Labour shortages in sectors with poor terms of employment

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During summer 1998, Dutch employers in agriculture and market gardening are having to contend with labour shortages during harvesting, and are pressing for liberalisation of regulations. Shortages in this sector, as well as in other sectors, such as the hotel and catering industry, can be explained in part by the relatively poor terms of employment.

The Central Employment Office (Centraal Bureau Arbeidsvoorziening, CBA) - comprising employers, trade unions and independent members - announced in summer 1998 that it will speed up the procedure for permitting the employment of asylum seekers during the harvesting season.

In the market gardening sector, employers need some 30,000 to 35,000 employees, whilst in the fruit-growing sector, 19,000 employees are needed. Because of the present situation in the labour market, growers experience difficulties in filling vacancies. Therefore, they have requested the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment to speed up existing procedures and to liberalise the rigid structure for hiring employees from outside the European Union (EU).

The procedure for permitting the employment of asylum seekers will now be shortened from two weeks to one week. The group in question consists of asylum seekers holding a (temporary) residence permit. Talks on the position of asylum seekers without a permit continue. A change in the law will be required before this category can be called on.

Regarding the employment of people from outside the EU, the parties concerned have agreed that employers must first prove that they have done their utmost to hire people from EU countries, for example by placing job advertisements. Agricultural action groups have pressed for permission to call in Polish employees. For the past three years, the CBA has refused to grant permission on the grounds that there are sufficient numbers of unemployed people in the Netherlands who could do the job.

Because of the labour shortages, some employers have resorted to hiring illegal employees. In 1997, the Labour Inspectorate found illegal employees working in 172 companies in the agricultural sector. In the hotel and catering industry, the number of companies hiring illegal employees was 735. Together, these sectors were responsible for more than 75% of the offences revealed by the Labour Inspectorate.

Spokespeople for employment offices are of the opinion that the lower than average terms of employment in the agricultural sector and the hotel and catering industry largely explain the current labour shortages. Not many people are prepared to accept a combination of irregular working hours, low pay and heavy physical work.

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