Open borders from May 1st will make existing problems worse

7 April 2007

Open borders from May 1st will make existing problems worse

Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Piet Hein Donner is planning to open borders completely to workers from central and eastern Europe from May 1st, scrapping the current system of work permits. “An irresponsible decision,” according to SP Member of Parliament and employment spokesman Paul Ulenbelt. “If you're going to invite guests then you have to make sure your house is in good order,” he says. “And in this case the house is far from being so. Trade unions and the four biggest local authorities have said as much. With my own eyes I've seen how often Polish workers here are confronted with eighteenth century housing conditions, but that just makes Donner keener.” Ulenbelt is seeking an urgent debate on the question with the minister.

Paul UlenbeltIn some sectors, such as horticulture, many employers are addicted to cheap labour, Ulenbelt has concluded. “Donner helps these 'addicts' to their dose of cheap workers and doesn't bother looking at the consequences for others. If you see how these workers are housed, in tumbledown houses with twelve mattresses and sleeping places in the cupboard under the stairs, you have to say that this is a problem to be combated and not aggravated.”

The four biggest local authorities are demanding the maintenance of work permits. This would allow them to monitor the living conditions of workers from abroad, because to qualify for such a permit you must give an address in the Netherlands. Monitoring would enable abuses to be addressed, but Donner has ignored the councils' urgings.

A number of different trade unions have established that employers are reluctant to enter into agreements to prevent the exploitation of central- and eastern European workers. Proposals made by the unions to guarantee equal pay for equal work and ensure safe working conditions have been rejected by Donner. “If the borders are now to be opened fully and employers allowed to recruit a skilled labour force from central and eastern Europe, we will invest less in training of young people and not make any effort to help unemployed people to find work,” says Ulenbelt.

“Donner is turning out to be the enforcer for a neoliberal Europe. He has eyes only for the short term interests of employers and doesn't bother himself about foreign workers at all. He is cooperating in sucking the human capital from Poles and others, while in Poland and other parts of central and eastern Europe, the skilled and specialised labour needed to reconstruct these countries is becoming hard to find. Now the Polish government is opening its borders to Bulgaria and Romania, and soon these countries will have to open their borders to their eastern neighbours. In this neoliberal Europe, Poles work in the Netherlands and Britain, while Bulgarians and Romanians work in Poland and Ukrainians and Moldavians will soon be working in Romania and the Czech republic. This is not the Europe of the SP. As with any market, the international labour market be regulated.”

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