Van Bommel: Look before you leap to open borders

1 March 2006

Van Bommel: Look before you leap to open borders

The country's leading trade union grouping 'FNV Bondgenoten' has joined the SP in expressing concern over the likely consequences of the ending of restrictions on the entry of workers from the new EU member states. Borders will be fully opened from 1st May, and SP Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel has welcomed the fact that criticism of the move is spreading. “Employers are exploiting people from the new EU countries,” he said. “This will lead to displacement and deprive young people who leave school with craft qualifications of any prospect of work.”

Van Bommel (right) looks on as a Polish and Dutch worker put up posters that read: “Equal pay for workers from eastern Europe? 77% of the Netherlands says 'Yes!' Is your party listening?”

Completely open borders will lead not only to the disruption of the labour market and of relations between people within the Netherlands, warns Mr van Bommel, but will also create problems in countries such as Poland. 300,000 people from the Ukraine are already working there and qualified Polish workers, who are leaving en masse for western Europe, are in increasingly short supply. Van Bommel is calling for the retention of the system of work permits and a strengthening of controls carried out by the labour inspectorate. Employers underpaying wages must be forced to hand over the shortfall, which should then be given to those workers who have been underpaid.

In parliament, the number of members signing a resolution against the complete opening of borders for workers from the new eastern European EU countries is gradually approaching a majority. The Christian Democrats (CDA) apparently still have their doubts, but the party is leaning towards the retention of the existing restrictions. This emerged on Tuesday in Amsterdam during a debate on “Equal Work – Equal Pay” organised by the trade union grouping FNV Bondgenoten. “Open the borders fully to the Poles only when equal pay is truly guaranteed,” trade union chair Henk van der Kolk told MPs from the CDA, VVD (right-wing liberals), PvdA (Labour Party) and the SP.

Harry van Bommel said that he had no faith in the CDA's 'doubts'. “In farm sectors there are a lot of companies which are addicted to illegal cheap labour. The CDA's support in these sectors has always been strong and they will come under heavy pressure to legalise these abuses.”

Doubt, he said, has not been viable for some time. “In Ireland and Sweden, which lifted all restrictions as soon as these countries were admitted, on 1st May 2004, they've experienced the negative consequences first hand, with the result that 78% of Irish people want to go back to a system of work permits. Irish and Polish workers have together held mass demonstrations against exploitative practices. Supporters of open borders pretend that they have brought only benefits, but that's pure propaganda.”

In Sweden too, open borders have led to serious tension. The Swedish Minister for Social Affairs has even made threats that the country could leave the European Union. Sweden was taken to court by Latvia because they want Latvian building workers to be able to work in Sweden for Latvian wages. This would also be completely in keeping with the EU's policies, so the Latvians have a good chance of winning their case. If that happens, the country's government would see it as a reason to leave the EU. As Harry van Bommel sees it “We should take this as a lesson for the Netherlands, not to play the fool, but to look before we leap to open borders.”

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