Social Quality and the Policy Domain of Employment in the Netherlands

Article excerpt

1. Introduction: Flexicurity in Employment

This report seeks to answer several basic questions concerning the employment situation in the Netherlands. The focus is on flexicurity, in other words the combination of secure and flexible employment from a lifetime perspective. Ultimately, secure employment comes down to employability, to a worker's employability throughout her career, whether she works for one employer or for more than one. A single career may span many employers and many functions and jobs, according to the preferences of workers and companies. Flexibility seeks to adapt employment to the needs of the employing organisation, and thus to provide three key elements: employability for the employee; adaptive employment for the company or organisation; a system of social security enabling the employee to make the required transitions. Employability requires training and development, work of a quality to improve the skills of the employee, and a balanced combination of work, care and leisure, enabling the employee to maintain continuous participation in both work and other areas of life. From this perspective social security should not merely make work pay, it should also make transitions pay, whether these are from one job to another, one employer to another, one level of skill to another or from one combination of work and care to another. (1) Rather than funding only the mostly involuntary move from employment into unemployment, social security should contribute to the voluntary changes required to combine work and care, work and education and work and a phased transition to retirement. These, we believe, are fundamental to the integration of employment into a design of social quality.

At present, we have hardly begun to perceive, let alone institute, the many and massive changes required. Such changes demand a major reworking of social security arrangements--including their accessibility--while at the same time highlighting new divisions and nuances in the occurrence, predictability, and distribution of risks and responsibilities. In the context of the former, pensions are of particular importance, as is the introduction of new labour-market measures and forms of leave; where the latter are concerned, particular attention must be paid to the definition and financing of 'social drawing rights' (Supiot, 2000) and the ultimate responsibility for the maintenance of such rights. Here, again, pensions are central (they could be used as both funds and collateral), as is the form in which claims might be effected (such as vouchers, tax advantages, or a one-off grant) (Ackerman and Alstott, 1999) and the division of responsibilities between public, collective and private bodies (Dworkin, 2000). Such changes would require new social provision (such as childcare and new forms of leave for care and training) and new forms of social dialogue and cooperation between the interested parties, notably at local and regional levels. Lastly, they require time: for learning, experimentation and to gain force and credibility along the way.

This is a vast terrain, of which we have only begun to chart a small part. The emphasis in this paper is on the position of employees. We want to understand what employees are facing in terms of the flexibility of their employment relations and working time arrangements, how they differ in their rate and level of participation and the extent to which their careers are --or not as the case may be--supported by income and care provision. Restricted as it is, flexicurity is a new concept here in its insistence on the combination of income and care.

We shall proceed as follows: each section deals with a basic question, which will then be answered, at least insofar as the data allow. The first question relates to the development of participation and (un-) employment in the past few years (section 2). The following issue concerns employees' opportunities for regular, part-time and flexible employment relationships (section 3). …