The crumbling of the poldermodel: The end of Dutch corporatism?

Maarten Keune, University of Amsterdam
Paul de Beer, University of Amsterdam

The poldermodel has long been considered a proper way to create societal support for common policies and to minimize conflict in society. In the 1990s it was also heralded for its contribution to a successful economy, characterized by a balance between economic and social outcomes (Visser and Hemerijck 1997).

Today we see that we still have the polder institutions in place. The Socioeconomic Council and the Labour Foundation are active and collective agreements continue to cover some 80% of employees. At the same time, in line with Streeck and Thelen's (2005) work on gradual institutional change, slowly but surely changes have taken place in the actual functioning of these institutions and the outcomes they produce. The power balance between employers and workers has shifted in favour of the former, strengthening their position in collective bargaining and increasing their discretion over all aspects of work and the labour market (Baccaro and Howell 2017). Employers are less and less willing to not only pursue their own interests but also take those of the other side and of society at large into account, and to reach compromises. Collective bargaining has become more conflictive and difficult and moreand more collective agreements are concluded without the largest trade union. Also, the influence of the Socioeconomic Council and the Labour Foundation on government socioeconomic policies has been declining while these policies allign more with the interests of employers than of workers and their unions.

These changes in power and the functioning of institutions have resulted in, among others, long-term wage moderation and a decline of the share of income for workers; a gradual demise of the permanent contract and increase flexibility and insecurity in the labour market; and the growing insecurity of occupational pensions. Workers more and more bear the risks of the economy and the labour markets to the favour of employers and shareholders.

In this paper we discuss these processes and their causes in detail and argue that in the long run, they threaten to erode the foundations of the poldermodel as well as the relative equality of Dutch society.