Netherlands curbs Bulgarian, Romanian workers

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As of 1 July, Bulgarians and Romanians as well as foreigners from outside the EU will only be granted a work permit in the Netherlands under "exceptional cases," the Dutch press reported on Tuesday (12 April).

The proposal by Social Affairs Minister Henk Kamp was backed by the Dutch government, according to press reports.

Kamp wants employers in agriculture and horticulture, for example, to make more use of unemployed people of Dutch nationality. This is in line with the government's policy of putting the jobless under pressure to accept work, he explains.

Since the EU's 2004 enlargement to ten member states, some 165,000 people from Central and Eastern Europe on average have been working in agriculture and horticulture, construction, industry and the transport sector in the Netherlands.

"Meanwhile, over one million people aged below 65 are without work and sidelined on social benefit," Kamp argues.

Although the Netherlands has the lowest unemployment rate in the EU, at 4.5% compared to 10% for the EU as a whole, it has been stuck for years with an army of job-disabled.

Of the approximately one million sidelined as "disabled" in a country of 16.6 million, at least half are in fact able to work, according to Kamp. He wants to activate them by "simply ensuring that there is no benefit for those who can work and for those for whom there is work".

Tough line for foreign workers

Regarding workers from outside the EU, Kamp takes an even tougher line: "I do not know why we should admit them. First help the unemployed in the Netherlands get work, then look in the EU, and only then, outside the EU," he said, quoted by NIS news website.

By "outside the EU," Kamp also means Romania and Bulgaria, the website adds. Both countries did join the EU in 2007, but the Netherlands has made use of an option to maintain work restrictions for those countries (see 'Background').

For workers from other EU member states – primarily Poland – nothing will change. "They have a fundamental right" to work in the Netherlands, the minister acknowledges.

Employers who claim to need Bulgarians and Romanians must apply for an employment licence from the country's public employment service, UWV. Kamp wants the system via that government body to become more stringent. An employer who tries to hire a Bulgarian or a Romanian would have to substantiate his claim that no suitable candidate can be found within the Netherlands or in the rest of the EU.

Fruit and vegetable growers in Noord-Brabant apparently are happy employing Romanians or Bulgarians, and farmers' organisation LTO lashed out at Kamp.

"The Hague is unloading on employers its own incapacity to recruit Dutch unemployed," LTO chairman Albert Jan Maat complained.

Farmers sometimes do get Dutch jobless via the UWV, but say their work morale is low. They complain about back problems, and do not work hard like East Europeans, the LTO says.

Starting in January 2014 – seven years after their EU accession – there will be complete freedom of movement for workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

Workers from Bulgaria and Romania currently enjoy full rights to free movement pursuant to EU law in 15 member countries – Denmark, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic.

But restrictions remain in place in 10 member states (Belgium, Germany, Ireland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria, the UK and Malta) and typically require Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to have a work permit.

In the context of the expulsions of Roma by the French authorities last summer, it became evident that Bulgarian and Romanian nationals are more vulnerable to expulsion than other EU citizens in this country, as they are still obliged to seek work permits before they are allowed to take up residency.

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