The Collective Labour Agreement, Refreshing the negotiators

2010 – The ‘expiration date’ of the collective labour agreement has been an important issue to discuss by social partners and experts. In the article “CAO van de toekomst, Wasbeurt voor onderhandelaars” (“Collective labour agreement of the future, ‘refreshing the negotiators”) for the journal Zeggenschap, Karlien Haak and Betty van der Roest tell how the NCSI (the former Dutch National Centre for Social Innovation) searches for new forms for the collective agreements. They also show what results this research has and conclude that nobody really wishes to change the content of the collective agreement, but they do wish to change the process.                          
There are several challenges for  the collective agreement, that are discussed at the NCSI, while this Centre used to be the national platform for employers’ organizations, trade unions and scientists for discussions about this kind of topics. Therefore the NCSI started many activities for the renewal of the collective labour agreement: the Cao-wasstraat (CLA car wash), a Battle of Concepts and a symposium on the future of the collective labour agreement.

Cao wasstraat (CLA car wash)
In the project ‘Cao-wasstraat’  the negotiators of the social partners involved in a process to come to a collective agreement, were coached to look for common collective goals. This is done in three sessions prior to the actual negotiations. Then they start negotiating from a shared perspective rather than from opposing interests. After the completion of one or two themes the real innovation begins, since then employers and employees have to ensure that innovative arrangements are implemented at the workplace.
The ‘CAO-wasstraat’ project in the Libraries showed that the method does not lead to refreshing the collective agreement on paper, but does refresh the negotiators. The negotiators of both employers and employee side started the negotiations in a different way, after the sessions. They succeeded in finding an agreement rapidly.
One of the characteristics of the new collective agreement was that there were left out many items where there used to be agreements on, thus leaving room for employers and employees to discuss these themselves. The role of the employers association changes into consultation.

Battle of Concepts
Through a ‘Battle of Concepts’ students and young professionals were asked for their opinion on what should be agreed upon in the collective agreement of the future and how the collective labour agreement should be established. It showed that there is support for the future of collective agreements, also for pension and insurance issues for example. The respondents plea for more room for individual choices. According to them, especially the process of the collective bargaining had to be renewed: more use should be made of social media and a visualization of collective themes should be presented in order to give employees a voice in the process. The representatives of the Trade Unions become experts on terms of employment and get the task to organize and direct the process of the bargaining. 

Symposium on the collective labour agreement of the future
At the symposium on the future of the collective labour agreement, the first prize for this Battle awarded to Marieke van Essen. Among other things she proposes, to start an online platform to combine various information streams. She wants to realize this platform in stages, in which the platform is used and at the same  time the parties meet each other physically. The jury found, the idea of joint working groups in particular renewing. The winner of the second prize, Sander Kruitwagen, proposed a good way of presenting the collective labour agreement. He used a metaphor: the ‘round of five’.

The projects show that in the future certainly there is room for a collective labour agreement. Social partners are challenged to define their new role and act. They have to involve in the agreement the terms of employment of temporary workers, detached workers, and freelancers. That is more difficult in branches where parties are not so cooperative, where trust is not always obvious, and employees are less likely to invest proactively in their own careers. However, precisely in these sectors, there is need to invest in the renewal of the collective bargaining process.

Haak, Karlien, Roest, Betty van der.  Cao van de toekomst, Wasbeurt voor onderhandelaars (The collective labour agreement of the future. Refreshing the negotiators) in Zeggenschap, September 2010. (See attachement).