'Integrating Service User Workforce Involvement in the Netherlands'

Integrating service user & workforce involvement in public services,
exploring the connections
30th January 2015, Brussels
Wouter Prins, policy advisor of CNV Onderwijs, education sector, the Netherlands
The last important demonstration we have organized was not because we demanded higher
salaries or better pensions. Over 50.000 workers in education demonstrated to express their
concern about government policy. New plans that threaten the quality of education.
The members of my union, and the workers in Dutch education in general, believe that good
working conditions are as important as the quality of education. For some of them the
quality of education is even more important. Within reason of course.
People expect us to take care of the collective bargaining on national and sectoral level. But
they also want us to look after their interests in education through political lobby. They ask
us to stand for the quality of education.
It will come as no surprise that workers in education also want to be involved in the
discussions about the quality of education in their own school. Quality of education is what
they do, that’s their expertise. For some it’s even more than a profession. It’s a calling, a
vocation, a mission. You will probably see the same phenomenon in Health Care.
And because of this involvement, they want a formal and an informal role in the decisionmaking process at school about the quality of education and the way that it is organized.
The importance of users is obvious and undisputed. In secondary education the users are
students, but in particular their parents.
Since both workers and users have an important interest in the quality of education, Dutch
legislation requires that the so called Works Council is a joint committee in which
participate workers and users. Both users and workers have legal rights including the right to
information, advice, consultation, as well as the right of approval on school policies and
specific user issues. And we are convinced that is a good thing for both groups, and for the
quality of education.
Professional involvement and expertise isn’t the only reason for these joint forces. A school
is not just another firm or company. The relationship between students, their parents and
the school is totally different from the relationship between companies and their
customers. The relationship between students, their parents and the school lasts several
years. It is also a very intense relationship, because it is about the future of our children.
We strongly believe that parents and school are partners. Partners in education. They share
the same goals, the same interest: the children. There is a joint responsibility.
Complementary, but from different angles.
Of course these different angles can and will lead to different interests t to some extent. But
both workers and parents should be able to convince each other as long as everyone
recognizes the common goal, interest and responsibility.
Besides: you cannot ignore the connection between working conditions and quality of
education. One affects the other. Separation of these topics is not natural, not logical and
not functional. So we consider the traditional workers interests and the interests of the users
as we say in the Netherlands: two sides of the same coin. Different topics, same thing.
Apart from workers involvement in quality of education and shared interests throug schoolparent partnership, there are a few additional advantages of these joint forces. Parents bring
to school their own skills, knowledge, experience and expertise. These extra qualities
improve the quality of the advices, opinions etc of the joint council. Besides, parents are
relatively independent, at least more independent than the workers. It’s no coincidence that
in most councils the chosen chairman is a parent.
What trends do we see?
When I came home as a child with poor school results, my parents were angry with me.
Now a day, when children come home with poor school results, parents are angry with their
Users became more and more clients, customers. Together became more and more us- andthem. And workers and users tend to react accordingly.
There are several reasons for this change. We have no time to discuss them now.
But this change is not good. Not for the users and not for the workers.
So what can we do?
Don’t try to separate what belongs together
Restore and strengthen the partnership
Invest in mutual understanding
Improve the communication
Recognize the importance of joint action
Maintain the legal joint involvement.