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Health and Safety Representation

In the Netherlands, the works council is the key body representing employees’ interests in the area of health and safety, which it deals with alongside its many other responsibilities. It can delegate its powers to a health and safety committee but a majority of the members of this committee must also be works council members.

 

Basic approach at workplace level

 

The employer must ensure that the health and safety of employees is protected and is particularly required to operate a policy aimed at preventing or eliminating “employment-related psychosocial pressure”. There should be an active exchange of information between the employer and the employee representatives on working conditions.

 

Employee health and safety bodies

 

The key body representing employees in the area of health and safety is the works council (ondernemingsraad) or in smaller organisations the personnel delegation (personeelsvertegenwoordiging), sometimes also known as the staff representation body, where this exists. Both bodies also have a wide range of other responsibilities.

 

In addition works councils will often set up a standing committee (vaste commissie) to deal with health and safety issues. This committee is normally known as a safety, health, well-being and environment committee (Veiligheid, Gezondheid, Welzijn en Milieu Commissie – VGWM-commissie), although sometimes it does not include the environment. A majority of the members of the committee must also be members of the works council.

 

Numbers and structure

 

Works councils should be set up in all organisations employing at least 50 people and its size increases with the number employed (see table).

 

Number of employees

 

 

Number of works council members

 

 

50 to 100

 

 

5

 

 

100 to 200

 

 

7

 

 

200 to 400

 

 

9

 

 

400 to 600

 

 

11

 

 

600 to 1,000

 

 

13

 

 

1,000 to 2,000

 

 

15

 

 

With a further two members for every extra 1,000 employees, up to a maximum of 25

 

The works council, which is a purely employee body, should elect both a chair and a deputy chair.

 

A personnel delegation should be set up in organisations with between 10 and 49 employees, where the employer decides to set it up, or where a majority of employees request it.

 

The decision on setting up a health and safety committee is taken by the works council, although a majority of the committee’s members must be works council members and it is also an entirely employee body.

 

Tasks and rights

 

The employer should consult the works council or personnel delegation on issues relating to “working conditions policy” (health and safety) and its implementation. The legislation states that this should involve “an active exchange of information”. Where there is no employee representation, the employer should consult employees directly.

 

Importantly, the works council can, if it chooses, delegate all or part of its powers in the area of health and safety to the committee, which can then exercise all the rights set out below. The only exception is the power to institute legal proceedings.

 

The works council (or health and safety committee – see above) or personnel delegation has the right to have confidential discussions with health and safety inspectors when they visit the workplace, as well as to accompany them in their inspections, unless this would hinder the inspectors’ work. The works council or personnel delegation have the right to submit requests to the health and safety authorities that they should intervene and they should also be sent reports produced by the inspectors.

 

The works council or personnel delegation should also be informed by and cooperate with the employer’s own health and safety experts about measures that have been taken or are being planned to improve working conditions as well as how they are implemented. The works council or personnel delegation should also be given a copy of any advice on risks and risk assessment and the results of employees’ medical examinations provided by the company doctor, although in a form which prevents individuals being identified.

 

Specifically, the legislation provides a clear role for the works council in being informed about, and having the opportunity to express its view on, a wide range of potential hazards, including asbestos, biological agents, noise and radiation.

 

The works council’s agreement is required where the employer wishes to make changes to internal regulations relating to working conditions

 

More generally, in order to provide greater flexibility, employers and the works council can reach agreements on health and safety issues, which differ from the precise requirements of the legislation, provided there is no worsening in the level of protection.

 

Frequency of meetings

 

The works council itself decides how frequently both it and the health and safety committee – if one has been set up – will meet. However, it must also meet the employer at least twice a year to discuss the general operation of the organisation.

 

Election and term of office

 

Works council members are elected by the whole workforce on the basis of lists of nominations from the unions present in the workplace or one third of the non-union members. The term of office is normally three years, although it can be shortened to two or extended to four.

 

The personnel delegation, where it exists, is elected by a direct ballot of all employees.

 

It is up to the works council to decide whether to set up a committee to cover health and safety (it can also set up committees on other issues). This is done by a formal resolution and the works council must also inform the employer in writing of the intention to do so, as well as setting out the duties, composition, rules of procedure and powers of the committee. The works council chooses the membership of the committee and the membership ends with the term of office of the works council.

 

Resources and time off

 

The exact amount of time off for members of the works council and the health and safety committee is to be agreed with the employer, but as a minimum members of the works council and the health and safety committee are entitled to 60 hours paid time off per year, in addition to time in meetings.

 

They are also entitled to paid time off for training. Employees who are just members of the health and safety committee are entitled to three days a year; those who are just members of the works council are entitled to five days a year; and those who are on both the works council and the health and safety committee are entitled to eight days a year. The Works Council Act contains provisions for an employer levy to pay for the training of works council members.

 

The employer is required to provide the facilities necessary for the works council and the health and safety committee, where this has been set up, to function. Both the works council and the health and safety committee are entitled to invite experts to their meetings and to ask the expert to provide written advice. These experts are paid by the employer, provided he or she has been informed in advance.

 

Protection against dismissal

 

Members of the works council and the health and safety committee, if it has been set up, should not be disadvantaged because of their role. Works council members and members of the health and safety committee can only be dismissed if the worker himself or herself agrees in writing, or if it has been authorised by a magistrate. This authorisation will only be given if there are serious reasons for immediate dismissal or the company, or part of it, closes. Any connection between the dismissal and works council membership makes the dismissal unlawful.

 

Key legislation

 

Act of 18 March 1999, containing provisions to improve working conditions (Working Conditions Act), as amended

 

Works Council Act 1971, as amended

 

Wet van 18 maart 1999, houdende bepalingen ter verbetering van de arbeidsomstandigheden (Arbeidsomstandighedenwet)

 

Wet op de ondernemingsraden 1971

L. Fulton (2013) Health and Safety Representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication prepared for worker-participation.eu)