Tripartite Social Dialogue: the Dutch Polder Model
Jaap de Jonge, Management Consultant, Netherlands
The Dutch "Polder model" (or "Poldermodel" as it is written in the Dutch language) is a term used since the 1980s to describe the acclaimed Dutch version of consensus-based economic and social policy making. The term quickly took on a wider meaning, to denote similar cases of consensus decision-making in the Dutch fashion.
It can be described with phrases like "a pragmatic recognition of pluriformity" and "cooperation despite differences".
The polder model is characterised by a tri-partite cooperation between:
- Employers Organizations
- Labor unions, and
- Government (national).
In The Netherlands, the cooperation and talks described above are embodied in the Sociaal-Economische Raad (SER, Social Economic Council). The SER serves as the central forum to discuss labour issues and has a long tradition of consensus.
Key benefits of this approach are the avoidance of labor conflicts and strikes, especially in challenging economic and/or social conditions in which painful measures have to be taken.
A key disadvantage associated with the model is that the process is supposed to be very time-consuming. That's why the word polder model and especially the verb "polderen" (English: to polder) has been used pejoratively by some politicians to describe the slow decision-making process, where all parties have to be heard.
Others argue that this disadvantage is only cosmetic and not real, since very complex problems require long consideration and involving all interests, thus gaining a lot of buy-in before difficult decisions are made (and winning back even more time through faster and better implementation).