Foreign workers exploited by fibre optic cable firms: Nieuwsuur


Foreign workers brought in to lay fibre optic cabling in the ground are being underpaid and are working far too many hours, resulting in potentially dangerous situations, current affairs programme Nieuwsuur and broadcaster NOS have found.

Telecom companies are in the process of putting in fibre optic cable for two million households. The work is subcontracted out by large contractors to smaller firms who are using jobs agencies to recruit workers, mainly from Eastern Europe.

According to data accessed by Nieuwsuur, incidents connected with the work are increasing. In the first six months of this year, some 880 gas leaks were reported in the catchment areas of Enexis, Liander and Stedin alone.

In Maastricht, workers caused a gas leak but covered it up with sand. “Locals reported a smell of gas and we could take care of it but it could have been much worse. The question is not if but when there will be a major incident,” Enexis manager Sandra Thalen told NOS.

According to union FNV, telecom companies and construction groups which outsource the digging work, are not taking the working conditions of builders seriously enough.

“People are reluctant to talk. But we do know they are working many more hours than is allowed by law. And after a very long day they then have to get home. It’s very worrying,” union official Margreet Pasman said.

Marian Raicu, who has founded a union for Romanian workers, said jobs agencies are recruiting workers under false pretenses. One man who worked for KPN Netwerk said he gave up after three weeks when he was not given a contract and had to work longer hours than agreed.

In a reaction KPN said it “does not know about the case” but will “get to the bottom of it”.

The government department responsible for inspecting all digging work has just five inspectors.

Unpaid wages, substandard living conditions and far too many working hours are some of the problems a new licencing system for jobs agencies is supposed to weed out. The system will come into effect from 2025.

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