Netherlands: Society’s Dignity Going down the Drain (?)

Netherlands: Society’s Dignity Going down the Drain (?)

ENIL has been made aware of worrying developments in the Netherlands, whereby disabled people will in some cases be paid below the minimum wage. In this article, Frieda Dijkhof provides more information about the situation in her country.

Yesterday, I was cycling home from the train station, having just returned from a trip to our capital, Amsterdam. While a refreshing spring wind caused my hair to do this wild ‘happy to be almost home’ dance around my head, my mind was carried to an imaginary scene in which I would take the same train, only this time I had run into the Dutch State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment.

We would sit next to each other, as two equals. I would greet her politely. I would ask her two things: “Which of us has more of a right to earn the minimum wage and to build up our pension?” and “Which of our disabilities should allow employers to ask us take an economic productivity test – my visual impairment, or your (figurative) short sightedness?”

The scene described above will probably remain mere imagination. However, the questions refer to a looming harsh reality in the Netherlands.

On 23rd March 2018, the State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment, Tamara van Ark (VVD, People’s Party of Freedom and Democracy), sent the legislative chambers a draft piece of legislation, which is to be proposed formally this autumn. This legislation would allow employers to request prospective disabled employees to take a productivity test. On the basis of the results, they would be able to pay a disabled worker less than the official minimum wage. If this test points out that someone’s ‘wage value’ is, for example, 50% of ‘the average productivity’, the employee’s wage may be supplemented by social benefit allowances from the municipalities. However, this supplement will depend on the number of the hours worked and fall within a range between jobseekers allowance and the ‘full’ minimum wage.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, wages will not be supplemented when the employee: 1) has savings (meaning that, under this law, disabled employees will not be able to save money), or 2) lives in a household in which at least one person earns the (actual) minimum wage. It follows, therefore, that many disabled people would not receive this supplement.

Furthermore, by paying disabled employees less than the minimum wage, employers will not pay social contributions, meaning these disabled people will lose their right to receive unemployment benefits and a pension in the future.

Although the State Secretary’s proposal is meant to ensure more jobs for disabled people, it is completely unacceptable and undesirable. Besides the damage it would cause to the values, norms and culture we claim to hold high in our Dutch, European, Western and/or international society, the proposed legislation clearly rages against fundamental national and international human rights treaties, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, especially regarding equality and non-discrimination. It threatens the social, economic, financial, as well as the legal position of people with disabilities.

How do we, as a society, want to treat one another? Together, as a (European) community, we can stop this political blunder from further developing into finalized legislation. We all, ‘disabled’ or not, can contribute and prevent this proposal from turning into reality.

To sign the petition against the controversial draft law, please go to: https://petities.nl/petitions/wij-staan-op-gelijke-kansen-op-de-arbeidsmarkt?locale=nl

Please share using the hashtag: #wijstaanop

1 Comment

W. Kirt Toombs

April 27, 2018, 5:51 pm

Thank you for sharing this well-written account of important and alarming information. This draft law would be counter to the philosophy of our global independent living movement. Since this draft law does not appear to align with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), I am hopeful those in the legislative chambers will ensure it does not become finalized legislation. This law would not be a step forward in promoting equality!

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