On 1st May 2007 the Netherlands, as a member of the EU, opened their borders to people willing to work there. Since they were always considered to be an open and tolerant country with respectful society, many were tempted to try their luck. Many being around 200,000 immigrants from central-eastern Europe, mainly from Poland.
But the idyll did not last for ever. Even though western Europe is getting older and needs more young labour force from abroad, the anti-immigrant spirits are in full bloom. Especially in times of global countries rich economies like the Netherlands fear depression deepened by a wave of foreign workers. Dutch government wants create new barriers to block an influx of new migrants. Majority of citizens complains that immigrant workers take the jobs from Holland’s unemployed, behave poorly and do not care for their houses.
4 years ago a scandal involving 3 Polish women and their employer came up. The said women worked strawberry picking in Oirshot and were allegedly physically abused by their boss, as well as refused to be paid wages. When they went on strike, the employer stopped supplying them with running water and food which were guaranteed in the contract. This issue moved the country. Polish consulate intervened in Hague, labour unions also became involved. Later on the employer denied any physical violence and abuse and explained that no wages were paid because the accountant was absent. The notion calmed down, but was still present.
Later, a newspaper campaign started. An article describing that Poles fish out fish from rivers and ponds, drink drive and cause car accidents triggered a chain reaction. Journalists agitated that on some camping sites seasonal Polish workers were disturbing the neighbourhood with noisy behaviour. More articles in such a tone were published. They compared them with cattle, complained that they party on their free days. Newspaper issues with these were often deliberately left for Polish people to encounter in their work environment. Acts of violence against Polish workers’ property were committed.
More often than before were Poles refused work or, if employed, sent on unpaid mandatory leave, while at the same time workers of different nationality were still paid on normal basis and their spots were safe despite job cuts.
In July 2011 the issue was brought back into the spotlights. Dutch eurodeputy Barry Madlener claimed that the Netherlands and want Polish people, especially unemployed. This statement sparked controversy and induced discussions. The deputy later explained that he had protection of domestic labour market in mind. He claimed that this notion is common within the state, but people are afraid to voice their concerns.
This stirring led to the Dutch Party of Freedom demanding harsher policies on unemployed immigrants who receive social welfare for over 3 months. Prime minister Mark Rutte agreed. A survey showed that 69% of population was unhappy with Poles arriving in the country; 3 out of 4 wanted the immigration law to be harsher. But there were some voices against these severe measures. Guido Vreuls, who runs a company hiring Poles in the Netherlands, tried to mitigate and convince that majority of Polish workers work hard, and exceptions to this rule can be encountered regardless of nationality.
In January 2012 the situation became more and more inflamed. Dutch radio served as a medium to propagate immediate expulsion of Polish workers. They were called budget parasites, welfare tourists and trouble shooters. Yet again someone stood to defend Poles’ dignity – Aart van der Gaag, a director of ABU job intermediaries spoke how tolerance is decreasing and all the blame for the crisis is pinned on them, all the while stressing that they are perfect, irreplaceable workers. He also claimed that truth be told the jobs that immigrant workers take are rejected by the Dutch. For them the salaries are too low, conditions too bad and work too hard, so they would rather stay at home and live off high welfare.
Finally, in 2012, the European Committee stood its ground. It forbid the Netherlands to alter the migration law, since it should be common across all the members of the EU. Any changes would be against the law and would result in a lawsuit. But with an increasing rate of unemployment and the crisis present in people’s lives more than ever, the social mood is unlikely to be in favour of immigrant Polish workers.
By Katarzyna Liszka, Martyna Dzido, Aleksandra Pułyk, Patrycja Perzyńska