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Stop the European race to the bottom

15 January 2018

Stop the European race to the bottom

Years of struggle have gone into this: after Belgium and Germany, we now have in the Netherlands also a ban on truck drivers, most of whom come from eastern Europe, spending entire weekends in their cabs on lorry parks during their compulsory rest periods. So it's to be welcomed that transport minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen of the centre-right VVD actually joined a team of people this weekend distributing flyers informing the drivers about this new ban. This is a big step forwards in two ways: better conditions for drivers and a government minister from a right-wing party willing to go out and distribute flyers.

By Jasper van Dijk

But there's still a long way to go. In more and more places the suffering and misery which are consequences of the European race to the bottom are increasingly visible. 'Poland is suffering as a result of the departure of hundreds of thousands of its citizens', Dutch daily Trouw reported today. Last year alone 100,000 Polish people left to work in western Europe. Their departure creates enormous shortages, to which the solution is Ukrainian workers, brought to the country to fill the vacancies.

The result of all this movement is that a whole generation of children are growing up without their parents, because Mum and Dad work abroad. In Ukraine alone, it's estimated that 200,000 children are in this situation. There are real 'Skype villages' from which the parents have left to travel thousands of kilometres to earn a living and contact between child and parent is possible only via Skype. This is leading to the dislocation of families and of an entire generation in eastern Europe.

How long will we put up with whole groups of people having to trek across Europe because employers want to pay the lowest wages possible? In the Netherlands, Maxime Verhagen of building employers' group Bouw Nederland has told his members to look for workers abroad if necessary. Trade union leader Maurice Limmen sounded the alarm about this in this morning's press, and he was right to do so. Employers have, in his view, sent existing working conditions on the path to destruction. He proposes instead that they should 'invest in skilled people, on fixed contracts, and look to the 1.2 million people who are unjustly confined to the reserve army of labour. Make your sector attractive by offering decent jobs. That's the solution.'

This system makes losers of ordinary people on whose backs competition plays itself out and the only people to reap the fruits of this are the bosses. So we shouldn't let them have their way for nothing: they should have to show, when applying for a work permit for people from other countries whom they wish to employ, that they have first tried to hire people on a decent wage. We've won the first battle in forcing the lorry drivers' bosses to improve conditions for their employees. It;s now up to us to fight for a solution for all workers in this European race to the bottom.

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