Treating migrant workers badly will become a criminal offence

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Migrant workers stick asparagus in 2020. Archive photo for illustration.
NOS News
  • John Jonker

    reporter The Hague

Labor migrants are often in a vulnerable position in the Netherlands. But anyone who abuses this, for example by paying them little or housing them poorly, can now hardly be dealt with under criminal law. That is a thorn in the side of the cabinet and it is therefore today presenting a bill to make exploitation a criminal offense.

The bill introduces the term ‘serious disadvantage’ of employees. That amounts to exploitation. Where at most the labor inspectorate is currently often used, the government wants someone to be criminally convicted from now on if they seriously disadvantage their employees.

“What this is about, for example, is if you, as an employment agency, bring migrant workers to the Netherlands and let them sleep on wooden bunk beds without a shower. That is a serious disadvantage,” says Karien van Gennip, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment.

Employers should check

Employers who hire people through an employment agency must also ensure that the people who work for them are not exploited by this law. So they have to check whether these employees get a good place to sleep. Otherwise they are also punishable, says Van Gennip. “If you let people work overtime without paying them properly: that is also a serious disadvantage,” she adds.

Eric van der Burg, State Secretary for Justice and Security: “You sometimes see that people are brought from abroad and then have to sleep in a barn with fifty people.” And he knows more examples: people who are severely underpaid or have to hand in their passports. “All examples of things that are not possible, but which it has been difficult to deal with lately. But of which we say: unacceptable.”

Human trafficking

This kind of abuse is of course not allowed under the current rules, but according to the cabinet it is better to act against it if it is made explicitly punishable. “Until now, it was always tackled through labor inspection and labor law. We say: no, this is exploitation of people in a weak position. That is why we also include it in the article of law that deals with human trafficking,” says State Secretary Van der Burg.

The bill will go into consultation today. This means that citizens and organizations are now allowed to comment on it before it goes to the House of Representatives. The government may choose to amend the proposal after that comment.

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