Flexmarkt column, November 2022

Regulations for the agency work sector only in 2025 – “It is really taking too long”

Since the abolition of the employment agency licence in 1998, the agency work market has been wildly proliferating, especially at the low end. Self-regulation has failed and regulations to eliminate rogue agencies are diligently sought. The government has announced stricter rules which are to come into force by 2025. "I have been advocating regulation for years, but 2025 – it is really taking too long," states Frank van Gool in his column for Flexmarkt.

“You have big responsibilities as an employer, such as responsibility for your employees and for your products, to name just a few familiar aspects. One might assume that the sense of responsibility among employers in the staffing world should be double. After all, the product they provide consists of ... people. And these very people should be seen as the company's capital and not just a means of production. One might think that, in our over-regulated country, this would be precisely the reason for the government to keep a close watch on the ins and outs of the agency work sector with regulations and control. But nothing could be further from the truth. Any fool can start a temporary work agency with no fuss at all and, crazily enough, go about their business for quite some time before alarm is raised over their operations. The numbers are disconcerting. According to a recent estimate of the Labour Inspectorate (Arbeidsinspectie), there would be some 2,500 rogue temporary employment agencies in the Netherlands. Mr Rits de Boer, General Inspector, says in an interview for NRC that it is a cautious estimate: "it could well be double that". And that out of a total of almost 17,000 temporary employment agencies, according to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics.

Insufficiently effective government controls were in 1998 one of the arguments in support of the abolition of the employment agency licence. Self-regulation of the market would work much better. We now see the results; the number of staffing agencies has quadrupled and, especially at the low end of the market, there is an uncontrollable proliferation with abuses such as underpayment, distortion of competition and tax evasion. The cruel part is that it is often international employees who fall victim to these practices. They have left homes to work in an unknown country and are therefore often easy prey for ill-meaning agencies. Instead of getting decent treatment they deserve, hardworking international employees often face ungratefulness and negativity in such situations. And that is unacceptable.

Of course, I applaud the announced certification obligation, the certificate of good conduct, the €100,000 deposit and the requirement for certified housing. But I am already worried about the enforceability of the new rules. Yet, what worries me the most is the 2025 implementation date. It is really taking too long. 

Meanwhile, the rogue members of our industry can go about their business practically carefree, and, in the meantime, voices are rising to limit labour migration as such to lessen the problems. Mr Rits de Boer of the Labour Inspectorate, for example, argues for restriction because “we are reaching our limits.” So, if the rules are missing and enforcement is poor, there just should be fewer international employees. This is how you dupe this group again. First, they fall victim to rogue agencies and then, the door is slammed in their face. I think that is an upside-down world.'

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