Oxfam denounces exploitation of migrant farm workers in NL

Farm workers are often exploited

At least 2.4 million migrant workers in European farms are being exploited, facing long working hours, underpayment and sometimes even violence, according to a report published on Wednesday by anti-poverty charity Oxfam.

The report, prepared with the University of Comillas in Madrid, analyses the situation in Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

“Spain, Italy, France, Poland and the Netherlands were chosen because they are the five main producers of fresh fruit and vegetables in the EU, accounting for 72% of total production,” the study says.

According to official figures, about 1 in 4 workers in the European agriculture sector are migrants, but in reality it could be many more, the charity said.

While in other countries a significant number of migrant farm workers are from outside the European Union, the Dutch sector employs primarily other EU citizens. It is estimated that between 32,500 and 125,000 EU citizens work in Dutch farms, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, and 2,174 are hired in their country of origin and posted temporarily to the Netherlands.

The report says that Dutch employers sometimes work through intermediaries to hire ‘posted workers’, who pay social insurance contributions in their countries of origin, and thus receive lower salaries and lose access to healthcare because they do not appear as taxpayers where they work.

Some employers then enrol them for private healthcare, the cost of which is deducted from wages. Some workers also pay to be hired, the report says.

The study adds that in the Netherlands, some employers “recruit through employment agencies because, among other things, this allows them to bypass collective bargaining agreements in the sector and pay lower wages, including using zero-hour contracts.

“When workers have been employed for so long that they should legally start receiving more seniority pay, some agencies, especially unregistered ones, dismiss them and the employer hires them again through another agency.”

The research also found wages below the minimum local standards, with deductions for the cost of accommodation, food and mandatory protective equipment. “In the Netherlands, migrant agricultural workers are paid approximately €10 per hour, half of what non-migrant employees earn,” the study says.

Unpaid overtime

“Migrants also face delayed payments, the denial of payment, or unpaid overtime.  Such cases are reported across Europe, notably for Central and Eastern European migrants in the Netherlands, where workers often suffer such abuses, but do not protest due to the risk of being fired if they do,” the study adds.

The study also says that “in the Netherlands and Spain, the fear of losing one’s job means that migrant workers tend not to take medical leave”. The situation is even worse for women.

“We want to expose the underbelly of Europe’s agricultural industry which has at its core exploitation and breaches of European law”, said Oxfam’s Nerea Basterra.

Rights violations

The group notes that the EU recently approved new rules on supply chains for large companies, which should oblige to address rights violations.

Oxfam is also calling for better compliance with higher labour and social standards within the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

A major report commissioned by the Dutch government and published in 2020 made 50 recommendations for improving the situation of people moving to the Netherlands to work in greenhouses or in the meat industry. However, so far little has been done although the social affairs ministry plans to introduce some form of certification scheme in 2025.

Thank you for donating to DutchNews.nl.

We could not provide the Dutch News service, and keep it free of charge, without the generous support of our readers. Your donations allow us to report on issues you tell us matter, and provide you with a summary of the most important Dutch news each day.

Make a donation