Many Polish employees still exploited in the Netherlands

A recent study shows that Polish migrant workers in the Netherlands are still being exploited by Dutch recruitment agencies, and that the protective measures from the government and the industry are lacking.

Researchers found that Polish workers are being cheated out of hundreds of euros per month and often have to live and work in very poor conditions.

Systematic violations

Stichting Onderzoek Multinationale Ondernemingen (SOMO) and the FairWork foundation interviewed more than 100 Polish employees in the Netherlands.

They analised the role of recruitment agencies, but also at the steps the Dutch government has taken to deal with labour exploitation of migrant workers in the Netherlands.

The researchers found that Polish migrants are forced to work excessively long days, are required to work unpaid overtime and face sexual intimidation and threats in the workplace. Some are forced to work without breaks, and sometimes don’t get enough rest between shifts.

"Every year, hundreds of Polish working migrants contact us because they have problems at work. Despite the fact that they have the same rights as Dutch employees, they are often abused.

"Their stories are the backbone of this report, and they show that a lot needs to be improved," according to Sandra Claassen, director of FairWork.

Vulnerable position of migrant workers

The dependence of Polish migrants on recruitment agencies makes them "extremely vulnerable" to structural exploitation, according to SOMO.

This is in part due to the insistence of the Dutch government to trust the self-regulation of employment agencies in the migrant sector. However, the study shows that self-regulation isn’t working, and that migrant workers are paying the price.

One of the problems is that migrant workers depend on the Dutch recruitment agencies for everything, including housing, transportation, work and health insurance. If an agency does not have the worker’s best interest in mind, the migrant is at their mercy.

The agricultural sector is where a lot of the problems occur: "The owner of the greenhouse where I was employed introduced a competition amongst workers.

"He put a list with the names of all workers on the wall. They were ranked in phases according to their productivity. When someone was in the orange phase for a couple of days he would be fired.

"The owner would call up the recruitment agency, tell them the name of the workers and the agency would call the workers to tell them there is no work for them anymore. 'Sneller, sneller, sneller,' and 'faster, faster, faster,' that is my entire Dutch and English vocabulary", said one of the interviewed workers.

Employer and landlord simultaneously

Polish workers have reported paying very high rent for housing in poor repair, living without privacy and under constant supervision. They are sometimes fined for things like receiving visitors, being noisy or using too much electricity.

The FNV, the largest trade union in the Netherlands, says the subpar housing conditions and intimidating attitude of the landlord/recruitment agency create a dehumanising situation for many migrants.

Izabela Muchowska from FNV told the NOS that this is a structural problem in the Netherlands, and not limited to Polish citizens only. Rumanian and Bulgarian workers are facing similar problems.

Dozens of calls to Dutch trade union

FNV receives dozens of calls each week from Eastern European migrant workers. FNV even employs Polish speakers and has a Polish version of its website available.

However, the trade union says that many workers are afraid to reach out for help, as they don’t want to lose their job for asking too many questions.

Monitoring the employment sector

The Netherlands has about 36.000 recruitment agencies, temp agencies and so on, according to the Kamer van Koophandel. Many of these are connected to industry associations that encourage monitoring of activities.

Branch organisations such as ABU counter the researchers’ claims that self-regulation doesn’t work, but do admit that "improved and smarter" monitoring is welcome.

SOMO says that new agreements among branch organisations in recent years to protect migrant workers have had little effect on the everyday reality of these workers, and that the Dutch government's policy of allowing the sector to self-regulate actually facillitates the exploitation of migrant workers.

"Recruitment agencies should be better controlled: self-regulation of the industry is failing and Polish workers pay the price. Recruitment agencies and the government should take their responsibility to improve the working conditions for Polish migrant workers in the Netherlands," said Esther de Haan of SOMO.

Thomas Lundberg


Thomas Lundberg

Born as a Swede in the Netherlands, this life-long expat has spent his time in Belgium, the United States and Amsterdam. He began his professional career as a regional news...

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