Seasonal and short-term contract workers who come to the Netherlands to work are at risk of serious physical and mental health problems because of their working conditions, a survey has found.
Long hours, high productivity pressure, hard physical work and uncertainty about accommodation are combining to create ‘an impact on physical and mental health on a scale which we didn’t anticipate’, researcher Inge Goorts of health expertise centre Pharos which conducted the survey told the NRC.
Some 260 so-called arbeidsmigranten from Eastern Europe participated in the survey and researchers spoke at length with ten of of them as well as with 18 care and social work professionals.
Workers’ health is generally good when they arrive, Goorts said, but people literally ‘work until they drop.’
Long working days are limiting social contacts after work, the survey found, and if workers fall ill, they do not take time off for fear of losing their job or are being pressurised into turning up by their employer.
Many workers are insured via their employment agency which stops if they lose their job, effectively barring them from seeking medical help, both for physical or mental problems.
A major report commissioned by the government and published in 2020 made 50 recommendations for improving the situation of people coming to the Netherlands from abroad to work in greenhouses or in the meat industry.
The report, by former Socialist party leader Emile Roemer, called for the reintroduction of licences for agencies which bring in workers from abroad. Roemer’s report also recommended stopping agencies providing housing as part of a job contract.
Instead seasonal workers should be given individual rental contracts, their own rooms, and be allowed to stay on the premises for up to a month if they lose their jobs.
However, so far nothing has been done by the government to implement the measures.
Pharos said that Roemer’s recommendations, even if adopted, would not go far enough to prevent the health risks the survey has highlighted. More needs to be done to ensure workers have access to healthcare and to inform them of their rights to healthcare in their own language.
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