Flexmarkt column, October 2022

“Mr Borstlap is wrong”

In his Throne Speech, King Willem Alexander said: “Migrant workers deserve decent treatment.” During the ABU Congress one week later, Hans Borstlap argued: “Labour migration is not a solution for labour shortages.” So, which of the statements is right? Frank van Gool (OTTO Work Force) feels compelled to refute Borstlap’s arguments in his column in Flexmarkt.

“I wholeheartedly agree with the first speaker; I could not have put it better. As for the second speaker, I heartily disagree: he is dead wrong. This autumn, the first Filipino nurses are coming to our country, what, in our opinion, is the logical next step in the area of labour migration. Ageing is hitting the whole of Europe; the workforce is rapidly drying up and to fill some of the vacancies we need to recruit people outside our continent. It creates a déjà vu situation: just like 20 years ago, I have to explain at all sorts of fora and in the media that labour migration is a must. Two decades ago, it concerned international employees from Central and Eastern Europe; now it is about employees from Asia. I continue to be something of a missionary in that respect, although I do notice that European labour migration is now a largely accepted phenomenon. The fact that migrant workers from Europe are here is no longer controversial, yet the way they are treated unfortunately still is. Hence, I was so pleased with the words of our King. Migrant workers deserve decent treatment.

Hans Borstlap, former top civil servant and the Chairman of the Work Regulation Committee (Commissie Regulering Werk), takes a different approach. During the recent ABU Congress, he called labour migration “a revenue model from the seventies, which suited law-wage management.” He would prefer the phenomenon of labour migration disappear altogether, let alone letting more migrant workers in. “Think of the housing needed for that, which is already in short supply.”

I really do not get that there are still people who claim the Netherlands could do without labour migration. Currently, almost one in five Dutch citizens is 65 or older (19.5%) and there are more than three people working for every person over 65. By 2060, this proportion will drop, however, to just 2.2 employed people for each 65+ person. It is not fewer international workers we need, but more. To be precise, we need 50,000 migrant workers extra every year; otherwise, our economy will completely stall.And, of course, housing is a challenge, but we seem not to realise that more than 60% of all international employees work here only for a while (maximum of 5 years). The solution is: flexible, temporary accommodation. And it can be swiftly completed if people at the executive level make quick decisions.

That “low-wage argument” is also a fallacy. International employees earn the same as their Dutch colleagues. Finally, one often forgets the major contribution migrant workers make to our country's welfare. From the current level of over 3% of national income, the net contribution of migrant workers will grow to over 4% by 2030. We are thus talking about a contribution of 14 to 20 billion euros to GNP.

In short, the Netherlands cannot do without labour migration and people who claim otherwise will find me on their way. After all, I am and always will be a missionary.”


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