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Boss has to fill the shelves

19 December 2006 – About 80,000 workers are doomed to work for temp agencies for the rest of their lives. Flexmens and trade unions want to organise these workers, they said last night at a Broeinest meeting.

Flexmens’ Willem Dekker works at a C1000 supermarket in Amsterdam. During the past three years, he has seen about 200 colleagues come and go. “Maybe that has something to do with the temperament of the head cashier, the boss’ daughter”, Dekker said. “But that surely is not the only reason”.

Supermarket workers have little opportunity to fight for their rights. “Collective action requires that workers know and trust each other”, Dekker said. However, because of high turnover, colleagues hardly know each others’ names.

Flexworkers do have the option to quit. A Moroccan worker and his nephews decided not to turn up for work after a fight with the boss. Because the boss could not find replacement at the last moment, he had to fill the shelves himself. “That is something we talk about for a week”.

At the meeting, a documentary about agency work produced by the Reageerbuis collective was shown. In the eyes of your colleagues, you are always an agency worker, someone said. Because you work there only temporarily, they will not be inclined to give you responsibility. That way, you remain something of an odd-job man.

There are 220 to 240,000 agency workers in the Netherlands. For the well-educated, agency work is often a stepping stone to permanent employment. However, this is much less the case for the low-educated. About one in three is more or less doomed to do agency work forever. They always lose their jobs just before the moment when they would be entitled to a fixed contract.

Marcel Nuyten and Han Westerhof, who negotiate collective agreements for agency workers on behalf of the FNV Bondgenoten trade union, said there may be a conflict of interest between agency workers and people with permanent jobs. Not many agency workers are members of the trade union, which implies that union policy is decided by people with permanent employment.

Nuyten indicated that organising agency workers must have the highest priority. He would like to collaborate with other organisations. Organising methods that have proven successful in the USA, the UK and Australia might also be adopted. One of the participants suggested to open worker centres in the neighbourhood where all the temp agencies are.

In the second half of January, Broeinest will organise a follow-up meeting to discuss strategies to organise agency workers.

Background: Broeinest


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