Is cheap labour flooding the Netherlands?

Dutch Deputy Prime Minister and Social Affairs and Employment Minister Lodewijk Asscher has called on the European Union to create new rules to tackle excesses in the free movement of workers across member states.

In a letter to British newspaper The Independent, written jointly with David Goodheart, Director of the British arm of think-tank Demos, Asscher argues that the numbers of workers are so overwhelming that in some parts of Europe "the dikes are in danger of bursting."

Calling their statement a "code orange" after the orange alert in the Netherlands, issued when rivers rise to alarming levels, they are suggesting that unchecked migration is flooding Europe.

Free movement

The right to move and work in other member states is one of the founding ideas of the European Union, enshrined in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. It wasn’t until this last decade, however, that people started to take advantage of this right.

In 2000, only about 0,1 per cent of EU citizens lived and worked in another EU country. In 2004, however, that all changed when the UK, Sweden and Ireland allowed immediate access to their labour markets for people from the new members states in eastern and central Europe, waiving the seven-year transition period. The Netherlands followed suit in 2007.

The Dutch government had predicted around 18.000 people would take up the opportunity to move to the Netherlands. Now that number is estimated to be two to three hundred thousand, with 150.000 from Poland alone.

From next year, workers from Bulgaria and Romania will be able to live and work in the rest of the EU.

The Dutch government is currently holding back on allowing people from Croatia, which became an EU member on July 1 this year, to enter the Netherlands, but they will not be far behind.

Unforeseen consequences

The large increase in numbers from a decade ago is due to the disparate economic levels in the newer as compared to the older member states.

Previously, there was little incentive to move abroad, as economic levels in older members in western Europe were similar. In the newer members from central and eastern Europe, however, average income per head is only a quarter of that in the richer EU states.

This clearly provides a real motivation to move countries, especially for people who worked in lower skilled jobs. As a result, 12 per cent of agricultural and horticultural workers in the Netherlands now come from central and eastern Europe.

Alexandra Gowling


Alexandra Gowling

Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in Asia before coming to the Netherlands a year ago. She enjoys writing, reading...

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