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Trade Unions

A fifth of employees (18%) are union members in the Netherlands, and the proportion has been gradually falling in recent years. There are two main confederations, the FNV – the larger of the two – and the CNV, with a third smaller organisation, the VCP primarily representing more senior and professional staff.

Figures published by the Netherlands statistical office (CBS), using statistics provided by the unions, indicate that there were 1,601,500 trade unionists in the Netherlands in 2019.[1] However, 281,100 (17.6% of the total) are older than 65, and the total not working is probably higher. Separate CBS statistics based on National Survey of Working Conditions (NEA) found that 18.4% of employees were union members in 2018.[2] This figure is higher than the ICTWSS database of union membership, which put union density at 16.4% in 2018.[3]


The largest trade union confederation in the Netherlands is the FNV, which had 1,014,100 members in 2019.[4] The other main union confederation, the CNV, is considerably smaller with 235,700. Both the FNV and the CNV organise manual and non-manual workers.[5]


The FNV and CNV trace their roots back to organisations with a clear religious or political orientation. The FNV emerged from the merger of the socialist and the catholic union federations in 1975; the CNV still describes itself as a Christian union and comes from a tradition of Protestant trade unionism. The third major union grouping is the VCP (formerly MHP), which was set up in 1974 to represent senior staff facing increasing pressure at the workplace. It has 163,500 members.


These three union groupings are all represented in the major tripartite body, the Social Na Economic Council (SER), where they sit with representatives of the employers and the government.


There are also a number of smaller unions, often representing specific occupational groups, which together have a total of 188,200 members. The largest of these is the Ambtenarencentrum (AC), which has around 60,000 members[6] and is a confederation of primarily public sector unions, one of the most important of which is the FBZ, which itself is a federation of specialist health service union with a total of 36,000 members.[7] Other smaller unions which have been involved in some collective agreements are the LBV, which argues for a “good, fair and appropriate income for everyone”, and the AVV, which presents itself as alternative to traditional trade unionism and states that it aims to involve non-union members in decisions on collective agreements.   


In January 2015, following a major discussion and a series of decisions in individual union congresses, five, previously separate, FNV affiliates, including the three largest, merged into a single union. The remaining12 FNV affiliates remained outside this single union structure but continued to be affiliated as before. The current position, as the FNV reported in September 2019, is that the single union accounts for just over 800,000 of FNV’s membership, while the independent affiliates make up just under 200,000.[8] There are now13 independent affiliates, most covering specific occupations such as journalists, the police military personnel and professional footballers. The largest independent affiliate is the teachers’ union AOb, which has around 85,000 members (2017).[9]  


The CNV lists eight affiliates, including a separate youth union. However, four of them in the public sector, covering education, care and welfare, government and public services(including some which have been privatised) are grouped together as CNV Connectief, with around 120,000 members, while most private sector employees are in CNV Vakmensen with around 135,000 members.[10]  


The third union grouping, VCP, has more than 50 individual union organisations linked to it, although 37 are affiliated indirectly through the union federation CMHF, and another 15 are part of another union grouping UOV.[11] CMHF affiliates include a number of unions representing managers and more senior staff in central and local government and state institutions, as well as NU’91, a specialist nurses’ union with around 30,000 members.[12] The direct affiliates of VCP include the police union ACP, which was previously an affiliate of the CNV but left in 2012, the pilots’ union, VNV, and VHKP, a union representing senior staff at the airline company KLM, as well as Unie, a union which organises across a wide range of industries and services, and ANBO, a pensioners’ union, although increasing numbers also work.


The VCP gained a significant boost in 2017, when Unie, UOV and ANBO joined it in June.[13] Unie had previously been part of MHP, VCP’s predecessor organisation, but left it in 2013. ANBO had previously been part of the FNV, which it also left in 2013.


Neither the FNV nor the CNV has formal ties with any political parties although the FNV is closer to the Dutch labour party PvdA, and the CNV to the Christian democrats. The VCP emphasises that it is a body without religious or political connections.


The proportion of employees organised in unions appeared to have stabilised in recent years, although it is well below the levels of the period 1950 to 1980 when it was above 35%. It fell steadily over the period 2001 to 2011, dropping from 24% to 20% according to a study by the statistical office CBS in 2013.[14] However, a more recent study by the CBS in 2018, noted that union density was broadly stable in the period 2012 to 2016, at 19%.[15] This is despite the fact that this study, unlike the earlier one, included employees working fewer than 12 hours a week, who are much less likely to be union members. Only 6% of employers working fewer than 12 hours a week are in unions, compared with 19% of those who work 12 to 35 hours a week and 22% for those who are full-time.


It is unclear whether this more positive picture for unions has continued. The most recent membership figures – for 2019 – show 100,000 or 6% drop in total union membership – down from 1,702,700 in 2017 to 1,601,500 in 2019 – at a time when the number of employees in the Netherlands increased by 2.1% – from 7,829,000 to 7,994,000.[16]


The 2018 CBS study shows that men are more likely to be in unions than women – 22% of men who are employees are union members but only 17% of women. Of the 1,601,500 union members in 2019, 983,500 were men and 617,900 were women. The 2018 study did not publish figures on union density by industry, but it is unlikely that much has changed in this respect since the 2013 study which found that union density was highest in public administration, at 34%, and lowest in hotels and catering, at 7%.

[1] Statline Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek  http://statline.cbs.nl/StatWeb/publication/?DM=SLNL&PA=80598NED&D1=a&D2=a&D3=0&D4=a&D5=a&VW=T (Accessed 06.05.2020)

[2] Vakbondsleden onder werknemers naar regio, 2018 CBS, 28 October 2019 Nationale Enquête Arbeidsomstandigheden

https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/maatwerk/2019/44/vakbondsleden-onder-werknemers-naar-regio-2018 (Accessed 06.05.2020)

[3] Jelle Visser, ICTWSS Data base. Version 6.1. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies AIAS. October 2019

[4] Membership figures for FNV, CNV, VCP and the total of other unions taken from the CBS statistics for 2019 quoted above

[5] For a detailed examination of unions in the Netherlands, see Dutch unions in a time of crisis by Paul de Beer and Maarten Keune, in Rough waters: European trade unions in a time of crises, edited by Steffen Lehndorff, Heiner Dribbusch and Thorsten Schulten, ETUI, 2018

[6] Welke vakbonden zijn er voor de rijksoverheid? Ambtenarensalaris.nl https://ambtenarensalaris.nl/kennisbank/rijksoverheid/vakbonden-rijksoverheid/ (Accessed 06.05.2020)

[7] Jaarverslag FBZ 2019 https://issuu.com/fbz4/docs/fbz-jaarverslag-2019-15-04 (Accessed 06.05.2020)

[8] Ledental nipt beneden miljoen, FNV September 2019 https://www.fnv.nl/nieuwsbericht/algemeen-nieuws/2019/09/fnv-ledental-nipt-beneden-miljoen (Accessed 06.05.2020)

[9] Ledenaantal AOb groeit fors AOb website, November 2017 https://www.aob.nl/nieuws/de-aob-groeit-fors/ (Accessed 06.05.2020)

[10] CNV websites https://www.cnvconnectief.nl/ and https://www.cnv.nl/over-cnv/bonden/cnv-vakmensen/  (Accessed 06.10.14) 

[11] VCP website https://www.vcp.nl/over-ons/aangesloten-vakbonden/ (Accessed 06.10.14) 

[12] NU’91 Jaarverslag 2017  https://www.nu91-leden.nl/upload/file/jaarverslag%20nu'91%202017.pdf (Accessed 06.05.2020)

[13]Ook De Unie, UOV en ANBO verbinden zich aan de VCP, 22 June 2017  https://www.vcp.nl/%e2%80%8book-de-unie-uov-en-anbo-verbinden-zich-aan-de-vcp/ (Accessed 06.05.2020)

[14] Vakbeweging en organisatiegraad van werknemers, by  Dick ter Steege, Esther van Groenigen, Rob Kuijpers and Jo van Cruchten, CBS, 2012 https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/onze-diensten/methoden/onderzoeksomschrijvingen/korte-onderzoeksbeschrijvingen/organisatiegraad-werknemers (Accessed 06.05.2020)

[15] Wie is er nog lid van een vakbond? By Willem Gielen and Jeanine Floris, CBS, June 2018 https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/achtergrond/2018/25/wie-is-er-nog-lid-van-een-vakbond- (Accessed 06.05.2020)   

[16] Figures for employees from Employment; economic activity, quarterly, National Accounts, 2020 CBS

L. Fulton (2021) National Industrial Relations, an update (2019-2021). Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.