After the first transnational inspection campaign of six shared accommodations on 12 and 13 February 2022, the German and Dutch authorities have completed their evaluation. Due to significant violations of building regulations, all six inspected shared accomodations in Geldern and Emmerich will be closed until further notice. The result of the inspections shows significant deficiencies and violations of the law, among other things, in housing quality, overcrowding and hygiene regulations. In addition, law enforcement agencies are being called in because of the exploitative tenancies and the risks to the residents in parts of the accomodations.
“Exploitative living and working conditions have no place in North Rhine-Westphalia. Following the inspections, we are now taking action together with the municipalities and closing all six shared accommodations that were inspected. The reasons for the closures are the use of the residential buildings for accommodation purposes in violation of the building code and the poor maintenance, which in some cases puts the residents’ lives in danger. We use the Building Code and the Housing Strengthening Act to enforce law and order, to dissolve inhumane accommodation and to protect people,” says Ina Scharrenbach, Minister for Home Affairs, Local Government, Building and Equality. The Minister was able to get her own impression of the site during the inspection of a shared accommodation on 12 February 2022.
One of the controlled accommodations was immediately evacuated. There was a considerable risk for the residents. In another controlled accommodation, the attic had to be evacuated immediately as part of the action. The 21 affected workers were taken to safe emergency accommodation and must now be adequately housed by the responsible temporary employment agency. Otherwise, the state will take over the accommodation and charge the costs to the temporary employment agency.
Further evaluation by the authorities also reveals that there was mould infestation in almost all rooms of the inspected shelters. In one accommodation, the electrical supply was very poor overall, in the other accommodations there were isolated deficiencies with regard to the electrical installations. The sanitary facilities were insufficiently usable – in one case not usable at all. One accommodation was without heating and hot water. Four of the six shared accommodations were infested with pests such as cockroaches and rats, and there was littering inside and outside the buildings. In one case, an illegally imported fighting dog had to be picked up by the veterinary office and placed in quarantine.
“To put the municipalities in the driver’s seat in the fight against exploitative accommodation, there has been an obligation to notify the municipalities for accommodation since the Housing Strengthening Act. At the same time, they have to submit an operational concept. If regulations for shelters are not complied with, a fine of up to five hundred thousand euros can also be imposed,” says Minister Scharrenbach.
The German law enforcement authorities are at the same time examining whether the high rents paid per mattress by the smuggled-in workers can be prosecuted. This is because rents of 400 euros per bed and total rents of up to 8,400 euros for a single-family house in miserable condition exceed the customary local level many times over. The inexperience and predicament of the people concerned is unscrupulously exploited.
The inspection also uncovered embezzlement of wages. When an employment relationship is terminated, wages are regularly not paid for the last month of employment despite the work done. In addition, it came to light that the temporary employment agencies unilaterally terminated the employment relationship of migrant workers who became pregnant during their stay, contrary to Dutch law, and the expectant mother was brought back to her home country.
On the Dutch side, the state labour inspectorate also investigates violations of the minimum wage, excessive withholding of wages for rent and coerced working time violations. Fines of up to 100,000 euros are possible here. The Dutch law enforcement authorities will also check whether offences are punishable under Dutch law.
The emergence of such criminal structures is also related to the federal registration law. Due to a special regulation under the registration law, no registration has to take place in Germany in the first three months. Therefore, the municipalities often do not know at all which and how many workers from abroad are living with them. Consequently, they cannot easily ensure that fire protection regulations, the regulations of the Building Code of North Rhine-Westphalia (Bauordnung NRW), the Housing Strengthening Act of North Rhine-Westphalia (Wohnraumstärkungsgesetz NRW) or the requirements for accommodation according to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Arbeitsschutzgesetz) are complied with. Accordingly, at least 73 people who were not registered in Germany were also encountered during the checks.
“The federal legislator must close these loopholes as quickly as possible. It is true that the municipalities in North Rhine-Westphalia can contact the accommodation operators to obtain lists of residents through the ordinance on the Housing Strengthening Act of North Rhine-Westphalia. However, the information obtained through this is only available to other agencies to a limited extent due to the Federal Registration Act. If the registration law made it more obligatory for employers to register their employees, fines could also be imposed for violations,” said Minister Scharrenbach.
In the Netherlands, moreover, deductions from wages for rent and health care are only allowed up to 25 per cent, and only if the employer offers its employees adequate housing conditions. Violations of Dutch law in this regard are difficult for the Dutch authorities to verify because of the accommodation and employment contract documents located in Germany.
The actions of temporary employment agencies can therefore only be prevented to a limited extent due to the federal registration law. Above all, the cheaper housing on the German side has tempted the temporary work agencies to accommodate workers employed in the Netherlands on the German side of the border unnoticed and at overpriced rents, while remaining essentially unmolested themselves.
“Cross-border cooperation should now increasingly put a stop to the activities of temporary employment agencies. To this end, the state government will make full use of its possibilities and examine the lessons learned to see to what extent adjustments to the legal conditions can be further improved and interlocked within the framework of international cooperation. The first important step has been taken, and others will follow,” says Minister Scharrenbach.
You can download the official NRW press release here.