

And please think about who monitors these legally appointed observers of our lives?! Is Detective Toin an honest man?! Or is he perhaps involved in organized crime, like the former police infiltrator Mark M. in The Netherlands was. Or will he sell his information to the highest bidder, because of gambling debts or marital problems?! [I emphasize that this example is for rhetorical purposes alone and absolutely not a personal attack upon Detective Toin, who I believe to be an honest man – EL]. 

Big Brother has emerged upon us in the form of an unsuspicious, public person with extremely dangerous views upon the innocence of common, but very private people. Do you entrust the future peers of Detective Toin with your most private information?! I don’t!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Is the end of populism suddenly looming, now the European citizens have witnessed the possibly devastating effects of mindless, populist policy in the United Kingdom?

To the uninformed eye, 2016 seems to be THE year for populist policy in Europe. It seems to be a year of success after success for populism:
  • The Ukraine trade agreement referendum in The Netherlands became a blatant success for the No-camp, which was adamantly against any kind of trade agreement with the ‘corrupted bunch’ in Ukraine. This left the Dutch PM Mark Rutte with a huge, political lump in his throat, that he still not managed to swallow;
  • Increasingly violent protests against refugees from outside Europe became an almost daily phenomenon all over Europe; not in the Eastern European countries alone, but also in the more wealthy Western European countries;
  • Populist leaders in Eastern Europe, like Hungarian PM Viktor Órban or the Polish ‘silent man in charge’ Jarosław Kaczyński, are an enduring pain in the neck for the European Council and the European Commission, with their neverending battle against the integration of refugees from Syria and elsewhere in their countries. Refugees, who are now unvoluntarily residing in Greece semi-permanently: all dressed up, but nowhere to go!
  • Alternative für Deutschland, the new populist “Kid on the Block” in Germany, and rightwing pressure group Pegida are turning into a permanent nightmare for German Chancellor Angela Merkel;
  • Also in the western European Union member states The Netherlands and France, populist parties as the Dutch Party for Freedom of Geert Wilders and the Front National of Marine Le Pen seem on their way to substantial victories in the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2017;
  • And last, but not least: against all odds and European hopes and expectations, the UKIP leadership and a substantial share of the Tory MP’s managed to talk the British population into a Leave-vote during the Brexit referendum, thus forcing their country out of the European Union within a few years.

So all in all it seems that 2016 was one of the most successful recent years for populism in Europe and it also seems that the European Union will have a tough time in surviving the next few years as a whole under this populist pressure.

But the tides might be turning for populism after all, after the European people finally discovered what the Brexit really meant for the United Kingdom and the other European countries.

The “everyone’s a winner” mood of the Brexiteers among the British population, immediately after the Brexit votes were counted, was soon replaced with a feeling of betrayal done by the leading Brexit politicians, when the pro-Brexit Tories, as well as PM David Cameron, and some UKIP politicians soon abandoned ship and left the emerging political mess for others to clean up.

Promises of the Brexiteers about a strongly increased NHS (i.e. National Health Service) budget, paid with the money that was traditionally reserved for the EU membership payments, and other stories that already seemed too good to be true, were imploding like a pierced balloon after the Brexit referendum. They were soon all identified as lies and half truths, only deployed to attract naive voters.

And perhaps for the first time, the British felt a sense of loss with respect to the political relation of the United Kingdom with the EU. This relation perhaps wasn’t very warm and loving, but nevertheless offered the stability and comfort that the British appreciated after all.

Perhaps one of the worst effects of the Brexit referendum, was the growing resentment and violence against the (foreign) EU citizens in the United Kingdom; often from Poland and Bulgaria. These reactions disgusted the moral majority among the British.

And now the UK and the EU are both in a perfect stalemate: the new British Prime Minister Theresa May is loudly banging the drum of populism and harsh measures against immigration – and also against the current EU immigrants already living in the United Kingdom – in order to not lose the populist vote in future elections, but she still need to negotiate the exit criteria with the European Council and Commission.

These most important European institutions on their behalf, are shaking off the initial cloak of indulgence against their former EU partner and are now preparing for negotiations in which they have to put the knife on the British throat, when push comes to shove. No more friendship, only business!

You want a good trade deal, UK? You want the same trade regulations as the other 27 European countries have and not have to deal with import and export restrictions?! You want to maintain the vital role that the London city plays nowadays in the EU financial system and preserve it until eternity?! 

Than you have to accept the pillars of the EU foundation. ALL the pillars, that is, including unrestrained immigration in the United Kingdom for EU citizens from all over Europe! Take it or leave it!

You will lose all influence that you had in the past and you have to swallow all the regulation that the EU serves, without any privileges! That is the deal that we are cooking for you and there won’t be any other deal!”

And of course the Brexiteers could blame the EU for the oncoming hostile atmosphere during the negotiations and they are probably somewhat right about that. But who can blame the EU for not wanting the UK to have the benefits of the EU membership, without having the burdens at the same time?!

To the contrary: as it might turn out, the UK could have the burdens of the EU membership, without enjoying the benefits. They have to pay certain legal and political expenses to the EU and they must abide most of the EU regulations without having any influence on the decision making process. Just like Norway does: “Didn’t you read the memo?!”

And while there are still few signs that the Brexit will immediately shipwreck the British economy (keep the longer term on your retina, however - EL), there is absolutely no sign at all that it will turn into the success story of regained independence and refound British power and might that the Brexiteers promised in advance.

That was blow one for the populists.

And where the populists in other countries, like The Netherlands, Germany and France were celebrating the unexpected victory of “Team Brexit” with cocky announcements about immediate local referenda in their own countries, it took only a few weeks for the European people to wake up from their populism-induced trip and endure the “sobering hangover” from the emerging notion that things would actually become much harder without the EU; not easier. 
The political implosion and the economic events happening in the UK after the elections were a clear warning sign for that.

Bold statements about a speedy EU membership referendum in The Netherlands were plummeted by the overwhelming 80-odd percent majority for the No-Nexit grassroots in a representative sample survey. And I would not be surprised, when elsewhere in Europe the tides are also turning for the populists, when the people view the mess that UKIP and the Tories left in the UK. 

That may be blow number two.

And perhaps the most sobering notion for many people is, that when you actually vote for populists, like ‘The Donald’ Trump, Marine Le Pen (Front National), Geert Wilders (Dutch Party for Freedom) or Frauke Petri (Alternative für Deutschland), they indeed might rise to political power. And that such is not an instant guarantee for political/economic success, is becoming more and more obvious.

Or do you get a comfortable feeling from a ‘loose cannon’ like Donald Trump with his hand on the red button for the American nuclear weapons arsenal, in his presidential suitcase: “By the way, you’re fired!!!” 

And do you think that Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson were indeed the best Prime Ministers that the world have never seen?!

That must be the third and final blow! 

And to place another devastating blow: look at the Phillippines, where "mucho macho" President Rodrigo Duterte, calling himself "Adolf Hitler", has started a killing spree against drug dealers and criminals with a dead count of many hundreds (or even thousands) of people, while calling the American president "a son of a b*tch" and seemingly becoming close friends with the Chinese government. 

Perhaps many of those drug dealers were indeed "guilty as charged", but is that a reason to terminate them, without a fair trial? Have we sunk that far, during the last years?! And maybe it gives a feeling of power to call the POTUS an SOB, but is it smart and wise and will it help one's country in the long run?!

Perhaps my gutfeeling is more based upon hope than on sensible and objective information. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the glory days for populism will soon be over and that the European people will start to realize that only a united Europe can protect them from the hazards, the fierce economic pressure and political skintrade of the strong political blocks in the world: China, Russia and the United States.

There will, however, remain one huge lesson from the success of the populist parties all over Europe. If you alienate your grassroots with a cold and technocratic policy, seemingly only working on behalf of the large corporations and powerfull pressure (i.e. lobby) groups… A policy, without vision and without dots on the horizon to travel to... 

Than you will lose the people for whom you are working as a European Commission and European Council... and it will be very hard to get them back!

The EU is not a corporation and the European citizens don’t want to have a “chief executive management” as leadership for the EU, but a committed and empathic leadership that fights for the common men and women.
You can bet on that!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

“The Small Club” and the macro effects of micro decisions.

One of my all-time favorite comic book artists AND writers is the Dutch legend Marten Toonder, writer of the Tom Puss and Olly B. Bumble comic series.

Next to a truly genius cartoonist with outstanding and timeless ink drawings in black and white, he was a raconteur par excellence, who painted a whole fantasy world, crowded with animals behaving like utterly human people. 
Each of these different animals had its own flaws and weaknesses and sometimes even wickedness and arrogance to offer, but also smartness, sheer kindness and love. 

The ‘winner’ in Toonder's stories was not the brightest and smartest figure (i.e. Tom Puss), but the very humane, slightly dumb and clueless, but nevertheless very goodhearted and generous Olly B. Bumble; he always stumbled upon the solution with his ‘young friend’ Puss, who on his behalf was “the puss with the plan”, as well as the “inspirator of last resort”.

In a few simple words: Bumble was the archetypical anti-hero of the story, turning hero after all, but he never realized it or boasted about it. To the contrary: he started the next story with the same ignorance, dumbness and goodheartedness as the last one, without learning anything anywhere.

Marten Toonder invented new Dutch words and expressions that became staples in the language, like ‘denkraam’ (i.e. 'window of thought'), ‘kommer en kwel’ (akin to ‘doom and gloom’), ‘Tom Poes, verzin een list’ (i.e. ‘Tom Puss, pull a trick‘ ) and many, many others. Many Dutch people use these words and expressions without knowing were they originally came from.

One of the inventions of Toonder in his books was ‘The Small Club' of Rommeldam (i.e. “Rubbleton” town), a gentlemen’s club consisting of notables from this comic city in which most Tom Puss adventures take place.

The mayor of Rommeldam, a local marquis, a few ruthless industrials and other notables of the city were members of this small gentlemen’s club of wealthy and elitist, but also clueless, arrogant and ignorant people. Oh, and of course Olly B. Bumble, who is hardly accepted and respected by his peers as a member of The Small Club, as they secretly despise him and envy him for his almost unlimited amount of money, coming from an inheritage.

A meeting of a few members of The Small Club in Olly B. Bumble's castle residence
Picture created by Marten Toonder and printed courtesy of: the Marten Toonder estate
No copyright infringement intended
Click to enlarge
I had to think strongly about ‘The Small Club’ of Rommeldam, when I read an article in an older Volkskrant newspaper from a few weeks ago, starting with this already “classic” sentence:

In a beautiful castle in Voorschoten, they talked about the ‘wealth gap’ in The Netherlands: CEO’s and other representatives of large Dutch companies, who were invited by ING Bank and Allen & Overy [i.e. a sollicitor’s office - EL]. They exchanged thoughts about the emergence of populism, the coming elections in The Netherlands (Geert Wilders) as well as The United States (Donald Trump), and the worrisome consequences of these circumstances for global free trade.

In spite of being only one paragraph in length, this snippet is a tell-tale signal about the state of “Corporate The Netherlands”. A few captains of industry and sollicitors, together strongly akin to Marten Toonder’s “Small Club”, sit together in a castle(!) to discuss the situation with respect to populism and populist politicians. The captains of industry and lawyers all fear that the populist politicians want to make an end to free and unlimited global trade without borders and boundaries: the holy grail of the early 21st Century.

To be frank: the article was very informative and there were some sound conclusions in it, about the growing wealth gap between the well and the not-so-well educated people in The Netherlands.

Duivenvoorde Castle in Voorschoten
Picture courtesy of:
Click to enlarge
Nevertheless, for me it was almost impossible to take those captains of industry and their worries serious anymore. This was due to this castle [probably Duivenvoorde Castle; see the picture above - EL] of which the hosts undoubtedly serve excellent food from leading Michelin cooks to their VIP guests. 

A place where probably loads of security people were present and where there was a near-zero chance of unwanted encounters with normal, common people, to whom the decisions of these captains of industry could have far-stretching and even devastating consequences.

The result was that – while reading the remainder of the article – I always envisioned the Small Club of Rommeldam’s notables, talking about ‘the plebiscite of their city’ from a distance, while wining and dining in their ivory towers.

I slightly forgot about this article until last Monday, when CEO Ralph Hamers of ING bank – the co-host of this very castle meeting – announced that this system bank would fire 7000 FTE’s (i.e. full time equivalents) globally. This meant that 7000 full-time bank employees or many more part-time jobs would vanish in the coming few years. Of these 7000 full-time jobs, 2300 FTE would be cut in The Netherlands and no less than 3500 in Belgium.

Slightly to my surprise, the response from the workers in the Dutch banking industry and from the involved Dutch trade unions was not much more than lukewarm (“Yes, we know... The digitization and robotization of the banking industry and the emergence of fintech are forcing the banks to take these painful measures. Consequently, this was an inevitable step that we saw coming blah blah blah...”). This lackluster reaction was probably a result of these bank employees and union workers already being shellshocked from the nearly endless series of reorganizations that went through the Dutch banking industry in the past decade and the many more reorganizations that seem to be underway within the next decade. 

However, the people in Belgium were in a state of shock and nearly ready to organize a large scale uprising against this “feudal Dutch bank”.

Please understand me properly: I have worked for many years as a tester at ICT departments in the financial industry, where most of the innovations and new developments are taking place. In those years I saw the banks morph from being companies with numerous ‘offline’, brick-and-mortar bank offices with shedloads of personnel, into nearly ‘online only’, digitized and robotized companies with only a 'skeleton crew' to keep things running and dozens of information architects and engineers to further robotize the core banking activities. 

During this time banks became companies where the battle for the highest margin became nearly synonymous to the battle for the lowest expenses, as the interest margin was not sufficient anymore to do the job alone.

Banking has remained an indispensable industry for The Netherlands and the whole world, as a matter of fact, but one in which there still is massive anger and envy among customers and the population as a whole about the ‘2008 mess-up’ that caused this global financial crisis. And an industry in which the role of the national and supranational supervisors (“Basel”) has intensified from being laid-back and even ignorant ‘supervisors from a distance’ into bloodhound-like, hands-on inspectors, who are guarding the strongly elevated thresholds for solvency, liquidity and risk-appreciation with their lives. 

These supervisors don't scare away anymore from taking the harshest of measures upon 'banks under jeopardy' that violate the Basel rules, when the situation requires that [hence: Deutsche Bank - EL]. This means that the banks have to walk on eggs these days and yet must do their utmost in order to meet the capital requirements of their shareholders and providers of funding.

And I, as no other, also understand the extent to which emerging fintech companies are threatening the classic banks in The Netherlands: fintech companies which don’t carry the financial and ICT legacy of over a century of banking activities and that can do ‘cherry-picking’ with respect to their customers, services and products.

It is so much easier to start a new online bank that only aims at the profitable customers, services and products of banking, than to strip down a classic, broad service range, brick-and-mortar bank and change it from being an indolent oil tanker into an agile, modern company with a well-balanced payment, lending and financial services package.

Therefore I am the first to understand that the regular banks need to be ‘lean and mean’ to win the battle with these new fintech companies, which have nearly unlimited resources (in some cases) and don’t carry the burden of a long past and an excessively large organization, with thousands of very expensive workers. And unfortunately enough, this means that many of the steady workers – especially the ones working in the old bank offices all over the country or with jobs that are easy to robotize – will inevitably lose their jobs and enter into a very uncertain future: a one that I know all too well. Therefore I feel very sorry for everyone of them.

Nevertheless, in spite of me understanding many of these changes within the banking industry, I hope that the bank executives will finally start to get rid of their own ivory towers; the brick-and-mortar ones, as well as the mental ones, clouding their vision and empathy towards their workers.

In order to really understand their often very loyal and understanding employees and the relatively tough times that these are going through, these executives have to abolish:

  • their ‘castle-meetings’, like the one mentioned in the Volkskrant article;
  • their occasional habit to complain about the limited height of their remuneration and the lack of variable bonuses in it, only days before they put thousands of workers on the street;
  • their separate, guarded office entrances at which they never meet their common employees unvoluntarily;
  • their normal behaviour in which they hardly speak and interact with common workers outside their inner circle, due to their mental and physical blockades against doing so;
  • their video conferences in which they can broadcast their speeches to their personnel, without being confronted in real life with the (angry) reactions to it;
  • their announcements of large job cuts made to large investors and share- and stakeholders first, instead of the people to which these announcements are applying.
And last, but not least, they have to deeply understand that all of these 7000+ workers in The Netherlands, Belgium and outside now see their sheer future at stake, without knowing what they should do in the coming months. And that is not something to think lightly upon!

If they fail to do so, these executives will be little more than the arrogant and ignorant notables of ‘Rommeldam”, which are so exquisitely described in the unforgettable books of Marten Toonder. And their workers will be little more than Rommeldam’s plebiscite, who suffer under the quirks of their ignorant bosses.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The end of a freelancer... In spite of the positive sides of having the ultimate freedom of choice in my profession and being responsible for my own future, I have recently chosen for a future as common employee. I haven’t succeeded like I hoped, but learnt a few tough, but valuable lessons.

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.

As my steady readers know, it is not my habit to write about myself. I consider my personal life not to be too interesting for my readers and try to look more at the world outside and the economic developments in it instead. Yet, I want to do so today, hoping that my story might help someone with taking a decision on becoming a freelancer in The Netherlands or not. 

I have been a freelancer since the start of 2015, originally for a number of reasons:
  • My former employer in the ICT industry encountered so much economic hardship during the period 2008 – 2014 that the company hardly survived the crisis. In the process the company lost some valuable customer accounts and dismissed/lost half of their (supporting) personnel base. At the time that I left it seemed that the company had no future ahead, even though the company managed to survive in hindsight.

    At that time I wanted to make a fresh start after this hard period and wanted to be part of a growing and successful company again;
  • My brother also was a participant in the new corporation of independent freelancers that I joined and I looked very much forward to rejoining forces with him in what is both his and my profession: senior software tester and quality consultant;
  • I wanted to explore new roads in my profession by being responsible for finding my own assignments and trying to do things differently than when I had a fixed contract with an employer;
  • And last, but not least, I hoped to find a more prosperous future for me and my family.

However, from Monday, 3 October on, 20-odd months after I started my period as a freelance professional, I return to being a common worker under a fixed labour contract. To some ears this might sound like a step back, but I’m glad about it after all.

I’m still not quit sure, whether I just had a stroke of bad luck in my (choice of) assignments at large employers in the financial and commercial services industry or that I ‘had lost my mojo’ as a freelance testing professional. Anyway, the assignments that I had lasted shorter than I anticipated in advance, even though I believed to have done a pretty good job at all of them, while the periods in between those assignments lasted longer and longer.

Even though the market for software testing professionals had improved quite dramatically during 2015 and 2016, it was still very difficult for me to acquire a new assignment. Especially as my rather functional than technical testing knowledge and my only moderate knowledge of testing automation hampered me in finding a new assignment.

Negative ‘cherry on the cake’ was the introduction of the new Dutch law DBA – Deregulering Beoordeling Arbeidsrelaties (i.e. Deregulation of the Review of Labour relations) by the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs. 

In order to help genuine freelancers and independent professionals to earn an honest income, this law was supposed to filter out the fake freelancers: people who had been forced out of a steady job against their will by their former employers as well as future principals, into an uncertain existence as freelancer with a very limited job security and a rather low hourly fee (or even piece-wages), without further social premiums and insurances being paid for.

This DBA law also had to protect people from the low wage countries inside and outside Europe, who had been treated as ‘working cattle’ sometimes by relentless principals, for which they had to work under very poor labour circumstances and with extremely poor payments, without having the same rights and privileges that Dutch workers enjoy.

The real freelancers – really independent workers, who did so out of their own free will and choice – would remain unharmedand the blatant abuse of cheap labour from inside and outside The Netherlands would be abolished after this law came in effect. At least, that was the idea...

It turned out a little different...

The DBA law was been introduced in the first half of 2016, with a pilot period of roughly one year in which this law would not be enforced by the tax authorities (i.e. during this pilot period only warnings would be administered in case of violations and no penalties). 

Already directly after the introduction, it became clear that there was a radically different point of view between the Mark Rutte Cabinet in The Hague, that introduced the law, and the Dutch Internal Revenue Service which had to enforce this law eventually.

With this new law, a freelance professional (i.e. ZZP’er in Dutch) has to enter into a model contract with his temporary employer, in which both parties agree that the freelancer will not work into a normal, subordinate employer-employee relation.

To the eyes of the Dutch Internal Revenue Service, this genuine freelance working relation means that:
  • The freelancer is not supposed to have fixed working hours, but should be able to choose his working hours himself;
  • The freelancer is not supposed to have fixed, thoroughly described work packages, in which he does not have the freedom to choose his own results, working methods and solutions;
    • Instead the freelancer should be totally responsible for the working methods and the end result of his efforts himself;
  • The freelancer is not supposed to be in a subordinate relation with managers working at his principal, but he should have nearly total freedom in how to do his job.

When not all these conditions are met in a freelance model contract, the Dutch IRS considers the freelance working relation to be a ‘common labour relation in disguise’, which is due for tax and social security payments by the principal (aka the temporary employer). The IRS has to approve such model contracts in advance before they might be used by the freelance professionals in their working relation with their principal.

And perhaps the worst problem of this law – that exists until this very day –  is that a freelancer, even with an approved(!) model contract with his principal in hand, which states that he IS a freelancer and does not have any kind of subordinate relation with his temporary employer, can have his contract being disapproved upon by the IRS after all; for instance after an inspection(?) on the workfloor. This will turn him into a normal employee reciprocally and would leave the principal with a huge bill for overdue social security payments.

This was the killer risk for many current and future principals, as large employers with f.i. more than 1000 freelancers could encounter enormous financial risks for millions of Euros in reciprocal payments of taxes and social security premiums. For a substantial number of companies this risk was actually so big, that they totally abandoned the usage of freelance professionals as temporary workers in their company.

And let's be perfectly clear about it: for most freelance consultants in the ICT industry, as well as in the financial and legal, commercial services industry – probably more than quarter of a million consultants in The Netherlands alone – these freelancing conditions as maintained by the Dutch IRS are in fact a mirage!

There is hardly any freelance consultant working for a common principal:
  • who can decide about his own working hours, without listening to the desires of his principal and/or colleagues;
  • who can decide alone about what he is going to do with respect to his job and how he is going to do it;
  • who does have total freedom to do as he pleases within his working environment;
  • who does not have orders and instructions to follow from some manager at his principal.

This simply does not happen for all these hundreds of thousands of consultants. All these freelancers, as well as their principals know this fact by heart and the Dutch IRS knows that they know.

And in spite of all the soothing and comforting words of State Secretary Eric Wiebes of Tax Affairs, who stated repeatedly that ‘things are not as black as they seem with respect to this law and people should be not afraid and simply go to work and make money’, many companies don’t dare to run the gauntlet regarding freelancers anymore.

Perhaps the worst thing is that nobody in the Mark Rutte Cabinet is actually able to let the IRS choose a less rigid stance, with respect to these freelance conditions and model contracts. The IRS rests with its own point of view and does not give a rat’s behind about all statements coming from officials in The Hague.

Currently, the only way out of this political stalemate, in my humble opion, is that the IRS starts to officially enforce this DBA law, by assessing and – when deemed necessary – penalizing ‘offenders’ of it. 

If then one or more of these offenders start a legal case against the IRS or the government, jurisprudence will emerge that creates clarity for the future about the boundaries and thresholds of the DBA law. However, as things are today, this process will not be started before at least mid-2017. That is much too late for many freelance professionals, who are in an equal situation as I was.

Whatever the reasons have been, I didn’t manage to get new assignments at the times that I needed them badly. Nor did I manage to stay long enough in one assignment to create some necessary cash reserves for the future. And every time when I resided at home for much longer than hoped, without an assignment and without having an outlook towards one, I felt my own doubts increase.

Also I felt the mounting pressure from myself and my family to accept any job from any company where they would hire me for a decent fee. It was an unsustainable situation eventually.

A few months ago, I decided to look for a steady employer again, instead of being a freelancer. And even more special, I decided to give up my life as testing consultant and continue as a testing employee for one, non-ICT employer.
Luckily, I managed to get such a job, which pleases me very much and now I am starting a new phase of my life and working career.

The lessons that I learned during the last twenty months are:
  • The security and ease of mind that a steady job offers are hard to beat by the extra money (in theory) that a career as freelancer promises to yield;
  • Government policies with respect to labour and social affairs are often elaborated so poorly and have such grave, unintended consequences that they can destroy more jobs than they protect, even if they were created with the best intentions;
  • A new assignment can stay out much longer than a freelancer can ignore the fact that he doesn’t earn money during such a jobless period;
  • In the ICT industry you can become a dinosaur in the blink of an eye, without even noticing it, when the world around you changed totally and you failed to notice it and act upon this;
  • Sometimes it is harder to get a temporary assignment as a "one-trick-pony" freelancer than a steady job as a versatile, older worker.
  • If your family feels bad about you being a freelancer, you better quit it, as your family is the most important thing in your life

Will I ever become a freelancer again?! Perhaps... but now is not the right time for that. At least, not for me!