Reinier Castelein: 'Finally meeting each other again, we are so looking forward to it'
The end of an eventful year is in sight. The corona measures were barely over when war suddenly raged on our continent – with a major impact on our economy. Terms such as inflation, energy poverty and purchasing power also dominate the conversations De Unie at the collective bargaining table. Chairman Reinier Castelein: 'That will remain for a while. Wages are rising here and there, but so are costs. As a result, the security of expenditure remains under pressure. But on the other hand: next year we will finally be able to meet our members again unimpeded. I'm really looking forward to that.'
Collective bargaining agenda drastically different
'At the beginning of 2022, our consultations with employers were relatively calm', Reinier begins. 'We discussed themes such as hybrid working: what should our return to the office look like, and what agreements should we make about this? That changed dramatically when war broke out in Ukraine. The EU in Brussels and the cabinet in The Hague have made policy choices that have plunged the country into a rollercoaster of successive crises.
Since then we talk about completely different topics. I am referring in particular to inflation and energy prices, which have the most influence on the household budget – although social challenges such as the housing crisis, the health care infarction and climate ambitions also play a major role. Long story short: the difference between negotiations at the beginning of the year and now could hardly be greater.'
Unprecedented dissatisfaction, also on the work floor
'The country is divided about the boycott against the Russians, or what should be done with regard to education, climate, defense and the slavery past. One thing is certain: the climate in society is becoming sour. It is no longer news that the cabinet is now less popular than the first Rutte cabinets. What should be news is that more and more people are queuing at the food bank, that energy poverty is emerging and that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with employers who do not do enough.'
'De Unie has unsubscribed more members than enrolled for years. In 2022 it was the other way around, for the first time in about 15 years: we said goodbye to members, but were able to welcome more. The dissatisfaction in society finds its way to the workplace, and then to the trade unions. I'm glad folks De Unie to find again. Those new members certainly influence our story and our position at every consultation table.'
Expenses on the agenda
In politics and the media it is often about purchasing power and income security. But at De Unie we are also talking about security of expenditure. 'In that case you don't just look at income, but you also take into account the rising fixed costs, such as the energy bill and groceries. How much is really left to spend? The past few months have shown that this is necessary – De Unie started doing this in 2019. And from us biennial research in collaboration with InnerVoice turns out to be an important point of attention. So it is at the top of our agenda when talking to employers. Also in 2023: you can already see that, for example, the childcare allowance does not grow enough with the costs. The measures taken by the cabinet appear to be insufficient.'
Back to normal
'Not everything about 2023 will be bar and angry. Yes, there are a lot of concerns. But on the other hand - if all goes well - we finally no longer have to take corona measures into account. Our doors are opening wide, we can finally welcome and meet our members again. We look at that De Unie all very much looking forward to it. We have not hosted any member events since Spring 2020. A little more was already possible last summer, when we started catching up on missed jubilee celebrations. In good cooperation with our Circle Boards. In any case, we will continue with that next year.'
'But we also hope to organize larger gatherings again. For example, next year will be partly dominated by the new pension law. When the pension agreement was concluded, we organized an information afternoon with the VCP, at our place in Culemborg. We want to do that again this year, because the elaboration that the government seems to be choosing may well be questionable. The provincial elections will change the composition of the Senate. This makes it exciting whether the pension law will pass. If the law passes, a lot will change. If it doesn't happen, there will be consequences. We need to talk about that with each other. Hopefully with a room full of members. I missed that a lot. Of course we have continued to run functionally in recent years. But the social side of our association is so important. I'm really looking forward to shaking hands with our members again.'