Clear signal at spring meeting of union leaders and employers: effective measures to combat exploitation must precede any further opening of borders

9 March 2006

Clear signal at spring meeting of union leaders and employers: effective measures to combat exploitation must precede any further opening of borders

Activists from the SP this morning joined trade union militants in forming a picket line in front of the headquarters in the Hague of the tripartite Social and Economic Council (SER), a powerful advisory body comprising representatives of both sides of industry and of the state, which the government is obliged to consult before taking major measures in the area of social and economic policy. Members of the government, union leaders and employers' representatives were inside the building for the customary “Spring Meeting”, at which policy for the coming months is discussed point-by-point. The demonstrators were demanding that borders should not be made any more open to workers from the new EU member states until existing and foreseeable problems were dealt with.

Polen in actie tegen uitbuiting
Polish workers take action against exploitation

Recent years have seen an upsurge in the Netherlands in exploitation of people from the countries which now form the new EU member states. This is leading to unfair competition on the labour market, as a result of which, for example, Dutch lorry drivers are finding it increasingly difficult to get work, while small firms are losing contracts. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and Social Affairs and Employment Minister Aart Jan De Geus have had this drawn to their attention in graphic fashion, having been presented with lettuces and punnets of mushrooms by Polish pickers who had decorated them with stickers showing their hourly earnings of between €1.90 and €5.70.

The trade union action group involved in the demonstration, “FNV Bondgenoten”, has made it clear that it is in favour in principle of freedom of movement for workers within the EU, but that it does not want to see the immediate further opening of borders to people from the new member states of central and eastern Europe. The group agrees with the SP that legislation and regulations to combat exploitation must first be put into place, displacement within the labour market resisted and unfair competition around wages and conditions of employment made impossible.

The SP distributed a pamphlet during the morning with the slogan ‘Eerst grenzen stellen, dan pas grenzen open’ – the English translation unfortunately loses the play on words, but the meaning is clear: “First set limits, then open borders”. Amongst the activists was Jan de Wit, Member of Parliament for the SP: “Unregulated or poorly regulated free movement of workers is having negative consequences,” he said. “It's being abused in order to play Dutch and Polish workers off against each other, and it's creating unemployment here and a shortage of trained and qualified workers in Poland. We shouldn't take any unnecessary risks with our labour market or the economic climate. The intelligent course would be first to adjust our legislation and regulations to the demands of a changing Europe. Only when we have effective measures should we consider further opening our borders.”

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