Dutch employment agencies are housing migrant workers in German border towns, causing these towns to deteriorate. It’s cheaper for employment agencies to find houses in Germany, and control from the Netherlands is less strict. But the migrant workers have little opportunity to integrate into the German towns, they often live in appalling conditions, and locals complain about nuisance, NRC reports after speaking to officials from the German municipalities and German trade union DGB.
Due to the housing shortage in the Netherlands, Dutch employment agencies are increasingly buying up houses in German border municipalities to rent out to migrant workers. So every morning, a procession of Dutch cars and vans drives into Germany, picks up workers, and brings them back to the Netherlands.
“The Netherlands earns the money, and we have the problems,” mayor Peter Hinze of Emmerich said to NRC. In his border town with 30,000 residents, at least one in ten now comes from Romania or Poland. Almost half of Emmerich’s Eastern European residents work in Dutch factories, Hinze said.
“Employment agencies buy houses, often from private individuals, and then sometimes place 11 to 15 migrant workers there. They pay about the same rent here as in the Netherlands, while the housing costs are lower. So it really pays off,” Hinze said.
The district of Kreis Borken – a collaboration of 17 German border municipalities with a total of 380,000 residents – faces similar problems, district board member Elisabeth Schwenzow said. “[The employment agencies] can stay under the radar here. Control from Dutch authorities is simply more difficult when people live abroad. Employment agencies can more easily charge high rents and exploit people this way. Checks in Germany also focus on companies, so this group of migrant workers falls outside all controls,” she said to the newspaper.
As these migrant workers leave early in the morning to go work in the Netherlands and only return late, they have little chance to integrate into the tight-knit community of places like Emmerich. Because they work in the Netherlands, very few speak any German.
The German municipalities are also concerned about the conditions people live in. “They live in houses where you don’t want to die,” Hinze said to NRC. “Employment agencies buy the cheapest houses, which often have defects, and then hardly fix them.” He knows examples of migrant workers sharing their homes with cockroaches and rats. People live without furniture, with a simple stove as the only heating. Schwenzow: “We have seen situations where six people slept in a room, where they paid almost 400 euros per person in rent.”
To tackle the problems structurally, the German municipalities call on the Netherlands to do something. Among other things, they want migrant workers in the Netherlands to start working for an employer instead of through an employment agency. That happened in Germany last year. “We also heard in Germany that it was impossible to employ migrant workers,” said Frank Thon of trade union DGB. “But due to a major system change during the pandemic, workers in meat factories are now employed with a direct contract with the employer. If it is possible in Germany, it should also be possible in the Netherlands.”
That makes migrant workers less dependent on an employment agency and less likely to find themselves living in appalling conditions in another country. Hinze and the union also want faster and more severe action against employment agencies guilty of abuses. “Because if there are no serious consequences for Dutch employers and employment agencies, the problem will continue to exist,” Hinze said.
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