Mieke Janssen, the director of Art.1 Midden Nederland, visited the Estonian Human Rights Centre in the beginning of August. She was introduced to the Centre’s work and diversity network, and shared experiences from the Netherlands.
Art.1 MN is one of the biggest expert centres on equal opportunities, fighting discrimination and promoting diversity in the Netherlands. It employs 12 people, and will also receive three to four trainees each year. The name of the organization comes from the first article of the Dutch constitution, according to which no one should be discriminated. Mieke is an acknowledged diversity management expert who has written textbooks and tutorials for Dutch companies and business executives as well as school teachers.
“Art.1 MN is a well-known brand which we do a lot of work for, we publish printed materials and advertisements,” says Mieke. “However, the personal contacts with people and organizations are the most effective, 25% in our work. This is how trust and respect for human rights can be understood.”
The state provides money for Art. 1 MN to help businesses engage in diversity and engagement. The Netherlands joined the European Diversity Agreement in 2015, and today their local network includes about 120 companies and NGOs. Art.1 MN does not coordinate the work of the network, as the Human Rights Centre does in Estonia, but works closely with them in their own region.
Mieke became the director of Art.1 MN because she has been engaged in Human Resource Management services and advice for decades. Previous experiences gave her a good starting position, as trust created through personal communication brought many companies to join the network.
Discrimination in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, discrimination is taken seriously. For example, if a company has been convicted of discrimination, then it will no longer be able to provide state services during a period determined by a court decision. The state has also given human rights organizations the right to create a list of companies that are constantly discriminating. No one wants to get into such list and it disciplines the companies.
“Top management needs to bind itself with the diversity agreement and be active, otherwise there will not be any decisions that affect the whole organization,” Mieke emphasizes repeatedly and suggests to start with small steps. “Diversity could, by example, be started from taking in different trainees. Respecting diversity creates a team spirit and an educated person should be able to contribute to the development of the company and society, regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation.”
Mieke refers to studies, in which the difference between different cultures and ethnic groups is considerably less than differences between people with different levels of education.
“Art.1 MN has to deal with age discrimination more and more, it’s difficult to find a job for people who are over 45 years old,” says Mieke. “Language skills are not a problem in the Netherlands, migrants from second and third generation all have a good command of the state language. However, there is a discriminatory attitude in recruitment towards people with Arabic family names, in which the name and religion can become an obstacle. Although the labour market needs are high, the recruiters, due to their conscious or unconscious stereotypes, can remain without a competent and motivated workforce.”
Art.1 MN focuses only on discrimination in the labour market, but it also deals with helping minority groups, working with refugee and disabled people organizations. There is also a problem with the return to work of young mothers because there are still too few women at the management level. 43% of women experienced workplace discrimination during pregnancy or after returning from parental leave. The most common practice is that new mothers are not allowed to return to their former job and have to continue with lower wages and positions.
In the Netherlands, men receive parental leave for only 4 days, women for 16 weeks. However, childcare in the Netherlands is very expensive and therefore, young people need grandparents to help with childcare for their children.
“Older unemployed people have their own organizations and they are also a priority for trade unions. We help with legal issues and advise. We try to convince employers to look at people’s skills, qualifications and education, not a different cultural background or age.”
When older people are out of work, they will receive 70% of their former income during job searches for a maximum period of two years. After that, only social benefits of around EUR 800-1000 per month will remain. In Estonia it would be a fair amount, but it’s very small compared to the living costs in the Netherlands. According to Mieke, in the Dutch state sector there is a regular wage increase every year. In private companies one has to negotiate about the salary every year and there is no regularity. Free associations are collective agreements, but there are also no annual salary increases.
Next year, Mieke will be advised to retire – not because of the law, but in the Netherlands, it is common practice to make room for young people. At the moment, however, negotiations are ongoing on the continuation, as Mieke’s knowledge and energy could still earn others a long time.
“Us and them”
According to Mieke, in the last five years, segregation in society has increased. In the past, the differences were normal and natural, more accepted. Then, however, populism raised head and the language of confrontation, “us and them”, started spreading. Such a straightforward concept is easy to understand, but it raises a lot of problems and does not solve any of them.
“Art. 1MN does not wipe problems under the carpet, of course there are cases where a crime has been committed by a refugee or a person of different cultural backgrounds,” explains Mieke, ”there are criminals in every ethnic group, also among Dutch people.. It is the state’s, every employer’s and our responsibility how to educate people from different traditions and cultures.”
However, there are also opposite and very positive examples. One Dutch cleaning company organizes an integration dinner every year, which takes place in about 20 cities, some of which is also supported by the municipality. In this way meeting and talking with each other, the understanding of one another’s world is the most sure way to live together in peace.
“Society is aging, we lack workforce, and it stimulates migration. Simply put, we need people and we need to integrate them into society,” says Mieke. “It’s not about low-paid simple work – for example, the IT sector needs highly educated people, and innovation comes from diversity.
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