European Employment Commissioner "juggling with statistics"

6 April 2006

European Employment Commissioner "juggling with statistics"

European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs Vladimir Spidla, due to address today's Dutch parliamentary hearing on open borders for workers from the new member states, is guilty of juggling the statistics and of blatant propaganda, according to SP Member of Parliament Jan de Wit. Mr de Wit's accusation came in reaction to Commissioner Spidla’s assertion that the countries which applied no limits to the influx of workers from central and eastern Europe had performed better economically, enjoying greater employment growth and falling unemployment. “He makes no attempt to substantiate this statement statistically, while the figures which he does present simply do not permit one to draw these conclusions. In practice what is revealed, furthermore, is that there are major problems attached to such a policy.”

On 1 May 2004 Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and seven other countries of central and eastern Europe became members of the European Union. Mr Spidla presented a report on restrictions on the free movement of workers which included statistics on the influx from these countries into the EU-15. For 2005 he reported the data for only six countries and for only part of the year. The only country for which a figure for the entire year was given was the Netherlands, but this figure was incorrect. “He noted an influx in 2005 of 14,612 while, according to the official statisticians of our own Centre for Work and Income, the body responsible for granting work permits, 26.076 people came from Poland alone,” said Mr De Wit, adding that “this calls into question all his other figures. How can the Commissioner now claim that the influx is extremely limited and in most countries has grown only slightly, while the figures show so many gaps and those for the Netherlands are demonstrably inaccurate? There are in his report, moreover, no figures to be found concerning the economic performance of any of these countries.

Jan de Wit“Any student who drew such far-reaching conclusions from incomplete statistics would be given a very poor grade. A Dutch government minister who backed up what he had to say in such a weak fashion would be sent packing. This is just the sort of juggling that makes Dutch people so distrustful about what Brussels says what's good for us.”

According to Jan de Wit this lack of trust is fully justified. “The SP has drawn up a thorough inventory of the existing influx from central and eastern Europe which shows that it is indeed leading to disruption of the labour market. Via the information line opened by the SP what we are getting most frequently are calls from fitters, mechanics and other tradespeople concerned by unfair competition. International haulage contractors are opening an establishment in Poland and employing Polish drivers under Polish conditions to drive from Rotterdam to destinations all over Europe. We're also getting frequent complaints of downright exploitation of people from the new member states, who are often paid less than €3 an hour, with no overtime and nowhere to sleep but the workplace.”

Recently the SP phoned up twenty building contractors in the area around The Hague at random and asked them if they were experiencing unfair competition from central and eastern Europe: at least 90% had a serious problem. A typical quotation: “I have to bring in €29.70 an hour just to cover costs. Self-employed Polish workers are offering their services for between €6 and €9 an hour.” Contractors are losing a third of their turnover. When we asked the Director of Labour Affairs at the sectoral organisation Bouwend Nederland (“Building the Netherlands”) to comment on this he said that this gave a representative picture of the country as a whole. Bankruptcy and redundancies are to be feared if nothing is done about the further opening of borders.

“If the borders are opened further,” De Wit said, “the problems will get worse. Around 100,000 people from central and eastern European countries are now working, legally or illegally, in the Netherlands, most of them Polish. And this is at a time when restrictions still apply which are intended to guard against the problems attendant on the accession of the new member states. Everyone who wants to work in the Netherlands should have to follow Dutch laws and regulations. If we can achieve that, we can then start looking at extending free movement for workers.”

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