German-Dutch migrant worker scandal –

Police raids revealed that migrant workers in the Netherlands were forced to live in unacceptable conditions in Germany, just next to the Dutch border. Better cross-border cooperation and joint action in Europe are needed to prevent abuse.

In a series of searches at the German-Dutch border on Wednesday (December 14), police forces in both countries reported poor living conditions for migrant workers.

“Very deplorable conditions that pose a risk to the lives and health of tenants”, the Ministry of Construction of the German region of North Rhine-Westphalia told the press. Lack of emergency exit or heating, fitted wardrobes in the bedroom… a lot of abuse.

At the same time, the Dutch authorities noted “major violation of labor protection law”, particularly with regard to minimum wages, working hours and protection against unfair dismissal, the ministry added.

Many migrant workers come from other EU member states, such as Romania or Poland, and are accepted by temp agencies to come and work in meat factories or on construction sites in the Netherlands.

“[Ces agences]buy or rent cheap accommodation on the German side, try to bring in temporary workers from Eastern and South Eastern Europe with often false promises and then put them in questionable conditions”end of ministry.

Although the director of the food industry at the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions, Ilja Philippen-Nijssen, prefers not to comment on the current case, he pointed out that in the collective labor agreement for the meat sector, “We have included an agreement that guarantees clients that they only work with contractors who use certified accommodations”to prevent abuse.

At the same time, agencies are taking advantage of lax Dutch labor laws, Pagonis Pagonakis, who was present at several raids and leads a project on labor rights for migrant workers in the EU, funded by the German Confederation of Trade Unions.

“They take advantage of the positioning of the border for their own purposes and try to maximize the profit on both sides”he exclaimed.

Cross-border cooperation is needed

For Mr Pagonakis, part of the problem is that the free movement of workers in the EU common market makes it difficult for authorities to monitor where and under what conditions workers are. This situation can be exploited by “very organized structure”he added.

The Deputy General Secretary of the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT), Enrico Somaglia, shares these sentiments. He told EURACTIV that there are loopholes in the Dutch directive on temporary work. He called for a reform of his vows, urgently.

Notably, the international nature of the police intervention forced several countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania, to cooperate. These countries also benefited from the help of the European Labor Authority (ELA), a European agency responsible for coordinating the implementation of European legislation on posted workers.

“Some companies try to avoid the controls of the authorities of an EU Member State by hosting workers behind the border in another EU country, but under unacceptable conditions”ELA executive director Cosmin Boiangiu said in a statement.

Joint cross-border controls can contribute “prosecute cross-border violations of workers’ rights and make labor mobility fairer in the EU”he added.

The EU should get its hands dirty

For Mr. Pagonakis, we must redouble our efforts. While he said the recent police raids were proof that cooperation between enforcement agencies in different countries was improving, he added that data sharing between countries needed to be improved.

He added that while joint operations like the recent raids help inform specific cases, “They can’t get rid of the problem” all in all. To do this, greater political awareness of the enabling elements of operating systems is needed in the EU, he concluded.

As for Mr Somaglia, he told EURACTIV that his union has made a list of demands that the EU must consider in order to prevent any exploitation of migrant workers. These demands also include increasing labor inspections at the European level.

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