Mixed results on labour

29th of June 2011
Mixed results on labour

The cleaning sector was closely monitored by the Dutch Labour Inspectorate in 2010. ECJ correspondent Anton Duisterwinkel reports on the results.

The Dutch Labour Inspectorate has changed its approach from random inspections of all companies and industries to a more targeted approach, focusing on sectors and companies that are likely to take the rules and laws for labour conditions less seriously.  This approach is deemed to be more effective - on the one hand companies that uphold the laws are ‘rewarded’, as the number of inspections is reduced. On the other hand, inspections are more likely to find infringements on the laws.

In the end, the Labour Inspectorate hopes this will lead to better labour conditions, honest payment and fair competition between cleaning companies. Clearly the inspections are no end in themselves, they are a means of improvement that should benefit both the employees and companies with sufficient social policies.

In particular the Labour Inspectorate checks whether any illegal foreigners are employed and whether minimum wages are being paid. In 2010, it was observed that in most industries, these laws and rules where obeyed better or as well as in 2009. However, in the cleaning sector, the percentage of infringements rose from 22 to 27 per cent. This means in more than a quarter of the inspected cleaning companies, illegal foreigners were employed or less than the minimum wage was paid.

One should not jump to the conclusion this is true for all cleaning companies, since the Labour Inspectorate specifically targeted companies with known histories or that a have high likelihood of not upholding the law. Although the average rate may be lower, this still was sufficient reason for the Labour Inspectorate to start a so-called intervention team, together with the tax authorities and other inspectorates for social and labour laws.

It is not all bad news, however, in the 2010 year report by the Labour Inspectorate. In the section on working conditions, all inspected cleaning companies had taken counter measures against 13 categories of labour related risk factors, including hazardous substances, noise risks, working at heights and so forth. Very few other industries appear to be so proactive in protecting their staff against labour related risks. Moreover, specific adjustments were made in train cleaning, which
is physically very demanding.

In particular, changes were made in railway shunting yards, allowing easier access to trains for cleaners.

Also, both the general cleaning and the window cleaning sectors have accepted labour conditions catalogues. These catalogues appear to be very valuable tools for translating the generic laws on labour conditions to actual labour practice. The laws define the objectives, such as ‘no unacceptable exposure to hazardous chemicals’. The labour condition catalogue shows how to reach this objective, for instance by using only certain categories of chemicals or by sufficient ventilation.

All in all, labour conditions in the Dutch cleaning sector are a mixed bag. There is a relatively large number of illegal employees and of employees who are underpaid. But employers do appear to take the safety and wellbeing of staff seriously.


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