Seven out of ten distribution centers violate safety rules
Seven out of ten distribution centers in the Netherlands do not comply with the (safety) rules. This is what the Social Affairs and Employment Inspectorate (SZW) says to NRC. The corona measures are not being observed, there are too short breaks between different services, safety rules are ignored and employees are paid less than the minimum wage in some cases, it turns out.
In the case of fourteen distribution centers, the Inspectorate investigates whether rules have actually been violated. Whether fines will ultimately be imposed will depend on the results of these investigations.
The Inspectorate SZW inspected more than two hundred distribution centers in the Netherlands last year. The reason for the checks was a study from a year earlier, which showed that distribution centers are regularly unsafe. For example, there were frequent accidents due to collisions with forklifts and complaints due to physical (over)load. The workload is also very high: long days under ‘high pressure’ are no exception, according to the Inspectorate’s annual report of 2019. Sometimes a record is made of how long someone goes to the toilet.
Sometimes ‘shady’ employment agencies
Distribution centers are often dependent on an employment agency for their personnel, says Philip Meijran, project leader at the Inspectorate SZW and coordinator of checks in the distribution centers. The larger employment agencies often have their affairs in order, he says, but sometimes they don’t manage to find enough staff and they outsource some of it to smaller, sometimes ‘shadowy’ employment agencies. That’s where things often go wrong, he says. The employment agencies operate on the edge of the collective labor agreement and, in addition to work, often arrange housing for the employee, usually a labor migrant. That is a dangerous construction, says Meijran. Because if the migrant worker loses his job, he must also leave his home, according to the project leader.
Due to the corona pandemic, the Dutch are ordering even more online. These parcels are processed in the distribution center by mainly migrant workers. Because they often do not know the rules and language, they are vulnerable to exploitation. “The risk of violating corona measures, accidents at work, working too long and being paid too little will only increase with this extra crowds,” the Inspectorate wrote on its website at the end of 2020.
From a survey by the Social Affairs and Employment Inspectorate among 380 labor migrants, in which NRC wrote about it last week, it turned out that one in five labor migrants cannot keep 1.5 meters away in the workplace. In distribution centers this even applies to half of the employees. And that while aerosols with virus particles thrive in the colder storage areas of distribution centers, which only increases the chance of contracting Covid-19.