News - February 12, 2015

Unions furious about renewal of CAO

Rob Ramaker

Relations between DLO and the trade unions have deteriorated further because of a disagreement about the renewal of the old collective labour agreement (CAO) for DLO employees.

The unions are angry that DLO has registered a renewal of the old CAO with the Ministry of Social Affairs without their consent. However, DLO believes that it is within its rights. Meanwhile negotiations for a new CAO are still at a standstill. The unions and DLO have been struggling to reach an agreement on a new CAO for almost two years now. In the meantime, the old CAO has been renewed four times by mutual consent. But last December the unions walked out of the negotiations in order to take industrial action. Despite this, DLO notified the Ministry of Social Affairs that it would be renewing the CAO anyway. The unions were furious and registered a protest. DLO argues that while the old CAO may have expired automatically in April 2013, the most recent CAO renewal up to 1 January 2015 does not specify that it too expires automatically. As the unions have not explicitly cancelled the agreement, DLO registered an extension up to 1 July with the Ministry.

A remarkable move, says Harry van Drongelen, associate professor of Labour Law at Tilburg University. ‘This is the first time I’ve heard of this.’ He says a party can never unilaterally renew a CAO. ‘That would mean the other party would be bound by agreements they never consented to.’ CAOs also have to explicitly specify when cancellation is required, says Van Drongelen. Otherwise they expire on the termination date. The ministry has now asked for clarification. According to a spokesperson, the renewal of the CAO is invalid in the case of ‘wrongful registration’ — that is, without the consent of the trade unions. That will not have any immediate consequences as many agreements ‘carry on’ but it does mean that any new CAO can be declared retrospectively binding with effect from 1 January 2015.

The termination of the CAO can also be used by the unions to put pressure on DLO. Or as Rob van Baalen, chief negotiator on behalf of FNV Government, puts it: ‘No CAO for us, no CAO for them.’ DLO in turn calls the unions’ protest a ‘pinprick’. The dispute shows what little prospect there is of an agreement being reached soon. The unions have no intention of accepting the wage offer of 1.9 percent while DLO thinks it has made an attractive offer.