Healthcare staff in hospitals receive a new collective labour agreement

After several months of negotiations, it is now final: healthcare staff in hospitals will enter a new collective labour agreement (collectieve arbeidsovereenkomst or CAO, in Dutch). This means higher salaries, decreased work pressure, a better balance between personal life and work, and other changes in working conditions.

 It is not surprising that the recent inflation has urged many workers, institutions, companies and trade unions to revise the current wages and working conditions. A series of negotiations has been conducted in different sectors to ensure the adequacy of the salaries for the current financial situation. This process took months for the healthcare sector, resulting in the new collective labour agreement. This agreement will be effective retroactively, starting from 1 February 2023.

According to the new labour agreement, healthcare workers are expected to receive up to a 15% increase in salary (7.5% in the first year of the agreement term and the rest in the second). An initiative has also been proposed to decrease work pressure, improve the balance between work and personal life, and prioritize the workers with a permanent contract when creating schedules. Those workers who are scheduled for emergency or on-call shifts will get a fixed extra payment or extra free hours. The agreement also takes steps towards making healthcare jobs more attractive for young people. An increasing number of retirements is expected in the sector in the next few years. That is why learners’ salaries will be raised by 400 euros within the next two years. In total, more than 200.000 healthcare workers in hospitals and rehabilitation centres will benefit from the new agreement.

The new agreement was reached at the beginning of April and was subsequently revised by healthcare workers’ unions and hospitals for about three weeks. As a result, more than three-quarters of union members have voted in favour of the agreement. The terms of the agreement were reached, first and foremost, with the welfare of the workers in mind. Nevertheless, even though the overall working conditions of hospital staff are expected to become more favourable than before, the trade unions will remain alert in the face of potential new challenges. The persisting high burden of a healthcare job, and the well-being of the workers must be monitored at all times, according to the trade union representatives.

The labour agreement for hospital personnel affects a higher number of workers than those in other sectors. In general, however, other sectors have also seen the tendency to increase salaries due to inflation. Twenty-four new collective labour agreements have been reached lately, and all offer an increase in salary of at least 5%. Several branches, such as cleaning and homecare, are expected to review their labour agreements soon to match the income to the rise in prices. It seems that employers are largely understanding of the requirements of the workers and unions, and often a compromise is reached.

Although hospital workers at first demanded an immediate salary increase of 10%, the reaction of the workers to the final agreement is still positive, as reflected by the fact that 75% of them voted in favour of the new agreement. They appreciate the changes in work conditions and the recognition of their hard work. They also find it important that the workers will have more say in their schedule and vacation planning. Despite some criticism of how much and how fast the salaries will increase, there seems to be an understanding that the financial investment has to remain reasonable for the hospitals. It is primarily their responsibility to decide how to allocate their budget and where to find the money for it, but hospital representatives hope to get some help from the insurance companies and the government. According to the chairman of the Dutch Association of Hospitals, hundreds of millions of euros need to be added to what the hospitals are able to cover in terms of the labour agreement. So far, these discussions are still ongoing, and more groundwork has to be done to arrange this.

Written by Anastasiia Myronenko