FairWork has collected a number of stories from migrant workers who have learned about their labour rights and the support options in the Netherlands. As a result, they have a stronger employment position and/or have been able to claim their rights.
Unpaid wages paid by employer
Chang and Hui are two Chinese cooks in the Netherlands who experienced harsh working conditions and underpayment. They worked 60 hours per week, were insulted and threatened by their employer. They had to do the work of three cooks with the two of them, often without a break, and felt discriminated. They got a fine of €30 for putting on the heating during winter. One of the cooks injured his foot but was not allowed to leave. And the other cook was hospitalized during 10 days after he fainted at work; but on the second day the employer told him to come back to work or otherwise to return to China.
They have never seen their employment contract, and they have never received the promised €1.900 salary a month. Instead, the employer repeatedly took their bank cards and when they got them back, they noticed that €600 was taken from their account. They were not able to rest after work because they lived in an apartment from their employer, where another colleague threw parties and smoked weed every night. The situation had a lot of impact on the mental wellbeing of the two cooks. One of them did a suicide attempt.
After an accident at work, the Dutch Labour Inspection brought the two cooks to a shelter. The shelter contacted FairWork to see if there was anything we could do concerning the unpaid wages. FairWork discussed the issue with the Dutch Labour Inspection. The Inspection pressured the employer to pay the unpaid wages. This mediation was successful and the employer paid. FairWork also managed, together with another support organisation, to arrange temporary accommodation for them.
Dismissal of false claims
Lino (38) from Greece works for a large employment agency in logistics. The agency also arranges accommodation for him. One day, the security organises a thorough, unannounced search in his room. The agency claims to find hard drugs on a corner of his bank card. Lino denies to have used hard drugs, but he is kicked out of his accommodation without the reasonable term of 4 weeks. Lino did not receive his full holiday money and the agency also claims that Lino has to pay for a new matrass. The matrass was very dirty when Lino arrived and he even got infections from sleeping on it. Each time that Lino contacted the agency about this, he received an automatic reply saying they would come back to him, but they never did.
Lino finds a new job with new accommodation but again has a negative experience. The first accommodation he is offered, is full. In the second accommodation there is no key of the front door for him, which means he cannot leave the house without being locked out. Lino leaves the place but the agency wants him to pay for the accommodation.
Lino loses his trust in job agencies in the Netherlands and contacts FairWork for support. FairWork contacts the first agency and manages to make the agency dismiss the claim and pay his holiday money. As the second agency is a member of ABU (association of employment agencies) FairWork contacts ABU, and they decide to intervene. After the intervention, also this agency dismisses the claim for the accommodation.
Employer pays overdue salary
Najim, a 26-year-old Moroccan man, did various painting jobs for different contractors in his network. His last job was painting an apartment. The contractor promised him 1.000 euros. This was agreed orally; Najim does not have a contract nor a work permit in the Netherlands. After Najim has worked 8 full days, the contractor only pays him 200 euros. Thanks to another support organisation, Najim contacts FairWork, where he learns that, even as an undocumented worker without a contract, he has the right to be paid.
But when Najim asks his employer for the remaining 800 euros, he is told that he has to be patient. At Najim’s request, FairWork contacts the employer and explains the rights and duties of the employee and employer. The employer does not want problems and promises to pay Najim. That same evening he brings Najim the 800 euros to which he is entitled.
Collective legal claim
Over the course of a few weeks, six people with the Ukrainian nationality approach FairWork with a complaint about their work situation. They all work for a Dutch company, but they have no labour contract. The work and salary agreement is a verbal agreement. After some time, the company stops paying their salary. It is very unclear which hours are paid and which are not paid.
When FairWork approaches the Dutch company for clarification, it turns out that the Ukrainians formally work for another company, a Polish employment agency. This Polish agency calls on Polish labour law with regard to timing of salary payment and the distribution of pay slips. FairWork is preparing a collective legal claim with the help of a lawyers office.
Compensation for exploitation
Fouad and Anouar are distraught: they have been working for a laundry in Amsterdam for a number of years. Fouad delivers laundry in a van, Anouar is manager of the laundry. They work long days, often until late at night. In the summer, temperatures in the laundry are high. In the beginning they also sleep in the laundry. Both men are undocumented in the Netherlands, and work for a Moroccan/Dutch employer who owns a number of laundries in Amsterdam. In these laundries the linen is washed for hotels.
They were promised to receive a fixed amount of 40 euros per day worked. The employer constantly makes false promises. For example, he tells Anouar and Fouad that he is saving those 40 euros for them; money they will never see again. Each month they receive only 300 euros in cash. The employer says that he will arrange a residence permit for the men with the withheld wages.
Anouar is matched against a woman against his will, so that he can obtain a residence permit through a marriage of convenience. This allows him to work legally, so that no problems arise during an inspection at the workplace. If Anouar does not cooperate with this residency procedure, he would lose his job and his life would be insecure, he is told. Anouar feels very uncomfortable with this situation and does not want to cooperate in the fraud.
Anouar and Fouad regularly receive threats from the employer so that they do not take action against him; the men depend on the boss and are afraid of him. They come into contact with FairWork through an acquaintance. We help the men file a report against their employer in the context of human trafficking. The case will come to court six years later and the employers will be convicted of human trafficking.
Anouar and Fouad indicate that they feel enormous relief after hearing the verdict; the matter had weighed on them more than they had realized. Anouar says: ‘My boss took five years from my life, I couldn’t do anything against him then, I was powerless’. Now Anouar and Fouad will finally dare to tell friends and family what happened to them; the formal recognition plays a big part in how they can close the case. By exploiting Fouad and Anouar, their employers made a lot of money off them; part of that unpaid salary will be paid back to the men, as it should be in a just society.
Delinquent wages paid
The Romanian Alina and her son Alexandru came to the Netherlands via a Romanian employment agency to work in agriculture and horticulture. They did not receive a contract from the Romanian company, they would get one in the Netherlands. This turned out not to be true. Mother and son were satisfied with the working conditions and housing. But much to their disappointment, not only did they not get a contract, but they also weren’t paid in full. Alina was still entitled to wages for 229 hours worked. Her son was still entitled to wages for 215 hours worked.
Alina and Alexandru lodged a complaint with the Dutch Labor Inspectorate via the internet. Because they didn’t hear anything, they knocked on FairWork’s door. We requested the employer to pay twice the wages (by letter and by email), to which we received no response. Then we hired a lawyer. We have collected all documents and necessary forms and sent them to the lawyer. The application for legal aid was ready, but it was ultimately not submitted by the lawyer.
Because Alina surprised us with the news that she had been approached by the Dutch Labor Inspectorate. She showed us screenshots of an email she received. In it, the employer promised that he will pay her and her son’s salary. He asked if her bank account number was still the same. More than two weeks later, Alina has received 2,494 euros in her account and her son 1,869 euros. Despite the fact that it took nine months from the moment they made a first complaint until they received their salary, they were very satisfied with this result.
Au pair leaves host family that mistreats her
In good spirits, the young mother Lorelie came from the Philippines to the Netherlands, with the aim of working hard to send money to her family living in poverty. When she left, one of her children was less than a year old. “I really wanted to go to that country with the windmills: the Netherlands.” The Filipina ended up in a family with four children. “I am a hard-working woman, and I wanted to put in a lot of hours to earn money for my own children.” But she soon realized that she had found herself in a very unpleasant situation.
“I got up at 5 a.m. every morning,” Lorelie says. And at 11 o’clock in the evening I was often still ironing clothes.” She took care of all the children and did all the household chores. “The little money I earned I sent home straight away.” There were many tensions in the family. “They weren’t nice to me,” Lorelie says. And after three months the bomb exploded: “After I hurriedly picked up the children, and tried to get home as quickly as possible through all kinds of weather and wind, while I was still trying to find the route, I fell off my bike. When I came home late because of that, the mother just kept yelling at me.”
“It always went like this, so I was done with it at some point,” Lorelie says. She packed up her things and decided to leave: “I put the keys and bank cards on the table and wrote a note.” The au pair agency links Lorelie to another host family, where she is treated well. Meanwhile, Lorelie, who has become pregnant again, tries to get her two children to the Netherlands, in order to become happy in ‘the land of the mills’.
Lorelie wants to tell her story for all the young women who are going through the same thing. “Because I know I’m not the only one who’s been through this terrible situation. I hope they don’t lose hope because you have to keep going, keep fighting, stay strong and never give up.” (source: website EenVandaag 08-12-2021)
Partial payment during lockdown
Clemencia, a 29-year-old South American woman, worked full-time as a nanny for babies in various North Holland families. When corona broke out, her employers asked not to come anymore. She suddenly lost all her income. Subsequently, Clemencia contacted FairWork and was informed about the labor rights of undocumented workers. She was advised to negotiate with her employers about a possible continued payment. Clemencia was very surprised, because she did not know she had labor rights. She was happy with the information and tip from FairWork.
Then Clemencia approached her employers. She said she was in a difficult situation and sought help from FairWork. She said she understood that she has labor rights. Clemencia went on to say she would like to talk to her employers about the possibility of getting compensation during the lockdown. She also indicated that if she does not receive payment, she is also under no obligation to maintain a working relationship with the employers.
One of the families then indicated that it wanted her back. The family has decided to pay Clemencia half of her usual salary during the month that she has not worked. In the following period, they will look at how the situation develops and discuss a solution together.
Julia, a 25-year-old Polish woman, worked for seven weeks through an employment agency. She wanted to cancel her contract because she thought the working conditions were bad. The agency informed her of a two-week notice period. The agency also said that she would have to pay a fine of 250 euros if she did not respect that notice period. She was shocked and contacted FairWork for help.
FairWork went through Julia’s contract and informed her that the notice period and fine are nowhere to be found. Neither in her contract, nor in the ABU CLA, which only states that she has an obligation to notify the agency one day before her departure. After receiving this information, Julia contacted her employer again and was able to identify the exact article stating her rights. Then the agency “suddenly” realized they thought she had another contract.
Payment scheme for arrears of wages
Estevo, a 28-year-old South American man, did all kinds of construction jobs through an intermediary. However, the employer did not pay him all the promised wages. The employer’s payment arrears had already reached EUR 1,048. Then corona broke out and construction work came to a temporary halt.
FairWork has informed Estevo that despite his lack of a valid residence permit, he does have labor rights. Although he did not have a written contract with the employer, there were clear employment relationships. FairWork has informed Estevo that he is therefore also entitled to be paid according to the minimum wage. Estevo subsequently confronted his employer with this knowledge. In response, the employer makes an agreement with Estevo to pay the back wages in weekly installments and the employer immediately started doing this.
Successful wage claim
Kabali, a 30-year-old man from Southwest Africa, goes to work for a North Holland food production company through an intermediary. He contacts FairWork because he has not received the salary in the last five weeks. FairWork has contacted the employer several times, unfortunately without success. FairWork has informed Kabali that, although undocumented, he also has labor rights, such as minimum wage payment. He has also been informed about the right to a lawyer that also applies to him, and about legal aid.
Kabali’s case has been referred by FairWork to a lawyer, who has brought the case to court. The court subsequently made a positive decision on the wage claim. The intermediary has not defended himself in court. That is why the court has rendered a default judgment for the payment of back wages up to an amount of several thousand euros.
Safe reporting of exploitation
Marcela, a 33-year-old woman from Latin America, came to the Netherlands with her sister to work as a domestic worker and babysitter at a family home. When she wanted to return home, her employer indicated that this was not yet possible. She had to keep working for a few more months. She did this, but her wages were not paid in full and the employer did not keep promises to receive Dutch lessons. The employer was also regularly aggressive towards both women.
When the lockdown started due to corona, the employer suddenly put the women on the street. They ended up with an aid organization that then called in FairWork. We informed Marcela and her sister about labor exploitation and its signs. FairWork told the women that no one in the Netherlands may be exploited and that victims have the right to protection. FairWork also informed them about the possible procedure. Marcela decided to talk to the investigators of the Social Affairs and Employment Inspectorate. She was offered protection because there were signs of exploitation and she was guided in filing a report.