History of the Netherlands Labour Authority, 1890-2025

11 December 2023 - 13:29

The Netherlands Labour Authority was founded in 1890, when industry in the Netherlands was growing rapidly and workers became increasingly dependent on their employers. At that time, employers often wanted to keep costs down at the expense of the health and safety of their workers. In this environment, the Labour Authority was established to ensure that conditions in the workplace remained safe and humane.

The Labour Authority faced a complex field of forces. Employer organizations and workers’ representatives often had competing interests. This complicated the work of the Authority. The inspectors were therefore always looking for the balance between strict enforcement of the rules and providing advice and information on a safe working environment. The approach of constructive advice oftentimes proved more effective than that of strict sanctioning.

At the same time, the inspectorate acted as a kind of knowledge hub of working life in the Netherlands. The inspectors were the first to identify changes in the workplace and the new risks that came with them. They often used innovative methods, for instance they were one of the first to use photography to gather information.

This research project looks at the history of the Netherlands Labor Authority and attempts to answer questions about how working conditions changed, how the Authority dealt with these changes, and what the influence of external forces on the Authority’s work was between 1890 and 2025.

In addition to the institutional history of the Labour Authority from 1890 to 2025, a second book will be written on the history of work and social security in the Netherlands during the same period. Over the past 135 years, there has been constant debate about the importance of work in modern society. Work has been seen as a source of emancipation and integration as well as a remedy against social exclusion and psychological problems. The second book focusses on this and delves deeper into the context of the book on the Netherlands Labour Authority. Together, the two books will provide an integral picture of working life in the Netherlands, from the end of the nineteenth century to the present.

Projectteam: :Lex Heerma van Voss and Timon de Groot



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