Prior to the debate, organised by the Cedo Nulli study society and SOLVE Rotterdam, a survey was conducted among the attendees. The attendees were asked to indicate through a Likert scale on their phones to what extent they agreed with various statements, with 1 meaning ‘completely disagree’ and 5 meaning ‘completely agree’. The most popular statement was ‘Flexible employment relationships are a good thing for the job market’; this statement scored a 3.3. ‘Young people will be the victims of the current pensions policy’ got an average score of 3. The least popular statement was the one that ‘The work floor should reflect society’, which scored a mere 2.7.

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Duygu Yildirim (PvdA) and Ehsan Jami (Leefbaar Rotterdam) Image credit: Eby Tafese

Flexible employment

Stephan van Baarle of Denk (who got a degree in sociology at EUR) was the first to criticise the flexible employment relationships that he feels are skyrocketing. “Your generation is about to become folding chair of the economy – used only when there is no other solution and easily put back into storage.” Duygu Yildirim of PvdA said, “Yet you can’t deny that flexible working relationships constitute a problem that touches livelihoods at their core.” She pointed out that 40 per cent of people who have jobs in Rotterdam live below the poverty line. Many of these employed people are on flexible employment contracts.

Even though all four speakers agreed on the risks inherent in flexible employment relationships, Tim Versnel (VVD) and Ehsan Jami (Leefbaar Rotterdam) believed they also have advantages for young people, in the sense that companies are more likely to take a chance on them if they can offer them temporary contracts. Both politicians threw in some ideology, as well. “I’m in favour of less government. I don’t want a government that will look after you like a dad if you’re having a rough time,” said Jami. Previously, Versnel had already said, “Denk is almost Marxist in its views on economics.”

Moderator Christiaan Meinsma then asked whether it wasn’t a student’s own responsibility to choose a degree that will make him or her likely to find a job. Yildirim answered, “If we make it their responsibility, we’ll lose the creative souls our society needs, as well.” Jami held a different view. “I am firmly against fun degrees. Leisure sciences? Let’s get rid of them.”

Victims of the pensions policy

The politicians were more unanimous on the second statement: Young people will be the victims of the current pensions policy. Yildirim was the odd woman out, stating that all pension systems should be based in solidarity. She felt that phrases like ‘be the victims of’ would erode this solidarity. She was then asked by a student who is active in D66’s youth wing whether it would be possible for young people to attend the meetings and have a say in things such as the new pensions agreement. The councillor, who represents PvdA, nodded her agreement.

The other local politicians mostly disagreed on the approach to be taken to the untenable pensions policy. Jami proposed that the ‘one-thou-sand-bill-ion’ allocated to the energy transition, negotiated by ‘climate gurus such as Versnel’, be allocated to young people’s pensions instead. Denk-affiliated councillor Van Baarle said he wishes to tackle the tax heaven that is the Netherlands by levying a proper tax on assets and multinational corporations. Versnel was quick to emphasise that the economy would be in smithereens if any of these plans were actually to be implemented. “We’re on the right track. The Netherlands is steady as she goes.” To which his colleague representing Leefbaar Rotterdam replied: “It’s only steady for VVD voters living on fancy Amsterdam canals.”

Versnel pointed out that one cause of decreasing pension security that is not receiving a lot of attention is the fact that Dutch people are having fewer children, meaning there are too few young people to bear the financial burden. To which Van Baarle of Denk replied, “So maybe we shouldn’t stick to our immigration policy quite so obsessively?”

After the debate, the students attending the debate once again took the survey to see whether the debate had changed their opinions. Only the statement that ‘Young people will be the victims of the current pensions policy’ received a different score: even more students (3.9) were in agreement after the debate.

“Have a great future!” moderator Meinsma said in closing.

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