Flexmarkt column, February 2023

“Provinces, take the lead on labour migration!”

“It is not migrant workers that are a problem; the real problem is housing for them” – states Frank van Gool of OTTO Work Force in his column in Flexmarkt. “Provinces must take the lead and ensure that municipalities seriously address the issue of housing for migrant workers.”

“I am never received with applause; during information evenings on the potential construction of housing for migrant workers local residents eye me with suspicion. People respond sceptically and express their concerns about safety, traffic, and litter. They would prefer not to have “those people” in their neighbourhood. When I explain that “those people” are just as hardworking as we are, that they ensure that the shelves in the shops are full and packages delivered, it evokes some empathy. And yes, people agree that also these people deserve decent treatment and accommodation. And they do want to believe it will all be taken care of, but preferably not in their neighbourhood. 

Not without migrant workers
Still, we will need to get used to the fact that international employees are part of our society, both as new neighbours and, in part, even as new Dutch citizens. The findings of a recent report of SEO Economisch Onderzoek (SEO Economic Research) show that the number of migrant workers will grow to 1,2 million by 2030, while their contribution to our economy over the same period will increase to 40 billion euro. In short, we cannot do without labour migration. Yet, discontent bubbles up time and again. Bottomline: migrant workers are a problem. My position is that it is not migrant workers that are the problem; the real problem is housing for them. We really need to solve it together.

Societal shortcoming
My mother used to say: “he who does good, receives good.” It is an old-fashioned proverb I like to use myself too. If you do good to others, they will do good to you. This is true in personal contacts, in business dealings and in social relations. When it comes to housing of migrant workers, the Netherlands is falling terribly short in societal terms. The results of a recent study by Expertisecentrum Flexwonen (Expertise Centre Flex Housing) demonstrate that there is a huge shortfall of decent dwellings for migrant workers: we are already 156,000 rooms short. If we were to accommodate international employees in regular housing, we would be talking about 43,000 houses. Housing - that's where the shoe pinches. 

Municipalities turn a blind eye
The solution is in the hands of local authorities who must develop a vision and demonstrate decisiveness by allowing housing in their municipalities. Yet, apart from a couple of courageous pioneers, many local governments turn a blind eye to the problem. They get cold feet or block plans at the slightest sign of opposition. The provincial authorities could and should play a role in this respect, by sharing experiences, formulating policies, and imposing specific housing completions. The elections to the Provincial Council are coming and new coalitions will be formed. My plea is clear: provinces must take the lead and ensure that municipalities seriously address the issue of housing for migrant workers.”

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