After a week of getting up early, this Sunday I am sitting contentedly sipping a beer in my own garden. Content because this week I have been meeting lots of people ready to fight for their rights. All week long, I’ve been visiting large industrial laundries to ask workers if they are ready to campaign for a fair collective bargaining agreement. I noticed textile care workers have changed from timid employees to self-confident workers who are fed up with being considered nothing more than a production cost. Now they are ready to demand respect and decent working conditions. A fair wage increase is part of this.

The corona crisis has not left this sector unaffected. The laundry companies with clients in the care industry, such as hospitals and nursing homes, are doing well. In contrast, those providing services to the hospitality industry have been confronted with the loss of business. Employees understand and are willing to take this into account because let’s face it, no employee wants to see that a good pay rise means the end of a company and with it, his or her job. Continuity of work is a major employee interest especially in times of pandemic. That is why we, the FNV negotiators, have repeatedly offered to help employers find an acceptable solution for companies which are in trouble due to Covid-19.

We suggested making tailor-made agreements with laundry companies in difficulty on condition that they were transparent about their financial situation which, by the way, they already need to do if they want to avail of NOW support (Dutch government program to help entrepreneurs through the financial crisis). That is where it seems to go wrong. Employers do not want to share hard evidence of their financial situation with the unions. While this is perhaps understandable from an employer’s perspective, as a trade union official, it strikes me as scandalous. Employers who are doing well despite the crisis are hiding behind those employers who are doing badly. They are playing hide and seek to avoid paying their employees a decent wage. Without any hesitation, they are holding out a beggar’s cup for financial aid at the cost of their taxpaying employees. In addition, they are refusing them wage increases. Not only that, they are also refusing to discuss a heavy labour agreement.

The employers have chosen to be irremovable. The movement must therefore come from the employees and it will, because they are justifiably angry. The lowest wage in their CBA’s salary structure was already 1 cent below the Dutch minimum wage in 2020. Currently, employees in this sector are crucial. Without these workers, there would be no clean sheets on hospital beds in the ICU’s. Without them, there would be no clean uniforms for nurses. Without them, there would be no clean cloth for residents in nursing homes. When the hospitality industry reopens, there will be no clean towels or fresh table linen. There will be no clean doormats or no clean sanitary bins in ladies’ toilets either. When the hospitality industry opens, the workers in the textile care sector will be on strike. This is because there is not enough solidarity amongst the companies in textile care, and because laundry companies specialized in the hospitality industry would rather go broke than provide proof of their financial situation in order to get CBA support.

Yolanda Reus, Union Official FNV Textile Care

Contact: Andrea Husen-Bradley (press and communication), Erlend Hansen (policy adviser)