Dutch collective labour agreements (CAO) - What do you need to know?

Do you have a new job and are you wondering if there are collective labour agreements in place? Do you want to know how many holiday days you are entitled to? Do you suspect that you are being underpaid? Are you unsure, as an employer, if you are arranging your overtime or pension properly for your employees? Is this the first time you are hiring staff and are you wondering what labour conditions are applicable? For an answer to these and other questions you can consult your collective labour agreement or, in Dutch ‘CAO’. This article will explain what you need to know as an employer or employee. 

Collective labour agreement

A new job

Individual agreements between employer and employee are usually recorded in a labour agreement. This personal contract captures information concerning the type of work that will be done, the amount of hours and the compensation for the work.
For most employees collective agreements will have been made in addition to the individual contract in the labour agreement. For example, all employees in construction, health care or the service industry have collective rights to which the employer needs to adhere. When you start a new job, it is advisable to check if there is a collective labour agreement applicable to your field and if so, to check if your contract matches these agreements. As an employer you can have agreements above the collective labour agreement requirements but never below it. 

Business sector collective labour agreement

A collective labour agreement can apply to an entire professional field. Collective labour agreements that apply to a specific field (for example education, recreation, physiotherapy or the dairy industry) are called ‘business sector collective labour agreements’. These are collective agreements that apply to various businesses within a certain industry. Such agreements are made between one or more employees or employer organizations and one or more employee organizations (or: labour unions). 

Enterprise collective labour agreement 

In addition to the business sector collective labour agreement there are also collective labour agreements that only apply to a specific company. You will only see these in large companies (such as IKEA or Shell) and these are made between one employer and one or more employee organizations. 

Universally binding agreement (AVV)

The collective labour agreement is applicable for most employees and in most cases the regulations in these agreements are binding. However, an employer is not always obligated to adhere to these regulations. Only when a universally binding agreement (or AVV in Dutch), is applied, the collective labour agreement is binding. For a universally binding agreement, both parties will need to submit a request at the minister of Social Affairs and Employment. Only when this request has been honoured, the collective labour agreement is officially binding. Then, the employer can only deviate from the agreement if he requests and receives dispensation. Nearly all business field collective labour agreements are also a universally binding agreement. 

Labour conflicts

When accepting a new job, it is advisable to check your collective labour agreement. Is there a conflict between you and your employer? Or are you wondering if your labour practices are according to code? Then, it is also advisable to check your collective labour agreement and investigate what your rights are. If that agreement has conditions that are not guaranteed in your work, you should talk to your employer or (if this had no effect) with your union or an external advisor. Pay attention though; to get the support of a labour union, you will need to be a member. As an employer you will of course make sure that you know the regulations of the collective labour agreement within your field or company and work accordingly. 

Where can I find my collective labour agreement? 

Employers are obligated to offer (new) employees their collective labour agreement for inspection. However, if you do not have it available, it is easy to find it online. To do so Google: ‘your field’, ‘collective labour agreement’ (cao), ‘year’ and ‘pdf’. For example if you search for ‘horeca’ ‘cao’ ‘2020’ ‘pdf’ your first hit will be ‘cao voor de horeca’* (collective labour agreement for service industry)*. Similarly, when you work in healthcare, searching for ‘zorg’ ‘cao’ ‘2020’ ‘pdf’ will result in the hit for the cao zorg en welzijn* (healthcare collective labour agreement)* on the website for the ministry of social affairs and employment (in Dutch), you will also find various collective labour agreements. 

No collective labour agreement

Although almost 6 out of 9 million people with a paid job fall under a collective labour agreement, for one in three people, this does not apply. Are you one of them? Then, your labour position may suffer because of this. In that case, you can choose to draft your own collective labour conditions. You can do so in collaboration with a union. The FNV, CNV and De Unie are the largest Dutch labour unions. The latter has made a video (in Dutch) about how to draft your own collective labour agreement.

Legislation and labour laws

Whether your field or company has a collective labour agreement or not, as an employer you will need to adhere to several legally established regulations, like the Law Balanced Labour (Wet Arbeid in Balans, WAB), the workplace legislation (Arbowet) and the Law Work and Security (Wet Werk en Zekerheid, WWZ). In regard to the collective labour agreement itself, the Law on Collective Labour Agreements (in Dutch) has been enforced since 1927. This law ensures that your collective labour agreement is respected by your employer. Legislation around labour law can be extraordinarily complex and is a profession in itself. When you are in a complicated labour conflict, it is often too difficult to figure out yourself what your legal standing is. Legal consultation can often be a solution in these cases. 

Further reading

On the Government website you can explore your legal rights and obligations in regard to the collective labour agreement and labour contracts. Click here (in Dutch) for more information. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment publishes an online overview of all valid collective labour agreements and universally binding agreements: you can find the enclosed entrepreneurial and business sector agreements, universally binding agreement decisions and pending universally binding agreement procedures here (in Dutch). You find more detailed information about the collective labour agreement legislation here.  


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