The Netherlands

Information provided by Older Women’s Network Netherlands (OVN-NL) and desk research 

AGE BAROMETER 2023 Employment and the situation of older people in the labour market
© Laura / Adobe Stock

Support in the labour market

The employment rate of people aged 55-64 in the Netherlands is rather high: 73.1%. In the period 2013-2022, this employment rate has increased for all age groups but especially for women aged 55-65: from 49.3% in 2013 to 63.5% in 2021 

The ageing of the population has quickly been considered in Netherlands’ policies through a changed approach towards older workers. In the past, the retention of older workers was not a priority because voluntary retirement schemes (VUT) were offered by employers and benefited older workers fiscally. With the abolition of these schemes and benefits, coupled with the increase in the statutory retirement age, employers are now challenged to keep older workers productively at work. The Policy Agenda 2020, drafted in June 2011, foresaw an improvement in the position of older workers in the labour market and led to collective agreements aimed at all stages of life, setting up for example a ‘vitality budget’ and a ‘generation pact’. Although the infrastructure for sustainable careers is still weak, the social partners and the government have set up the programme “Social Partners Together for Sustainable Employability (Sociale Partners Samen voor Duurzame Inzetbaarheid – SPDI). Within this programme, several measures support employers as well as workers of all ages, including a customised arrangement per sector, subsidies for the implementation of these programmes, the possibility of early retirement for employees who wish to do so, the possibility for employees who wish to do so to save 100 weeks of non-statutory leave without the employer having to deduct tax from it, the introduction of a scheme to support SMEs to invest in the development of sustainable employability of their employees (SLIM agreement (Subsidy agreement for learning and development in SMEs), for instance).   

In the Netherlands, as in most member countries, the unequal position of women is reflected, among other things, in the pay gap, income/pension and career opportunities, and the representation of women in management positions. To address the gender pay gap, the FNV and the Equal Reward Foundation launched an equal pay campaign in 2022 called #IkVerdienMeer (I EarnMore). The Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs also plans to introduce legislation to close the gender pay gap, which will include transparency measures, such as reporting obligations for companies with more than 250 employees and the right to information for employees. 

The CNV trade union surveyed the over-55s about their experiences in the labour market. According to the results of this study, 70% of them have difficulty finding a job. However, 75% say they are willing to invest more in their own training if asked by potential employers, while 41% are already investing in their training.  

There are financial aids to support older unemployed people. From the age of 60 or older at the time of entering unemployment benefit, older people are entitled to a minimum level of benefit based on the Income of the Older Unemployed (IOW) provision after their unemployment benefit expires. There is also IOAZ support for self-employed people aged 55 or over who have insufficient income from their businesses and need to stop or sell it189 

Recognising that almost all entrepreneurship promotion programmes are aimed at young people, organisation such as the Silver Starter organisation encourage entrepreneurial activity of older people, giving them the opportunity to lead an active life, increase employability and reduce the risks of financial vulnerability and ageism. Similarly, the over 55s platform Senior2go encourages alternative initiatives involving older workers. This platform brings older workers together to carry out a service or social project together. 

Regarding the situation when approaching the legal age of retirement, workers can find support in five different training institutes that provide courses to ease the transition to retirement. To better understand the representation and process of retirement, several studies have been carried out. The Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute also launched a major survey with older employees to better understand the process. Finally, the Leiden Academy on Vitality and Ageing is planning a study for 2023 on the transition from work to retirement from the perspective of women over 60, as today, little is known about how women in the Netherlands experience the transition from work to retirement, how they feel about continuing to work and what this means for their well-being and health. The aim of this study is to gain more insight into the wishes and ambitions of women regarding this theme. 

Age discrimination in employment  

Age discrimination in the labour market is prohibited by Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution, but also by the Equal Treatment on the Grounds of Age at Work Act (WGBL), which was adopted in December 2003 and came into force in May 2004. 

In February 2020, the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) asked 1,566 workers aged between 40 and 68 whether, and in what cases, they had experienced age discrimination in the labour market in the past five years. The results of this study clearly show that in the Netherlands the experience of age discrimination in the labour market increases with age.  It is striking that the 55-59 age group is just as often (18%) confronted with age discrimination as the 50-54 age group. This suggests that many employers see the age of 50 as a kind of anchor point. A similar effect seems to occur at age 60 (23%). It can also be assumed that the experience of age discrimination is even greater among people who are unemployed and actively looking for work,  because they are more often rejected.  

The Institute for Human Rights – College Rechten van de Mens – offers people who are discriminated against because of their age in the labour market to file complaints about age discrimination at work. The institute’s website also provides access to the existing jurisdiction in this area. The Dutch government also provides information and advice on equal treatment at work and how to avoid age discrimination during the recruitment process. The Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs (Min. SZW) is particularly active in combating age discrimination at work, by encouraging employers to hire older people through financial benefits such as contributions to salary costs. With the financial CV tool, the employer can create an overview of the financial benefits to which one is entitled, encouraging him to hire an older worker.  

In The Netherlands, 428 Dutch companies signed the Diversity Charter which is affiliated with the European Platform of Diversity Charters. In addition, the Diversity at work project of the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER), aims at stimulating diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The project actively helps companies to develop, execute and monitor their diversity plans. Knowledge from science and case examples are combined in expert reports such as the expert report ‘Diversity in recruitment and selection’, sharing best practices in the fields of diverse recruitment, inclusive management and more. 

Workplaces for all ages  

The Netherlands has adopted several good practices to ensure the health and safety of workers and guarantee sustainable employability. Among these good practices, the adoption of the Lombardy Workplace Health Promotion Network approach allows health and sustainable employability for employers and employees. This collaborative approach between employers and employees focuses on healthy work environments and encourages employees from different socio-economic backgrounds to participate in health activities, make healthy choices and develop themselves. Since 2015, special emphasis has been placed on factory workers and labourers.  

Workers giving informal care to a relative can be supported through courses to address the significant stress this situation causes. These online or paper-based courses offer relaxation exercises, help people to identify the areas in which they face specific problems in combining informal care with work and social and personal life, and offer, for example, tools for participants to learn how to say “no” or to ask for help and from whom. According to the Working Environment Act (Arbowet), the employer is obliged to implement a policy as part of the general working environment policy, which aims to prevent or limit psychosocial workload if this constitutes a risk within the organisation.  The Act requires employers to map risks and do a risk inventory and assessment. In return, the employee is obliged to take care of his or her own safety and health and that of other persons concerned to the best of his or her ability. Via the Arboportaal website, initiated by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, or the Arboplatform of the Economic and Social Council (SER), employers and employees have access to information on good working conditions, health and safety at work, sustainable employability and campaigns for insance. In particular, the Arboportaal website addresses the specific needs of older workers in relation to menopause, and workers with disabilities by providing information, exchange of experience and recommendations.   

Finally, the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER) also recommends adapting the “Work where you want” law and the “Flexible work” law to re-evaluate the legal frameworks and adapt them to flexible work, i.e. independent of place and time. Furthermore, the SER recommends reviewing legislation to adapt it to healthy and safe hybrid work, which also involves improving the digital infrastructure, skills and cyber security. 

This country assessment is part of the 2023 edition of AGE Barometer dedicated to employment, which you can download below. Find out more online here



Sarah Loriato

Policy Officer on Employment and European Parliament Liaison

Sarah is in charge of AGE’s policy activities in the fields of employment, participation and active citizenship in old age. She also monitors EU initiatives on volunteering for older people and lifelong learning. She is responsible for the Task Force dedicated to on Employment, participation and active citizenship. Sarah also coordinates AGE’s relations with the European Parliament (EP).

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