Labor Inspectorate: four out of five distribution centers unsafe

Four in five distribution centers violated health and safety regulations last year. This is apparent from an as yet unpublished report by the Dutch Labor Inspectorate, which has been seen by NRC. The distribution centers have violated safety regulations, have not followed corona regulations (such as keeping a distance of one and a half meters) or the work there was too heavy physically or mentally.

The Labor Inspectorate inspected two hundred distribution centers last year. Of these, 163 failed to comply with the rules at least once. The Labor Inspectorate does not state which distribution centers are involved.

Twenty times the inspectorate stopped work “because there was serious danger to the workers”. For example, orders are collected from high racks. Sometimes these were not shielded, so that employees could fall from a height of nine meters. Of the distribution centers surveyed, 175 had not been checked before; they are randomly selected.

9,000 distribution centers

Since the start of the corona pandemic, almost two and a half years ago, the Labor Inspectorate has been checking distribution centers extra often. During corona, people ordered online more often, which increased the workload and the number of “serious accidents”, according to the Labor Inspectorate.

The number of distribution centers has grown significantly in recent decades. The Netherlands now has about 9,000, which together cover about 40 million square meters. Many staff come from Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Romania.

Working in a distribution center: ‘I feel like a monkey doing the same trick over and over’

The Labor Inspectorate is concerned about the treatment of migrant workers in the distribution centres. The work, where the ‘physical load’ is heavy and the risk of being hit by a forklift is high, is mainly done by temporary workers, especially migrant workers, according to the Labor Inspectorate. They are often insufficiently aware of their rights in the Netherlands. “They are hired for short or uncertain periods and are often not proficient in the Dutch language,” writes the Labor Inspectorate. “Working migrants often complain late,” says a spokesman for the Labor Inspectorate.

According to Anita Böcker, associate professor of sociology of law and migration law at Radboud University Nijmegen, language and communication problems probably increase the risk of ‘accidents’ in the workplace. “Formally migrant workers have no fewer rights than Dutch employees,” says Böcker, “but HR departments of large distribution centers often let foreign workers work through employment agencies and therefore pay less attention to them. They leave the guidance on and outside the workplace to employment agencies.”

The Inspectorate identified 547 violations last year, 28 of which were very serious

547 violations

Last year, the Inspectorate identified 547 violations, 28 of which were ‘very serious’ violations. Ten times an inspector wrote a fine report, on the basis of which a fine can be imposed.

The checks at distribution centers build on previous inspections and investigations by the Labor Inspectorate. In 2020 it already became clear that distribution centers are often unsafe, and during the corona pandemic, the centers turned out to be flouting the corona rules on a large scale. Staff felt unsafe as a result.

Philip Meijran, former coordinator of checks in distribution centers, mentioned last year in NRC large employment agencies are usually reliable. But, he said, if the centers fail to find enough people, they sometimes go to “shady” smaller agencies. According to him, such employment agencies operate on the edge of the collective labor agreement and often also arrange housing for the labor migrant. That is a dangerous construction, according to the project leader, because if the migrant worker loses his job, he will also lose his home.

Municipalities and provinces are increasingly resisting the arrival of distribution centers. For example, Noord-Brabant tightened the rules this year: distribution centers can only be built on plots reserved for this purpose, in order to prevent the ‘drowsing of the landscape’.

Labor Inspectorate: four out of five distribution centers unsafe
Source link Labor Inspectorate: four out of five distribution centers unsafe

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