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The Netherlands lifts restrictions on Eastern European workers

The Netherlands on Tuesday lifted all restrictions on Eastern European workers, with citizens from those that have European Union membership no longer needing work permits to settle and work in The Netherlands.

The Netherlands opened its borders to workers from Central and Eastern Europe on Tuesday meaning people from Poland and other new EU members can now work in the country without additional permits. Similar to other EU nations, the government in The Hague had so far limited the access of eastern Europeans to the Dutch job market. Until now, an employer had to acquire a permit to employ them. Nevertheless, the number of Polish workers alone reached almost 60,000 in The Netherlands by the end of 2006. On top of that, some 3,350 Polish entrepreneurs established their own businesses in The Netherlands,- an increase of 30% over 2005 - the overwhelming majority in the construction industry. Polish workers currently make up the biggest group of foreign entrepreneurs in The Netherlands around 70% have started companies in the building sector, where entrepreneurs have never needed work permits to start their own businesses. The Dutch have mixed feelings about the entry of Eastern European workers into their labor market. Both companies and private individuals with plans to renovate their homes, are drawn to reasonably cheap Eastern European construction workers. At the same time, Dutch construction workers are forced to lower their hourly wages to compete with Polish counterparts, who can afford low hourly wages because employment agencies usually provide them with housing in small rooms and overcrowded apartments.

Critics say the Dutch, who by definition have higher housing expenditures than temporary workers from Eastern Europe, can never compete under such circumstances and will therefore eventually lose their jobs. Recently however, worker's unions and human rights organizations criticized employment agencies for housing Eastern Europeans in what they call 'deplorable conditions'. They argued for an improvement of their housing conditions, which would automatically lead to a rise in the hourly wages of temporary workers and narrow the gap between Dutch and foreign workers. More government inspections aim to ensure that workers from Central and Eastern Europe do not work under the current minimum wage of around €8 ($11) per hour and that they are properly placed. (