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Suspected exploitation of migrant workers: Fact or fiction?

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Recently, there has been a lot of media coverage about these matters: low wages, long working hours, bad accommodation, high work pressure, heavy manual labour and little room for training. Not to think of the recent NOS news report: the death count in construction work has increased significantly due to language confusion and increased production. These are the kinds of things you hear in relation to foreign flexible workers.

HIRING SPECIALISTS OR EASTERN EUROPEAN WORKERS?

The law clearly states that one should pay flexible workers the same wage as one pays their own staff. That sounds great, but things don’t always work out that way. After all, how does one determine what kind of job the work that the flex worker is performing is equivalent to, and which wage and employment conditions they are entitled to as a result? Marc van Ravenstein, founder and owner of InAxtion, a leading temping agency for technical staff, explains the issue: “The law is subject to changes. For example, the government is trying to fight wage dumping by holding not just the temping agency but also the client involved responsible for any worker exploitation, such as underpayment. We sometimes get calls asking if we have any foreign people in our employ. It makes my skin crawl. I’ll answer with ‘we hire specialists only – and yes, that includes people of foreign origin’. A question like that immediately ruins the entire vibe of the conversation.”

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT

“This is a well known saying, but that doesn’t make it any less true,” Marc continues. “If a client or temping agency wants to pay little for good workers, that creates tension. It’s a contradiction in terms, really. Everyone knows that there’s a price tag attached to good quality. Luckily, we’ve seen that clients whom we’ve worked with for many years often feel the same way as we do. It seems that people are slowly but surely coming to terms with it. Today’s market isn’t an easy one to navigate. Time constraints are very tight, profit margins are under pressure, and people’s expectations are high, on both ends. If you ask me, keeping open lines of communication and acting based on trust and good business acumen is the key to a healthy revenue model that all parties involved profit from, including any foreign flexible workers.”

YOU CAN’T FORCE IT

“I personally do not believe that the force of the law has the ability to really improve migrant workers’ situation. It is a helpful tool, yes, but also a tool that can be used in very creative ways by those parties who are not genuinely concerned about their employees’ welfare,” says the director. “It’s almost like raising a child: if you tell them to do something, they will, but only because they have to, not because they actually want to do so themselves. And the moment you look the other way… That’s right, the cookie jar will be empty. But then how should we handle things? Like I said, it is important to maintain an open line of communication. We feel that by paying proper wages and offering suitable employment conditions, one attracts good workers, who will pay for themselves many times over, not just for the agency, but for the client as well. We see this kind of thing in the market every day: people are looking for reliable workers that might cost a little more, but will be able to use their quality work and expertise to successfully complete a project. I think that’s a true win-win situation.”

TAKE A LOOK IN THE MIRROR

“As for whether migrant worker exploitation is fact or fiction, well… There’s no clear answer to that question. I feel that everyone, regardless of their position, goals, or available budget within an organisation, should take an honest look at the human side of it. Consider what you as a human being would consider reasonable and normal. That takes courage. As does choosing your own way, even if it seems as though your way goes directly against everyone else’s. But it’s the only way to truly change the circumstances and help this industry towards a healthy future together,” says Marc.

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