This article was published in a Dutch quality newspaper NRC Handelsblad 20-04-2011

They drink too much, cause a nuisance, cannot drive properly, empty our rivers of fish and fish for benefits and other social services. A lot is said and written about the Poles who live and work in the Netherlands – writes Stephane Alonso in NRC Handelsblad.

Now they are talking back.

‘I always thought the Netherlands was tolerant,’ says Ela Rodenburg, a naturalised Dutch citizen from Poland. She has lived for 16 years in the Netherlands and is vice president of the Polish Platform in the Netherlands. ‘Now I realise that it has never been tolerant. I feel increasingly uncomfortable here.’

‘The Netherlands is tolerant when things are going well,’ says Malgorzata Bos-Karczewska, for years the driving force behind, a website for the Polish community in the Netherlands. ‘When things aren’t going so well, you find it is a myth.’

Bos-Karczewska and Rodenburg are bewildered at Dutch plans to restrict labour migration. They are not alone. The Polish government recently established a working group to safeguard the position of Polish labour migrants in the Netherlands. And the influential Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, an outspoken admirer of the Netherlands on issues such as the environment, social legislation and women’s rights, this week wrote an editorial expressing deep disappointment. It opened with: ‘The Netherlands, famous for its tolerance and openness, is withdrawing into its shell.’

Minister of Social Affairs Henk Kamp announced last week, also on behalf of ministers Donner (home affairs) and Leers (immigration and asylum), a ‘robust package’ of measures to ‘properly channel’ labour migration from Central and Eastern Europe. ‘If you come to the Netherlands to work and you take care of yourself and you behave, then there are opportunities for you here,’ said Kamp. If not, ‘the right of residence will lapse.’

Representatives of the Polish community met with Kamp yesterday at a ‘Poles Summit’. The Poles see Kamp’s plans as an attack on Polish labour migrants and on the European Union. ‘The plans are in many respects contrary to European legislation,’ says Bos-Karczewska. ‘That is unacceptable.’

The Poles are a proud people. Not only because they felled communism in 1989 and set off a chain reaction in the former East Bloc, but also because they then spent 15 years working hard to join the EU. For the Poles, Europe is a marriage. The Polish government has already informed the European Commission in so many words that it will block Dutch efforts to rewrite EU directives.

But it is mainly Kamp’s tone that annoys the Poles. The stigmatisation of Poles has upset the community in the Netherlands for years. If a Polish driver is involved in a road accident the Dutch media explicitly report the fact. The Polish embassy in The Hague regularly receives complaints from nationals who feel they have been discriminated against. Because they have not been allowed into a discotheque because they are Polish or because they are closely watched by security guards in supermarkets who become overly suspicious as soon as they hear a foreign language.

Kamp, say the Poles, has made it fashionable to think in terms of stereotypes by suggesting that many Poles are looking for an easy life with benefits in the Netherlands. ‘No one is a saint and nor are we,’ says Rodenburg. ‘But the suggestion that Poles are exploiting the social system is simply offensive. Particularly since it is not true: 690 East Europeans received national assistance benefit in 2009. What are we talking about here?’

The exploiters, says Rodenburg, are not the Poles, but the Dutch, and in particular Dutch employment agencies that recruit workers in Poland. Rodenburg herself worked in the employment agency sector for years. ‘When the Dutch borders opened for Polish workers in 2007, the working conditions were generally excellent,’ she says. ‘They very quickly deteriorated’.

She tells of employment agencies that fail to pay allowances for irregular working hours; that oblige workers to take holidays in order to avoid having to offer them permanent contracts; that charge Poles large sums for accommodation and fine them for leaving windows open or causing a mess. Employment agencies, in other words, that refer workers to their obligations but not to their rights and that decide every dispute in their own favour.

Last week Kamp announced that he was going to tackle malafide employment agencies. But, according to Rodenburg and Bos-Karczewska, the minister is again missing the point. Even legitimate employment agencies go as far as they can, and sometimes too far, to pay Polish workers as little as possible. For the time being, the Dutch government believes in self-regulation in the employment agency sector. The Polish embassy in The Hague wrote in a reaction to Kamp’s plans that this was difficult to reconcile with ‘the restrictive measures that are preferred with regard to labour migrants’.

Rodenburg: ‘I’m sorry to have to say it but in many respects the Netherlands does not respect the rule of law, at least not where labour migrants are concerned. Labour law is laid down in detail, but its implementation leaves a lot to be desired. You expect that in countries with mafias, not in the Netherlands.’

The full article is published on 26.05.2011 with a consent of NRC Handelsblad and Media Monitor (English translation).

Opublikowane w portalu Polonia.NL 26.04.2011, update 26.05.2011
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