The collective labor agreement in the architectural sector is the result of a negotiation between the BNA, which represents the employers, and the trade unions FNV, CNV and De Unie, which represent the employees. When the trade association and the unions represent more than sixty percent of the architect employees, the collective labor agreement can be declared generally binding by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW). Then architectural firms with their own employees are legally obliged to follow the collective labor agreement. In recent decades it has always been possible to declare the collective labor agreement generally binding. But if the BNA agencies together fall below sixty percent, and that is now likely to happen, then that legal validity will lapse.
In the podcast, architect Oana Bogdan (&bogdan) says that the fees in Belgium are about half as high as in the Netherlands. In Belgium there is no collective labor agreement that keeps wages and fees at the same level. For Wingender, that is the nightmare.
“When the BNA agencies together drop through sixty percent, and the trade association has a very thin gray area around it, then you no longer have a collective labor agreement that is generally applicable to all architectural firms,” says Wingender. “If there is a collective labor agreement, you only compete on labor costs to a very small extent. What happens in Belgium, that the market pushes it down, is stopped in the Netherlands by the collective labor agreement. The most important cost item for architectural firms are labor costs and these are more or less the same for all firms in the Netherlands. That means they compete on other factors: quality, efficiency, services provided, and so on, but not on labor costs. And most architects don’t realize that.”
“The moment that collective labor agreement disappears under this system, architectural firms will compete with each other on labor costs, because that is how the market is structured. This means that the race to the bottom, which you see in Belgium, is also unleashed in the Netherlands. The next floor below the market is simply the minimum wage […] The collective labor agreement is therefore crucial for a healthy functioning architectural market.”
“The collective labor agreement is also the only price agreement that the competition authority allows in our field. It is a very important bottom for the market. And what many architects in the Netherlands do not realize is that – if they are not a member of the BNA – they are actually withdrawing support from a well-functioning sector. If the BNA agencies together drop below sixty percent, in the long term there will no longer be a generally binding collective labor agreement.”
“When I became a member of the BNA board, I resolved not to advertise for the BNA. But in this case it is a crucial shared interest of all architects working at firms, but also of all architectural firms themselves, to keep the collective labor agreement in place. And not being a member of the BNA means that you distance yourself from that collective responsibility, with the risk that this will collapse and then the entire Dutch architectural market will collapse. As an agency, you join the BNA out of well-understood self-interest, in addition to co-responsibility for the collective.”
The entire conversation between Bogdan and Wingender about the difference in fees in Belgium and the Netherlands can be listened to on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Architectenweb.nl/podcasts.