Joint strike by the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Dutch government against inhumane accommodation of workers

In a targeted cross-border operation, North Rhine-Westphalian and Dutch authorities carried out inspections, with legal support from EURIEC, of shared accommodations in the German-Dutch border area on 12 and 13 February 2022. A total of six shared accommodation centres in Geldern and Emmerich were inspected with regard to building regulations, housing quality, overcrowding and hygiene regulations. The investigation confirmed the suspicion of organised smuggling of workers, mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, as well as exploitation of tenants and workers by temporary work agencies in the German-Dutch border area. The violations of the law found are to be punished according to the regulations. Among other things, considerable fire safety deficiencies, mould, pest infestation, lack of electricity supply and other deficiencies under building and housing law were found in the inspected accommodation. It is also expected that a ban on the use of some of the accommodations will be issued. The Dutch authorities will also punish blatant violations of labour protection laws (minimum wage, working hours, protection against dismissal). Where there is an initial suspicion of tax offences, the criminal prosecution authorities will also be called in.

More than 140 people were checked on both days by 40 employees from various German and Dutch authorities and informed about their protection rights. In addition to a large number of municipal authorities, such as the building inspectorate, housing inspectorate, public order office, local fire brigade and health office, the occupational health and safety department of the Düsseldorf district government, the tax investigation department and the Dutch state occupational health and safety department were also involved. The security of the 80 employees was ensured by the Kleve district police and the federal police. The inspection was initiated and coordinated by the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry for Home Affairs, Municipal Affairs, Construction and Equality.

Ina Scharrenbach, Minister for Home Affairs, Municipal Affairs, Building and Equality of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia: “With the cross-border inspection of shared accommodation, we have succeeded in striking a blow against the inhumane accommodation of workers. National borders must not be an obstacle to taking action against exploitative structures. With the first-ever cross-border inspection campaign, we have shone the spotlight on precarious working and living conditions and uncovered illegal structures in order to free those affected from inhumane conditions. I would like to thank all the staff of the authorities and the security forces who were involved in the control operation.”

“Migrant workers, like everyone else, have the right to decent housing and working conditions. This is as true here as it is on the other side of the border. That is why I am glad that we have intensified our cooperation with North Rhine-Westphalia. This weekend, the first joint inspections took place in the border region. Together with our German partners, we can tackle cross-border problems and improve the situation of migrant workers,” says Karien van Gennip, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour of the Netherlands.

Silke Gorißen, District Administrator of the Kleve district: “Unscrupulous entrepreneurs are perfidiously profiting from the plight of many labour migrants from South-Eastern Europe. Due to its proximity to the processing companies in the Netherlands, the district of Kleve is particularly affected by immigration. We cannot accept the situation of these people without taking action. As a model region, the district of Kleve has the opportunity to emphatically support the state ministry in combating the unacceptable conditions.”

Sven Kaiser, Mayor of Geldern: “We are grateful to the Ministry of Minister Ina Scharrenbach for coordinating this large-scale effort. Together with the staff of our administration, the campaign has been meticulously prepared in the background for months. As in many municipalities close to the Dutch border, the problem of temporary workers has been on our minds in Geldern for a long time. The action that has now been carried out is therefore also a clear signal to those behind this system that the state government and the municipalities concerned will not only act now, but also in the future, hand in hand, resolutely against this system of human trafficking and exploitation, in order to combat the existing abuses”.

Many workers are housed in shared accommodation close to the border on the German side and work on the Dutch side – in each case under precarious conditions. They are employed in the Netherlands under undignified working conditions. Temporary work agencies in particular, mainly with business connections in the meat processing industry, are setting up such structures. In the district of Kleve alone (including the towns of Geldern and Emmerich), it is estimated that about 2,000 migrant workers are affected.

“The cross-border control action was and is a first important step to uncover and fight grievances on both sides of the border. This is the only way to get a grip on appropriate working and living conditions for workers in the long run,” continued Minister Scharrenbach.

The Housing Strengthening Act of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, introduced on 1 July 2021, has strengthened the powers of local authorities to inspect buildings and accommodation used to house workers. The North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of the Interior, Municipal Affairs, Construction and Equality has also developed parallel structures for coordinated cooperation with the Netherlands. Now the control action took place on German soil. The cornerstone for the measures carried out was laid in December 2020 during the government consultations with the Netherlands.

“The Housing Strengthening Act is a sharp sword that we have given to the municipalities so that they can eliminate deficiencies. We are helping them to use it, as we are doing with the current inspection campaign. That is why this was only the beginning. More actions like this will follow so that we can drain the swamp of exploitative structures and dissolve inhumane accommodation,” announced Minister Scharrenbach.

You can download the official NRW press statement here.

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