Fixed contracts for seasonal workers and compulsory registration of jobs agencies will result in better worker protection amid employers’ indifference, Dutch labour experts and MPs have said.
This week eight workers at meat packing plant Van Rooi told broadcaster NOS they were encouraged not to report symptoms of a possible coronavirus infection and continued working because they feared losing their jobs.
Some 80% of workers at Dutch slaughterhouses are seasonal workers and are employed via a jobs agency. The virus has spread among workers at several meat processing plants and at fruit farms, and officials say the cramped conditions the mainly eastern European workers live in may have contributed to the spread.
‘Most people who work for a jobs agency have a collective labour agreement which does not include a company doctor, for instance. That means it’s cheaper for the employer because the risks are not his. If a worker is honest about his state of health that person can be stopped from returning to work without any consequences to the employer,’ migration law professor Tesseltje de Lange told NOS.
According to a survey carried out on behalf of workers’ rights organisation FairWorks, only one in five companies which use jobs agencies check how the agencies treat workers. Agencies are responsible for the placement of some 400,000 seasonal workers in jobs in agriculture and the meat industry,
Fairwork spokeswoman Francien Winsemius said companies ‘seemed to look away from the problems intentionally’. ‘Some even said they didn’t know they are required by law to check the identity of seasonal workers,’ she said.
The incidents have increased calls for structural changes, with Socialist MP Frank Futselaar again arguing for fixed contracts seasonal workers, a move which would improve workers’ working conditions and halt the spread of coronvirus infections at the same time.
But although fixed contracts would be a good long-term solution, De Lange said, compulsory registration of jobs agencies recruiting workers from Hungary, Poland and Romania should also be introduced to make it easier to check on how workers are treated.
‘At the moment a disreputable jobs agency that has been reprimanded can just start over under a different name,’ De Lange said.
De Lange also pointed out that fixed contracts mean higher costs which consumers would to pay for.
Meanwhile, the local health board has said it sees no reason for closing down Van Rooi while food and health watch dog NVWI said their inspectors have not reported any problems at the plant.
Labour inspection officials have also said that they are not responsible for health issues, NOS reported.