Committee urges end to abuse of migrant workers

Research on migrant workers has concluded that the Netherlands underestimated how many immigrants would come when the country opened its borders to people from Eastern and Central Europe in 2007. Research from a committee established by the Dutch House of Representatives says the Netherlands was completely unprepared for dealing with the influx. In its report, the committee put forward several measures to tackle the issues that have arisen.


The Netherlands opened its borders to migrant workers from Eastern and Central Europe in 2007, which resulted in 200,000 people coming to the Netherlands to look for work. It also led to higher income levels

Consequently, the Dutch House of Representatives set up the temporary research committee on ‘Lessons learned from recent labour migration’ and gave it the task of researching why the influx occurred and what problems have arisen in the Netherlands as a consequence (see NL0810029I; NL0902039I).

The committee published its report, ‘Labour migration on track’ (in Dutch, 1054Kb PDF), on 30 September 2011. In it the committee concludes that the Netherlands was not in a position to deal effectively with the influx. The Netherlands had estimated that about 18,000 migrants would come and were inadequately prepared for the 200,000 who actually arrived.

Illegal employment and poor housing

The influx has led to many problems since 2007. Between 5,000–6,000 illegal temporary employment agencies have emerged, helping some 100,000 migrant workers to find a job. However, these agencies are unregulated and tend to find migrant workers work at the bottom end of the labour market where working conditions are poor and often below the Netherlands’ minimum legal standards.

Most accommodation for migrants is overcrowded, and although the workers are underpaid they are falling prey to landlords demanding too much for inadequate, poor-quality accommodation. The committee says this is unacceptable and believes that the Cabinet must act soon to stop this.

Measures needed to combat abuse

The committee says the government needs to act swiftly because all studies point towards a further increase in the number of migrant workers in the short term. The problems will increase if decision-making and implementation are too slow.

Its recommendations to the Dutch House of Representatives (and therefore the Cabinet) include:

  • taking steps to close all illegal employment agencies;
  • ensuring housing standards are adhered to;
  • encouraging local authorities to develop a joint regional housing policy which will prevent the formations of concentrated pockets of migrant workers;
  • implementing an improved, uniform, registration process so that local authorities have accurate numbers on which to base and implement policies;
  • identifying and encouraging appropriate measures to achieve migrant integration.

Henk Kamp, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, has welcomed the fact that the House of Representatives is paying more attention to the issue of migrant workers, and has pointed out that he is already implementing a range of measures. A legislative proposal has already been prepared which would make it compulsory for temporary employment agencies to be registered. The minister has also already informed the House of Representatives about a new policy to close businesses repeatedly found to be in serious breach of guidelines. The Cabinet will issue its detailed response to the report in November.

Petri van Vuuren, University of Amsterdam, HSI

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