Monday 13 July 2020

Romanian ambassador ‘concerned’ about conditions in Dutch meat firms

Photo: Depositphotos.com

The Romanian ambassador to the Netherlands has written to the Dutch government outlining concerns about the conditions in slaughterhouses, where hundreds of Romanian and other eastern Europeans work.

In that letter, the ambassador ‘expressed concern about the risks which Romanian workers are exposed to and called for increased controls in the meat processing industry.’

In addition, the embassy has renewed calls to Romanian workers to report
‘any type of abuse or exploitation’ to social affairs ministry inspectors or to contact the diplomatic mission for support and guidance.

The letter follows a visit by the ambassador and embassy officials to the Vion meat processing plant in Scherpenzeel, where dozens of mainly Romanian workers were ordered into quarantine after being found to have coronavirus.

Since then two more meat processing plants, mainly staffed by eastern Europeans, have been closed down in coronavirus scares.

Some 10,000 workers from eastern Europe work in the Dutch meat industry, mainly via staffing agencies, which often include accommodation as part of the deal.

Monique Kremer, chairwoman of the government’s Advisory Committee on Migratory Affairs, told the NRC on Saturday that concerns about these workers, who are at the bottom of the labour market, are not  misplaced, with or without the coronavirus crisis.

‘They work for low wages and we all benefit from that,’ she said. ‘We don’t want to pay too much for meat, asparagus or packages from Bol.com.’

Report

Six years ago, while employed at the Scientific Council for Government Policy, Kremer brought out a report on the position of Romanian and Bulgarian workers in the Netherlands and, she says, little has changed since then.

Regulation is limited and there are not enough inspectors to make sure people are not being exploited, she said. The unions are not well represented on the shop floor and workers themselves are ‘invisible’ because they work and live together as a closed group.

‘It is very difficult to give these people a voice and when their boss organises their living quarters as well, they become extra dependent,’ she said.

Many more inspectors, stronger unions and more information in countries of origin are key to improving the situation, Kremer said. The staffing agency sector also needs to be tackled and in should be come much more difficult to start up an agency, Kremer said.

Reputation

A year ago, home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren and social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees told MPs that the way in which migrant workers are being exploited by some employers and staffing agencies in the Netherlands is unacceptable and damaging the country’s reputation.

The statement came after Poland’s ambassador to the Netherlands sounded the alarm about dodgy staffing agencies and the abuse of Dutch labour laws to exploit migrant workers.

‘People are being brought to the Netherlands under false pretences and have to work here in poor conditions, while being excluded from Dutch society,’ he told the AD at the time.

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