What will the Romanians do?

10 September 2008

What will the Romanians do?

This autumn the Dutch Parliament must decide whether to lift all border restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants. In the light of the experience in the case of Polish migration, the SP is extremely critical of this opening of borders. Far more Polish workers came to the Netherlands than were originally expected, and this led to a number of difficulties on the Dutch labour market. SP Member of Parliament Paul Ulenbelt visited Romania in August to look into how the Netherlands is seen by Romanians and what the results have been to date of emigration to other EU countries.

You were in Romania for four days. Who did you speak to and what was your impression of the country?

“I spoke to all kinds of people, from 'ordinary' Romanians in the street to trade union leaders and Dutch business people active in the country. My impression is that by European standards Romania is a developing country. The wages are appallingly low: the average monthly income is around €320 net. A building worker earns €250, well-educated personnel in the commercial sector can take home at most €1000. Corruption thrives. The Dutch managing director of an insurance firm there told us about his visit to hospital. In order to get into the hospital he had first to slip the porter some cash, then the same to a secretary to be referred to a specialist and finally to the person who would be offering the treatment in order to be put on a waiting list. Various people told me that the Romanian government isn't really tackling these problems and is governing with its back to the people."

Reason enough for Romanians to go looking for work in countries where earnings and things in general are better regulated, then?

“Precisely, and that's what they're doing, en masse. During the last few years hundreds of thousands have gone abroad to find jobs. From the around 22 million Romanians it's estimated that between two- and three million are working outside the country. Most are in Spain, where they can work for six months without a permit, and Italy, where they don't need a permit for a number of sectors. Some people to whom we spoke said that the similarities of language and disposition in southern Europe also play a role in the choice of Romanians to go to these countries.”

Then we don't need to fear a wave of Romanian workers coming to our cold, sober country with its incomprehensible language?

“I'm not so sure of that. The Netherlands has an extremely positive image in Romania. This goes for the very reliable ING bank, which has a visibly Dutch profile, and which manages the pensions of around four million Romanians. Then there are lots of Romanians who have worked for example in Spain who have a lot of complaints about the country. You can lose your job from one day to another there, and there is at the moment a great deal of unemployment, which the Romanian immigrants are the first to notice. The idea is common in Romania that in the Netherlands it's very different: you are secure in your job and you'll get your wages, and moreover the wages will be better. Some people whom we spoke to in the street didn't understand right away what we wanted and thought that we were recruiting workers. They gave us telephone numbers of friends and family who also wanted to work in the Netherlands. We could easily have come back with a busload of Romanians.”

Did you get a clear idea of the effects of emigration on Romania itself? Did you see the same dislocation of communities as you saw when you were in Poland last year?

“According to one of the trade union leaders, Valentin Mocanu of CNSLR Fratia, Romania is currently short of half a million workers, and to make up this deficit Chinese workers are being brought over. There are big shortages in the building trade, information technology and production. The car industry around Timiºoara would be able to grow to meet demand, but can't find employees. But also social consequences, above all for children, are causing Mocanu major concerns. Often older brothers or sisters have to hold families together, or the grandparents take responsibility. With an eye to this a law is being prepared which will require potential emigrant workers to prove that their children will have good care during their absence. .

These worries are shared by a colleague of Mocanu from Blocul National Sindical (BNS), Dumitru Costin. Costin believes that the three million Romanians currently working abroad will not be returning to the mother country. He asked us not to open the door completely to Romanians, because, he said 'I don't want to lose yet more good workers.”

So are you saying you are going to argue that the borders should be closed to Romanian workers?

The risk is at the moment too great for the borders to be opened. The risk exists that we will see the arrival of some of the hundreds of thousands of Romanians from Spain because the economy there is collapsing, and that more Romanians will leave their country with all the consequences that will have for their economy and society. For the Netherlands it could mean more cheap, non-Dutch speaking labour, which will put our labour market under pressure and for whom decent housing must be found. This will certainly happen if Dutch employment bureaux set up shop in Romania. When this happened in Poland, a hundred thousand Polish workers arrived here in no time. So there are more arguments as things stand against the opening of the borders than there are in its favour."

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