SP Enquiry: Builders hit by unfair competition

11 April 2007

SP Enquiry: Builders hit by unfair competition

Dutch building firms continue to face unfair competition from eastern Europe, despite the improving economy. This was the conclusion of a survey of twenty building contractors conducted by the SP. “It's clear that the complaints remain the same, while many supporters of open borders have said repeatedly that the problems would disappear as a result of the economic recovery'” comments SP Member of Parliament and employment spokesman Paul Ulenbelt. “It makes it obvious that you have to be very careful with policy on admissions and that it would be extremely ill-advised to open the borders any further at this stage.”

Paul Ulenbelt Many of the contractors to whom the SP spoke mentioned that they receive ever fewer work contracts per tender, a proportion which until a few years ago was still growing. Eighteen out of the twenty contractors questioned put this down in large measure to unfair competition from eastern European firms who work at rates which would not keep a contractor in business in the Netherlands. According to the respondents it is impossible to compete with Poles who offer their labour at €10 or €12 per hour. The Dutch contractors are asking for equality when it comes to deductions and the enforcement of labour laws.

In a number of cases the proportion of successful tenders has remained steady, but certain phases of work are no longer included in the job. Painting and decorating, for example, is done later by Poles, the contractors believe. “I sometimes have to tidy up work which has not been done well by a Pole,' said one of the respondents. “It's too stupid for words.” Many of the firms approached by the SP have themselves looked into why they failed to secure a certain contract, and they often find that Poles have taken the work.

“It's no small problem,” says Ulenbelt. “What these twenty randomly interviewed contractors have said is representative of what's going on throughout the Netherlands. In a comparable survey that we conducted a year ago, this was also confirmed by the sectoral organisation Bouwend Nederland ('Building the Netherlands').

“It's shocking that the complaints remain the same,” Ulenbelt adds. “As soon as the economy begins to pick up, the problems will simply disappear, or so we were told then by the employers and the governing parties. It wasn't true, as practice shows. It demonstrates once more how cautious we should be with the opening of the labour market to workers from central and eastern Europe. It's really a very bad plan that the current government has, to open the borders fully from May and to scrap ever more limits. This will simply bring more unfair competition, in other sectors as well.

“Local authorities must take on more responsibilities, by coupling building permits to monitoring not just of compliance with the permit but also of what is happening about the observation of our standard of working conditions and conditions of service. Councils are best placed to look at which firm is doing a job and whether it is doing it according to the law.”

The SP is also urging that building firms be obliged to display their names publicly on site, so that it is clear who is doing the work.

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