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Unions go to court: How much wage leeway will the cabinet give?

Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau,
16 mei 2023 - 10:55

The General Education Union has filed a lawsuit against the cabinet. The union is demanding that the cabinet disclose how much money the education sector will receive to increase wages.

In education, unions are currently negotiating with employers on wage increases in new collective bargaining agreements. In view of inflation, the unions are demanding an unprecedented 14 percent wage increase.


But how much money will educational institutions get for “wage leeway”? This is classified information that the Cabinet sends only to employers. So the unions are at a disadvantage in the negotiations.

From the wings
The General Education Union (AOb) has had enough of that. The union has been asking for transparency for some time and also wants insight into the talks between the Ministries of Education and Finance and the employers: have the latter made a case for their staff in recent years?
The union requested information from the Ministry of Education, but that request was denied. So now they are taking them to court. “We want to pull the financial discussion out of the wings,” says AOb board member Douwe Dirk van der Zweep.

Wages matter, is his consideration. If teachers were paid better, there would be fewer shortages in primary and secondary education, according to the union. “There have been years of pay cuts,” said Van der Zweep. “We want to know exactly what was going on in the background and what considerations were involved. We want to reconstruct the policy and draw lessons for the future.”

Role of employers
The role of employers is also important in this, he believes. “We needed the Top Income Standardization Act to limit the remuneration of executives: they were earning too much. But did the ministry do their best for the pay of the people employed by them?”

A majority in politics also actually thinks this information should be public, as was evident in 2019 when a motion by the PvdA was passed. The ruling party D66 voted for it, while VVD, CDA, and ChristenUnie opposed it. But that motion did not directly call for disclosure. It said only that the cabinet should ask education employers to share so-called “leeway letters” with unions.

Minister Ollongren, then Interior Minister, reluctantly promised this. But the cabinet could also tell the employers “that the motion is at odds with the confidentiality of the letter.” Transparency would make negotiations more difficult, was her fear.

Employers in education have written an open letter to the cabinet demanding additional money

But the issue is the spending of public funds, the education union reasons. Policy must be verifiable. That is why the AOb appeals to the Open Government Act, which in principle requires transparency.

It is generally known how the cabinet arrives at decisions on wage leeway. For example, it looks at expected wage increases in the market sector (5.2 percent according to the CPB). There is also an allowance for increased premiums and social charges, called the “reference system.”
But, says Van der Zweep, the cabinet can also reduce or expand wage leeway on its own. For years, for example, education wages did not increase at all, or smaller cuts were made. It is also possible to actually increase wages faster, as was done a few years ago in primary education.

Employers in education have also written an open letter to the cabinet demanding additional money. Inflation was 10 percent last year, they wrote, so wages should also go up by about that percentage.
The unions want wages to automatically increase with inflation from now on. “We proposed October as the reference month when inflation happened to be 14 percent,” Van der Zweep said. “But we could also choose, say July; it makes little difference to the system. We just don’t want to get structurally worse.”

The case against the cabinet is not likely to go to court until the fall. The cabinet will also likely appeal if the unions win. So it may be a while before the information becomes public - if that is indeed going to happen.

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