SP is alert to the interests of Poles and Bulgarians

6 December 2013

SP is alert to the interests of Poles and Bulgarians

Why aren’t SP members accused of being xenophobic creeps, asked journalist Elma Drayer in a recent edition of the newspaper for which she works, the national daily Trouw. I have to say we’ve had to answer harder questions than this.

Emile Roemer is leader of the SP. Paul Ulenbelt is a Member of Parliament for the same party.

Anyone familiar with the SP’s analyses and proposed solutions to the problems associated with labour migration knows why our party does not deserve such a label. There are good social reasons why competition around wages and working conditions must be prevented and the SP is pre-eminently a party which resists discrimination against, and exploitation of, minorities on all possible levels.

In 2005 SP Member of Parliament Jan de Wit was already warning of the risks involved in an unregulated influx: ‘The Poles are being exploited, Dutch workers are losing out, and small businesses and the self-employed are being pushed out of the market with increasing frequency.’

The SP investigated, and saw how Collective Labour Agreements (CAOs) were being evaded and how thousands of East European workers were being underpaid, poorly housed and exploited. Our proposal that the influx from Eastern Europe be regulated was an answer at the time to concrete socio-economic problems. That others much later were to open a ‘hot line on Poles’ to which one could anonymously report ‘pollution’ and ‘nuisance’ caused by East Europeans has nothing whatsoever to do with the SP’s analysis. We reject such witch-hunts and mud-slinging.

On the initiative of the SP the Parliamentary Committee on Recent Labour Migration was established. The Committee concluded in 2011 that the influx of Poles and other East Europeans had been “underestimated” and that such a major influx was beyond the Netherlands’ capacity.

Unfortunately, nothing has changed. Foreign workers are being exploited in motorway construction; amongst truck drivers there is massive displacement; and in the building industry people are working who are hugely underpaid or forced to register as “self-employed” so that employers can evade the CAOs, which guarantee minimum levels of wages per trade, and minimum working conditions. Both East European and Dutch workers suffer in this situation.

Labour migration also harms Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, which are suffering enormous shortages of skilled labour, particularly in health care. Competition around working conditions is leading throughout Europe to major flows of migrants; hundreds of thousands of Europeans are living far from home and hearth in appalling conditions while working for hunger wages. In Poland visitors from the SP discovered “Euro-orphans”, children being raised by grandma, by an older brother or sister because both parents were working abroad. The free movement of workers within the European Union must not be misused as a means to force workers from different member states to compete on wages and working conditions.

The article of faith that the European Commission and the Europhile parties in Parliament make of free movement is leading to massive damage, particularly amongst workers. There are in fact many social reasons to regulate the influx of Eastern European workers. Thirty years of neoliberal politics have led to what we are seeing on a huge scale: exploitation, sometimes amounting almost to slavery. Regulation of labour migration is not xenophobia but sensible social and economic policy.

When foreign workers are underpaid and exploited, they can count on our support as much as can Dutch construction workers who can come to us when their jobs are taken by people who will perform the same work for below the wages and outside the conditions specified by the CAO. That isn’t xenophobia, but simply social. A sound system of work permits for foreign workers is necessary to prevent their exploitation and repression on the Dutch labour market.

This article first appeared on 6th November 2013, in the original Dutch, in the daily national newspaper Trouw.

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