They want more transparency

Unions take government to court over budget for a raise

Photo: Pixabay

Education unions are currently negotiating with employers about wage increases as part of the new collective employment agreements. In light of inflation, the unions are demanding an unprecedented 14 percent pay rise.

But how much money is being made available to the educational institutions to cover wage increases? This is secret information which the government only sends to the employers – putting the unions at a disadvantage in the negotiations.

Into the open
The AOb has had enough of that. The union has been calling for transparency for some time and also wants to know what has been discussed in recent years between the employers and the ministries of Education and Finance – have the employers been standing up for their staff?

The union asked the Ministry of Education for information, but that request was turned down. So now the matter is going to court. “We want to bring the financial discussion out into the open”, says Douwe Dirk van der Zweep, member of the AOb Executive Committee.

Wages matter, he reasons. If teachers were better paid, the union believes there would be fewer shortages in primary and secondary education. “The amount available for wage increases has been subject to cuts for years”, says Van der Zweep. “We want to know exactly what is going on in the background and which considerations go into the decisions. We want to reconstruct policy and draw lessons for the future.”

Employers' role
The role of the employers is also important, he believes. “We needed the Senior Executives in the Public and Semi-Public Sector (Standards for Remuneration) Act in order to limit executive pay: they were earning too much. But have they done their best to argue the case for the people employed under the ministry?”

A majority of MPs believe this information should be public, as was demonstrated when a motion by the PvdA was adopted in 2019. D66, a member of the governing coalition, voted for the motion, whereas VVD, CDA and the Christian Union were against. But it did not directly call for publication. It only stated that the government should ask employers in the education sector to share correspondence with the unions regarding the money available for wage increases.

With great reluctance, Kajsa Ollongren, then Minister of the Interior, promised to do so. But she added that the government would tell employers “that the motion is at odds with the confidentiality of the correspondence”. She feared that openness would make negotiations more difficult.

However, the union argues that the expenditure of public money is at stake, and as such, policy should be open to scrutiny. For this reason, the AOb is invoking the Open Government Act, which in principle obliges transparency.

Some details are already known about how the government reaches decisions about the money reserved for wage increases. For example, they look at expected pay rises in the private sector (5.2 percent according to the CPB). Allowance is also made to cover increased social insurance contributions. This is known as the ‘reference system’.

But, says Van der Zweep, the government can also unilaterally increase or reduce the amount available for wage increases. For example, for years pay in education was frozen, or smaller cuts were implemented. Wages can also be allowed to rise more quickly, as was the case in primary education a few years ago.

Interestingly, this time around education employers have written the government an open letter begging for extra money. Last year inflation was 10 percent, they write, so wages should also rise by approximately that percentage.

The unions want wages to automatically increase in line with inflation in the future. “We proposed October as the benchmark month, and at that time inflation happened to be running at 14 percent”, says Van der Zweep. “But we could also choose, say, July – it makes little difference for the system. We just don’t want to systematically lose out.”

The case against the government will probably not be heard until the autumn. Moreover, if the unions win, the government will probably appeal. So it may be a while before the information becomes public – if indeed it does.

Tags: cao