Increase in flow of workers from central and eastern Europe is disrupting labour market

6 February 2006

Increase in flow of workers from central and eastern Europe is disrupting labour market

The growing numbers of people from central and eastern European countries seeking employment in the Netherlands is leading to serious disruption of the labour market, exploitation and the forcing from the market of ever more Dutch workers, small employers, and self-employed people, according to a survey conducted by the SP. Yet the government is planning to make borders still more open in the near future. According to SP Member of Parliament Jan de Wit this will lead to even greater problems, including for the tens of thousands of young people currently being trained for work in the building industry and transport sector. Measures must be taken to put an end to exploitation and unfair competition.

Many Poles who come to the Netherlands looking for work have to contend with terrible living- and working conditions, often earning less than €3 per hour. Large numbers of lorry drivers are being replaced by Polish workers, while a high proportion of Dutch building contractors are experiencing unfair competition from eastern European countries. That this is the case has emerged from both a complaints line established by the SP and a survey conducted amongst contractors in the region of The Hague. Building sector organisation “Bouwend Nederland” ("Building the Netherlands") says that this is a national problem and that it fears a wave of bankruptcies and lay-offs if no measures are taken.

Jan de WitAccording to SP Member of Parliament Jan de Wit, such measures are indeed urgently needed in order to prevent the problem from becoming, and in the short term, even more serious. “As things stand there are around 100.000 eastern Europeans in the Netherlands. If in the near future we get rid of all restrictions on the entry of Polish citizens and then, within a few years, Bulgaria and Romania join the EU, we will see a wave of cheap labour. If we don't do anything about this it will lead to a situation in which tens of thousands of young people train for trades which they will never have the opportunity to exercise. Demand for Dutch lorry drivers will pretty well dry up because eastern European workers will take their place. The same will apply to building workers, mechanics and other tradespeople who will be unable to find work.”

Mr De Wit stressed that he was not saying that people from eastern Europe are unwelcome in the Netherlands, merely that the current situation was leading to exploitation, unfair competition and displacement. “Forcing wages in the Netherlands down to the Polish level is no solution. Foreigners should have a right to the same conditions of work and employment as those which apply to Dutch workers.”

In the Netherlands, most workers are covered by conditions determined by collective bargaining, conditions which are embodied in legally-enforceable agreements known as CAOs – “Collective Work Agreements”. The SP wants to see a CAO authority with the power to supervise compliance with such agreements and to recover any shortfall in wages from the employer. Knowledge of the Dutch language should also be required of workers, as in many sectors safety will be compromised if workers cannot communicate. Self-employed people should be obliged to meet minimum requirements as to working conditions, to have liability insurance and to produce documentary proof of professional competence. There should be a means by which illegal work of any kind can be easily reported, employment bureaus should be required to take out a permit, and information concerning rights and duties should be issued to people arriving in the Netherlands to look for work.

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