Borstlap's plan deserves a chance, even if we all pay a price

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“Wouldn't that be wonderful: a society where everyone has equal opportunity to climb the social ladder? Note that I'm not talking about equality of income – that's a potential result of equality of opportunity, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, the Netherlands has scored relatively high on income equality for years, not due to communism, but thanks to the way we redistribute wealth through our tax system. Opinions differ on whether more or less equality of income would be desirable, but equality of opportunity is clearly a good thing, right?

Politicians who try to dismiss this chance to create a truly more inclusive society, who entrench themselves in opposition with the same arguments they've used for a hundred years, are not properly looking after the people in this country. Sandra Phlippen Chief Economist ABN AMRO

Yet, somehow, we rarely see any tangible plans or attempts to take our society in that direction. It's all just idle talk – until now.

On 23 January , a report about exactly that ambition was released: the advisory report of the Borstlap Committee about the future of work. For 18 months, every Friday a team of economists, lawyers, and other big thinkers put aside their day jobs so they could discuss this plan for hours upon hours. They went through a staggering volume of articles and background material to make sure they weren't incorrectly estimating anything. And now it's finished: a potential blueprint for the future of our work. Borstlap has delivered the goods.

In a nutshell, Borstlap's plan maps what is needed to achieve a fairer distribution of risks and opportunities for people trying to earn a secure and adequate income. Because right now, out of all Dutch demographics, the most vulnerable people are the ones who face the greatest risks of redundancy, illness, or uncertain and irregular incomes. They are part of the non-permanent workforce. At the same time, the less vulnerable – i.e. the highly educated, highly experienced and members of the dominant ethnic group – enjoy an exceptional degree of economic and legal security. We are the country where the social gap between these two groups is the most extreme.

The Borstlap Committee puts some tough proposals on the table. Carrying out the plan would mean us all paying a price: those with permanent contracts would lose some securities, self-employed entrepreneurs have to forgo their tax benefits, and employers have to pay quite a bit more for their flexible workers.

The left is unimpressed. In the words of Lodewijk Asscher, leader of the socialist party PvdA: “This doesn’t put an end to non-permanent jobs, it makes everybody’s job non-permanent.” Dutch national newspaper NRC headlined that “Permanent contracts should become the standard again.” This same paper had an interview with Borstlap himself, who stated: “We are not properly looking after the people in this country.” The thing is that permanent contracts can only become the standard again if we loosen them up. That takes trust. Yes, if recession hits, your contract might be reduced to fewer hours – but on the flip side, the risk that you get laid off is much, much lower. Borstlap is absolutely right. Politicians who try to dismiss this chance to create a truly more inclusive society, who entrench themselves in opposition with the same arguments they've used for a hundred years, are not properly looking after the people in this country. We deserve better.

Every week, Sandra writes a newspaper column for daily newspaper AD (in Dutch only), which can also be read here.

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