The Netherlands is renowned for its tulips and windmills. However, the Dutch Employment Market comprises of many more, highly diverse sectors. This means that it offers international job seekers endless opportunities. It is useful for expats to have some background knowledge about the market, in order to be successful in NL. This page will give you an idea of the current Dutch employment climate. It will cover topics such as: Employment law in Holland, work contracts, equality in the workplace and employment agencies. Read on to get the lie of the land, and to work out which line of work would best serve you as an expat in NL.


The recent worldwide economic downturn has had a negative effect on the Dutch employment market. Still, the Dutch workforce has remained remarkably healthy. It is continuing to grow in strength and diversity. Here’s a break-down of what it looks like today:  

The Employment Rate in NL

  • The Dutch unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the EU
  • It is considered moderately low on a worldwide scale
  • At the end of 2020, the total labor force rose to approximately 8.9 million
  • The unemployment rate was at 4.4% in December of that year
  • At the moment, not many sectors are looking to fill vacancies. Yet, there are still ample opportunities within the commerce, health care and manufacturing sectors in the Netherlands

Part-time Work in NL

Part-time employment in the Netherlands is high:

  • Reports state that part-time employment constitutes nearly two-thirds of the total Dutch labor force
  • Accordingly, almost 32% of total job vacancies are for part-time employment
  • Approximately 77% of Dutch women work fewer than 35 hours a week
  • Only 28% of Dutch males hold part-time positions, according to the World Bank

Self-employed Persons in NL

  • Most people in the Netherlands work directly for an employer
  • However, the Dutch ‘Bureau of Statistics’, or the ‘CBS’, revealed that being self-employed is becoming increasingly popular in the Netherlands
  • It reported that, in 2020, 1.23 million persons claimed self-employment
  • In Dutch, self employed people are referred to as: ‘Zelfstandige Zonder Personeel, or ZZP-ers
  • These people make up approximately 16.1% of the Dutch workforce
  • Compared to other European countries, this level of self-employment is quite high, particularly amongst younger people
  • How self-employment will develop in the future remains hard to predict
  • While it appears to be quite stable in today’s Dutch employment market, it is always prone to fluctuation

Flexible Contracts in NL

  • The amount of flexible contracts is also growing in the Netherlands
  • Flexible contracts are especially popular amongst young people in Holland
  • In 2020, 45% of the flex-workpopulation was between the ages of 15-25
  • Approximately 12% of people aged 26 and over have a flexible work contract
  • This could point towards a trend amongst younger people to focus more on a life/work balance
  • Or, it may simply signify a streamlining of business over recent years, in order to cope with the financial crisis

Educated Workers in NL

  • The education level of those working in the Netherlands has been rising steadily over the past decade
  • One in every three high school graduates continues their education at a research university or a university of applied sciences

‘Job-hopping’ in NL

  • The Netherlands used to be a country in which it was common for employees to work for the same employer for their entire life
  • This changed dramatically during the ’90s when, due to the flourishing economy, the age of job-hopping began
  • This development came to an abrupt halt when the economic crisis hit NL
  • The crisis caused competition for jobs to increase considerably
  • This led employees to be more likely to stay put in their job

Sectors in the Dutch Economy

As we have established, overall, the Dutch employment market is on the up. However, opportunities and growth within individual sectors fluctuate constantly. Here is where the strengths in the market currently lie:

  • The commercial services sector remains the largest employer in the Netherlands
  • It has held this position for several years
  • The health care and manufacturing industries are close behind
  • Some analysts predict that that the trade sector may show further improvement over the coming years
  • Currently, science & engineering is the only sector showing a constant, and steadily increasing, need for international and capable workers
  • Employees are sought after in areas such as: water management, green and renewable energy and logistics

Gender Equality in the Dutch Workforce

Foreigners tend to view the Netherlands as a country in which women share equal standing with men. Many expats comment on how Dutch women are the ones who ‘wear the pants at home’. However, this is only partly true:

  • The Dutch workforce does not wholly reflect this outwardly-perceived gender-equality
  • Based on a study conducted by the Central Bureau for Statistics, 58% of working women expect their career opportunities to be negatively affected once they have children
  • Men, interestingly, agree that becoming a parent has a more significant effect on a woman’s career path, compared to their own
  • 75% of working women work part-time in NL
  • Only 19% of employed mothers work over 35 hours a week
  • Less than 10% of women in the Netherlands work full-time

The Root of the Imbalance

  • The cause of this is presumably related to Dutch social values and customs
  • These dictate that mothers should spend more time with their children than fathers 
  • What’s more, there is relatively little government support for child care in Holland
  • Although Dutch society is egalitarian by nature, traditional gender roles are still played out
  • Men tend to work full-time, and women part-time, so that mothers can raise the children

Progress is Being Made in NL

  • In reality the percentage of Dutch households in which the man is the sole earner, and the woman does not work at all, is only at 20%
  • The number of women in employment in the Netherlands increased from 52% in 1997 to 63% in 2012. Currently, it exceeds 70%
  • Some argue that it is a ‘glass ceiling’ that keeps women in the Dutch employment market from progressing up the career ladder
  • It cannot be denied, however, that the ‘sticky floor’ exists too

The Dutch Government’s Goals

  • The Dutch government aim to have 65% of women working at least 12 hours a week in NL
  • This goal has yet to be met
  • Numbers have, however, clearly continued to rise
  • This issue remains on the political agenda

Dutch Employment Law

It is important for all expats to know a little bit about Dutch Employment Law. This is because:

  • Few people move to the Netherlands on an ‘expat contract’
  • Therefore, most expats need to know about the rules that Dutch employers play by
  • Dutch employment law is even relevant to expatriates whose contract explicitly states that a foreign law applies to their employment relationship
  • Said expats will find that they are still subject to some of the rules of Dutch employment law and/or the rules of Dutch public order 

Below you will find an overview of the elements of Dutch employment law that may be relevant to you, as an expat working in NL:

Probation Periods in NL

Type of Contract Maximum Duration of Probation


Contract for less than 6 months no probation period


Contract between 6 months and for 2 years


1 month


2-year or permanent contract 2 months

For any temporary employment contract, with a total duration of less than six months, a probation period is no longer permitted.

Employment Contracts in NL

  • In the Netherlands, a fixed-length employment contract ends automatically by operation of law, on its agreed end date
  • In Dutch, ‘Operation of Law’ is referred to as van rechtswege’
  • This only applies to a contract that is a maximum of six months long
  • For contracts of any other length, the employer is required to specify exactly what will happen on the official end date
  • The employer must do this at least one month in advance of the end of the contract

Chain Contracts in NL

  • In the Netherlands, it is possible to enter into a ‘chain of contracts’. This means that you take on a series of three consecutive, fixed-term contracts with the same employer
  • In Holland, the third contract of this chain can last for an indefinite period of time
  • This rule still applies, even if it has been explicitly stated a third contract has a fixed-term
  • If more than six months separates these contracts, the ‘chain’ will be deemed ‘broken’
  • This means that a new chain must begin 

There is another way in which you can secure an indefinite contract, without having to complete three consecutive ones with one employer in NL:

  • You must have had a series of temporary contracts with the same employer
  • Said contracts must have amounted to a total of two years
  • If you are then offered a new contract, within six months of the last ending, it can be continued indefinitely

Minimum/Maximum Contracts in NL

‘Minimum/ Maximum’ contracts are for people who work ‘on call‘ in the Netherlands. They do not stipulate that the employee should work a precise number of hours on a weekly or monthly basis. If you are searching for an on call job in Holland:

  • Your employer can offer you a min/max contract
  • This means that you can agree on a set minimum and maximum number of hours per week or month
  • Note that the minimum number of hours you can work ‘on call’ is three
  • ‘Zero-hours contracts’ are also available in the Netherlands
  • In Dutch, they are called ‘nul-uren contracten
  • These contracts offer employees greater flexibility
  • A minimum number of hours is not a prerequisite for a zero-hours contract
  • Said contracts can also only last for a maximum of six months

Employment Agencies in NL

The first temporary employment agencies were started over 30 years ago in the Netherlands. In fact, Holland was one of the first countries in which these agencies became successful. They still remain an important part of the Dutch labor market.

Currently the top employment agencies in the Netherlands are:

Worker’s Unions in NL

There are two main ‘Temporary Workers Unions‘ in the Netherlands. They are the ABU and the ‘NBBU‘. These unions are governed by their own collective labor agreement, or ‘CAO‘. This agreement contains various regulations about matters including:

  • Statutory number of vacation days
  • Holiday allowance
  • National holidays
  • Salary statement specifications
  • Working overtime
  • Illness/sick pay

Working Through an Agency in NL

Employment agencies should treat expats the same way as a company would treat their non-Dutch employees. This means that, as an expat working for an agency in NL, you should have equal:

  • Wages
  • Work holidays
  • Night shifts
  • Overtime
  • Vacation days
  • Compensation

Side Note

Foreign Temps in NL

  • Elements of the ABU Collective Agreement apply to all employment agencies
  • It follows that they also apply to foreign employment agencies that place employees on the Dutch labor market
  • Keep in mind that nationals of the European Economic Area can move to the Netherlands for work and enjoy the same conditions as Dutch nationals
  • This means that they will have equal in access to things like housing, wages and social security 

The Multilingual Job Market in NL

The job market for foreign staff encompasses a wide spectrum of professions in the Netherlands. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Administration
  • Secretarial work
  • IT
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Support staff
  • Sales
  • Logistics
  • Middle and senior management

A Job in your Native Tongue

If you are looking for a job in the Netherlands that allows you to work in your native language, you have two options:

  1. Register with one of the various ‘specialized employment agencies‘ that exist in the Netherlands
  2. Apply directly with companies where the business language is your native language

After the UK, Germany and France, most ‘multilingual’ jobs are to be found in international call and shared service centers located in the Netherlands:

  • There are over 150 of these multilingual service centers in Holland
  • Most of them are located in the Randstad region. The Randstad is the area of the Netherlands that encompasses Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Amsterdam
  • However, an increasing number of pan-European centers can be found in Maastricht, Arnhem and other Dutch cities
  • Within these organizations, English is usually the business language

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