Labour exploitation

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What is labour exploitation?

The term labour exploitation refers to cases where people are made to work – voluntarily or under duress – while their employer withholds their wages and/or cases where they are made to work under very poor conditions. Labour exploitation goes beyond poor employment practices. It is a combination of harsh, often inhumane, conditions in the workplace and the frequent co-occurrence of coercion, violence, blackmail, fraud or deception.

Key examples include the agricultural and horticultural sectors, the hospitality industry, private households, construction, and the cleaning and temporary employment sector.

Dangerous or unhealthy work
Employees in any industry may be faced with dangerous or unhealthy work to some extent. Examples include retrieving products from boiling water or working in a space with a fire hazard. A good employer, however, will protect employees against the risks that they may encounter. This protection is not offered in cases of labour exploitation. In fact, it is the often illegal employees who are made to perform such dangerous work.

Long working hours
There have been cases in which employees are made to work extremely long hours, up to 16 hours each day with only one brief break, for up to 6 or even 7 days a week. Long travel times are often not included in the working hours.

Hard-working people need a place where they can regain their strength. Nevertheless, some employees are forced to make do with degrading, inhumane housing, for which they are charged exorbitant prices.

In labour exploitation situations, workers are regularly underpaid, with employers paying less than minimum wage and offering no remuneration for overtime. Occasionally, employers will even apply their own rules to keep money to themselves, such as imposing preposterously high fines for phone calls made during work or for visits to the doctor.

Physical and psychological pressure
There are employers who put pressure on their staff through abuse, blackmail and threats. Some might forbid their employees from going to a doctor or the hospital. Others restrict their employees’ freedom of movement (for example, by confiscating their passport or identity card), thus keeping their employees ‘imprisoned’ outside of working hours.

Reporting suspicions of labour exploitation
It may well be that you suspect labour exploitation practices to be taking place in your environment. Victims may not always be aware of this fact, as they are frequently unaware of their own rights. There is a high likelihood of labour exploitation practices taking place if you see employees who:

  • are required to do dangerous or unhealthy work;
  • are required to work long hours;
  • are paid too little, are not paid at all or have payment of their wages postponed;
  • do not have access to their own passport;
  • have been brought to the Netherlands under false pretences;
  • are being mistreated, blackmailed, coerced or threatened;
  • are being forced to pay off a large debt to their employer;
  • do not have access to the money in their own bank account;
  • are working for undeclared payment or without accident insurance cover;
  • are housed in an industrial building or area, or is accommodated poorly in any other way;
  • do not know the address of their own accommodation;
  • are being put under pressure in any other way.

If you suspect labour exploitation practices to be taking place around you, we strongly encourage you to report such practices to the Inspectorate SZW (phone: 0800 51 51).

Anonymous reports
If you would like to report a case of labour exploitation in a situation where providing information may put you or a third party at risk, please contact the Criminal Intelligence Unit (TCI). All activities carried out by the TCI in relation to your notification will be dedicated to the absolute protection of your identity. Please contact the TCI during business hours on one of the following telephone numbers:

Helpline Netherlands (west) +31 6 23 86 61 45
Helpline Netherlands (south) +31 6 10 78 21 17
Helpline Netherlands (north-east) +31 6 10 21 34 45
Helpline for Amsterdam, North Holland and Flevoland +31 6 83 12 04 68