The Netherlands is home to one and a half million self-employed people, or zzp’ers (zelfstandige zonder personeel, i.e. a self-employed person who works alone). A survey conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) found that more than 30 percent of those who are self-employed want to increase their working hours. In the second to fourth quarter of 2020, an average of 32 percent of those self-employed working less than 20 hours per week wanted to work more hours. In the same quarters in 2019, this was only 25 percent. For part-timers who worked 20 to 35 hours, these figures were 20 percent for 2020 and 17 percent for 2019.
Considering the recent economic disruptions due to the global pandemic, it is clear that this group of people is one of the most vulnerable. Last year, approximately 895,000 self-employed people worked full time, a decrease of 44,000 compared to the same period in the previous year. According Het Parool, ‘self-employed people receive fewer assignments … One in three self-employed persons now works less than 20 hours a week’. Especially people working in creative, linguistic, technical, and administrative professions need more work assignments and thus more hours. People who were previously self-employed in the entertainment industry now have fewer contact hours and income opportunities.
The self-employed have experienced widespread income losses during the crisis. This has caused financial distress, doubled by uncertainty over future business projects, within the midst of the pandemic. The various government support schemes were inadequate to address the worries of this group. Most importantly, the government only supplemented the income of self-employed people up to the level of the standard unemployment benefit, about 1500 euros per month; and those whose partners are still in work, get nothing at all. For example, a self-employed person who previously earned 8000 euros a month, and whose partner makes 3000, now receives nothing. Obviously, for self-employed people with mortgages, this is a disastrous reduction in income. It’s also not fair in comparison with people who are in employment, since they still receive 85% of their wage through the NOW scheme.
CBS spokesman Peter Hein van Mulligen stated that ‘salaried employees may also have less work, but self-employed people notice this immediately and much more intensely’, as the latter need to provide a service to receive an income. Even in normal times, self-employed individuals have less entitlement to social services as compared to other workers and they are at risk of receiving little to no unemployment benefits. Therefore, their livelihoods depend on the income they actively bring into their household.
With fewer hours of work and more constraints on jobseeking during the pandemic, it is clear this issue needs to be addressed with immediate effect. Last year, a committee on the regulation of work, the Borstlap Committee, advised the cabinet to give more security to flexible workers and less to employees with permanent contracts. According to the committee, there is a vast difference in rights enjoyed by individuals who are employees, as compared with flex workers and freelancers. The labour laws and taxation systems must be changed to reduce these differences. The Borstlap Committee stated that if these unjust differences are not addressed, the long-term prosperity for the self-employed will be negatively affected, especially considering the economic effects of the global pandemic.
Written by Nicole Kerr