Fruit farmers and other companies who employ many labor migrants have to deal with the decrease of Polish workers. It is expected that Asians will replace them. ‘We can’t do without labor migrants.’
A permanent group of around 20 Polish workers have been picking apples for Wim de Heus in Zoelen for years. A few Polish also often come for large projects, such as the planting of new trees, ‘If one stops, they will arrange replacement themselves. This is ideal, because they know exactly what kind of people we are looking for,’ says the fruit entrepreneur.
In recent years there have been more and more substitutes. Until now, it is still possible to find new Polish workers. ‘But it’s getting harder. I’m worried about that.’
Now that the economy in Eastern Europe is growing strongly and unemployment is low, those workers are desperately needed in their own country. They very often receive a permanent contract with higher salaries than a few years ago. There are fewer and fewer incentives for Polish, Romanians and Bulgarians to come to the Netherlands, says the economic bureau of ABN AMRO in a new report.
Many Eastern Europeans work here in transport, logistics, agriculture and construction. According to the CBS, 250,000 jobs were filled by people from Central and Eastern Europe in 2017 in the Netherlands, of which 50,000 were in agriculture. The actual figure is much higher because EU employees are not required to register.
Due to the aging population, the demand for personnel from outside the Netherlands will only increase, so it is expected.
‘But then we still have a lot of work to do in engineering, construction and the agricultural sector. If the employees no longer come from Poland, then they might come from elsewhere, such as from the Far East.
‘In Germany and Belgium, Asians are taking over the work of Eastern Europeans,’ says Ronald Hilberink of Flexfactory employment agency in Doetinchem, which employs around 1,700 non-Dutch people at companies in the Achterhoek every day. ‘Those countries have special arrangements for Asian workers.’
This is not yet the case in the Netherlands. If you want to fly in workers from outside the EU, you need a work permit and you don’t get one easily. The employer must prove that he really cannot find any employees in the Netherlands. That means a lot of paperwork and procedures.
‘Moreover, the costs are high: there is a difference between coming from Poland by car and coming from Vietnam by plane,’ says fruit grower Bert den Haan from Kerk-Avezaath, who also has a fixed group of Polish workers in his yard during harvest time.
Good secondary employment conditions are important for keeping Polish here: such as own transport, good housing. Especially with the latter there is still progress needed, thinks Cees van Doorn of employment agency VDU in Waardenburg.
The Betuwe agency has about a thousand Polish working in the region. ‘But in the end more and more Asians will come to the Netherlands’, according to Van Doorn.
Van Doorn also foresees problems. ‘The cultural differences for Asians are greater than with Polish. Moreover, they cannot return to Asia for a short while when they have problems or if the work ends here. As a society, we must prepare well for this.’
If nobody picks the strawberries or wants to stand on the scaffolding, then the problem with the work permits will solve itself, expects Ronald Hilberink of Flexfactory.
‘Then there will be a special arrangement for workers from outside the EU, like with the Chinese restaurants. Recently Chinese restaurants no longer have to indicate that they cannot find anyone in the Netherlands before they let a Chinese cook work here. We cannot do without labor migrants in the Netherlands. It’s that simple.’