In 2022, the solo self-employment rate in the Netherlands was approximately 12.3% of the working population (15-74), a share slightly above the European Union average (9.6%). Solo self-employed workers accounted for about 10.1% and 14.3% of the working population of women and men respectively, and they were almost 74.6% of the total self-employed. In the period 2007-2022, there was a sharp rise in the number of self-employed without employees of approximately 54.5%. Such growth was mainly due to the increase of women, migrant, and late-career solo self-employed workers. The expansion of solo self-employment has involved mainly high skilled professionals and technicians, and service and sales workers. Estimates show that almost 6.4% of the solo-self-employed can be classified as economically dependent (i.e. self-employed workers who work mainly for one client and do not decide their working hours), a share slightly above the European Union average (5.7%).
In the Netherlands, labour law is founded on a binary approach. Dependent work is performed for the employer under their direction, while self-employed workers are considered to be entrepreneurs. Solo self-employed workers are labelled as freelancers, or more properly ZZP (Zelfstandige Zonder Personeel: self-employed without personnel). They have to work for multiple clients and at their own expense and risk. A self-employed worker in the Netherlands can perform a job by means of a contract for service or a contract of work. A contract of work is defined as an agreement whereby one party agrees to deliver an opus perfectum. By means of a contract for service, work is performed out of the scheme of a contract of work. The self-employed are entitled to a reasonable remuneration (Art. 7:405). They are not entitled to the timely payment thereof nor payment in case of illness. Insurance for sickness and disability is voluntary for self-employed workers. They lack protection against dismissal, and they are expected to arrange their own social security provisions, including pensions. Art. 7:610 (section 7.10.1) of the Dutch Civil Code contains a definition of ‘employment agreement’ and the law features a presumption of the existence of an employment agreement when the work is performed for “three consecutive months and this weekly or for at least twenty hours per month”.
The Dutch system of industrial relations relies on a consensus-based model of collective bargaining called ‘the polder’. This system of representation was able to adapt to the evolution of the Dutch labour market, and in a rather unique way also includes representatives of the solo self-employed. Specifically, they are represented by the Platform Zelfstandige Ondernemers (PZO), a network of several solo self-employed associations that gained the support of the main Dutch employer organisation, while the main trade union confederation, the FNV, created a branch for the self-employed (FNV Zelfstandigen). In addition to these organisations, during the first fieldwork, the trade unions CNV, VCP, and De Unie were also followed, as well as other collective actors, such as ZZP Nederland, VZZP, Werkvereniging, and Zelfstandigen Bouw that, despite being out of ‘the polder’, made a significant contribution to shaping the discourses and practices on solo self-employed workers’ collective representation. Finally, in defining the frame forming the arena of the collective representation of solo self-employed workers, we also considered a number of mutualist projects, including the Dutch case of the Broodfonds, an organisation representing a social security network for the solo self-employed.
In the second fieldwork, we conducted specific case studies by following the activities of the trade union Kunstenbond, representing the interests of professionals and freelancers in the creative sectors. For what concerns SSE associations, we considered the NGTV (Netherlands Association of Interpreters and Translators), the VZV (Vereniging Zelfstandige Vertalers – Association of Independent Translators), and the SENSE (the Society of English language professionals in the Netherlands), all of them members of the PZO. Finally, we included in the research grassroots groups, such as the Dancers’ Council, a collective of self-employed and waged dancers, the Orde van register tolken en vertalers’ (Orde-rtv), an organisation of sworn interpreters and translators, and Bieb 3000, an association of creative workers.
While conducting the fieldworks in the Netherlands, the researchers were hosted at the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS).