De Wit questions employment minister's response to problem of removal of borders

28 March 2006

De Wit questions employment minister's response to problem of removal of borders

Secretary of State for Social Affairs and Employment Henk van Hoof is seeking to delay the opening of borders to workers from the new EU member states until 1st January 2007 instead of the coming 1st May, as previously announced. SP Member of Parliament Jan de Wit, however, is not convinced that the government, despite its statement to the contrary, will in seven months' time have the measures in place which are needed to deal satisfactorily with evasion of labour laws and with unfair competition. “Mr Van Hoof clearly has a completely erroneous picture of the consequences which will follow the opening of borders. In Ireland they have had two years' experience of this and fully 5% of the workforce is now Polish. Even if the proportion of our workforce turned out to be half of this, we'd be talking about 175,000 people. But of course the Netherlands is rather nearer to Poland than is Ireland, and Poland is not the only new EU member state, so the proportion would probably be greater rather than smaller.

Jan de Wit"Van Hoof should learn from others' mistakes," Mr De Wit continued. "Two years ago Ireland abolished work permits for all citizens of EU member states. Now they want to reintroduce them because the influx of people and the disruption of the labour market which has resulted has been far greater than they anticipated. Hundreds of thousands of Irish and Polish workers have held joint demonstrations against exploitation, displacement and unfair competition, but Mr Van Hoof seems to be looking through blinkers and somehow seeing only the alleged blessings for the labour market of borderless comptition.

“Van Hoof continues stubbornly to insist that we should expect 'only' 60.000 people to arrive, but this is nonsense. There are already well over100,000 people from central and eastern Europe working here, whether legally or illegally. 30,000 have work permits, 50,000 are Polish but in possession of a German passport, and an estimated 40,000 are working illegally. In addition, thousands are classed as self-employed. This figure will of course grow larger, not smaller. Lorry drivers, building workers, agency temps and many others are losing their jobs, to be replaced by people on lower wages. This displacement, the exploitation of foreign workers and unfair competition for small firms must be tackled before borders are thrown completely open. My own estimate is that this will take at least three years.”

De Wit also noted that at the same time in Poland there was a growing shortage of labour in the building industry and in hospitals. “Building projects supported by EU funds cannot go ahead because workers with the necessary skills aren't available. People between 18 and 35 are leaving en masse for western Europe. Their places are taken by Ukrainians and Bylorussians. Van Hoof should not be cooperating in the depopulation of Poland and other central and eastern European countries, but should instead be concentrating on helping people in the Netherlands who are being shoved aside.”

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