There are approximately 10,000 international students enrolled at the RUG or Hanze in Groningen, and more than 800 hospitality establishments. But every personal story of mistreatment, especially when motivated by discrimination, is one too many.
The most common issues were being underpaid, too few breaks during work, poor working conditions in general, and verbal aggression. Roughly one-third of respondents (50) said the conduct at their workplaces had gone beyond labour issues, citing verbal aggression, discrimination, sexual misconduct and bullying.
The story has already prompted a political response in the city, with members of the Groningen municipal council formally submitting questions about the issues raised in the reporting.
Representatives of GroenLinks (Green Left), CDA (Christian Democrats), PvdA (Labour), Student en Stad (Student and City), D66 (democrats), and SP (Socialists) co-signed the letter the day after the article was published.
“Illegal practices and dehumanizing conditions appear to be a persistent problem, and the most vulnerable members of society are the ones who end up suffering the most”, the joint party statement reads “International students also face discrimination on the housing market, so we see this situation as a part of larger issues with discrimination and segregation that internationals experience.”
The parties asked the board of the mayor and alderpersons (college van B&W) to acknowledge that job discrimination and housing discrimination are connected, called for an English-language hotline for internationals to report any issues they may face, and inquired about consequences for proven cases of exploitative labour practices.
Obligated to work
Carine Bloemhoff, the alderperson for work and the labour market in Groningen, told Sikkom and the Universiteitskrant in a response to the article that all migrants are by default more dependent on their job than their Dutch colleagues, and also cited the fact that they are not made aware of their rights or where to turn to if things go wrong.
Non-Dutch students are obligated to work in addition to their studies, since their financial aid often requires them to work a certain number of hours. According to DUO (Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs; Education Executive Agency), non-Dutch students have to work at least 56 hours per month to qualify for financial aid.
What to do if you encounter workplace issues
If you believe that your employer is behaving unprofessionally, or just want to better understand your labour rights, here are the rules for employer conduct in the Netherlands and regulations regarding withheld wages from the Dutch national government.
If you cannot find the answer to your specific questions, or if your employer continues to break the law, you can contact the Juridish Loket (the Legal Desk), which is an independent legal service provider subsidised by the government to help answer your legal questions for free.
Article 1 of the Dutch constitution prohibits discrimination, and explicitly mentions nationality as a grounds upon which someone could be discriminated against. Employers treating international employees differently than their Dutch colleagues based on their nationality is discrimination, and therefore illegal.
If you suspect your workplace has treated you differently based on where you are from, you can also contact the Discriminatie Meldpunt Groningen (Discrimination Hotline Groningen).
Royal Dutch Catering Association
Representatives from Koninklijke Horeca Noord-Nederland (Royal Dutch Catering Association Northern Netherlands) sought to put the issues in context. KHN represents 19,000 hotels, restaurants and cafes nationwide, and the Northern Netherlands branch is responsible for 2,000 such establishments.
“Hospitality business owners treating their employers with care is the norm,” members of KHN wrote in response to Sikkom’s reporting. “Good employers are in turn attractive employers who people want to work for. In these times of staff shortages, business owners are acutely aware of that. KHN regularly informs and advises our members about what it means to be a good employer, and we disapprove of any instances of employees being treated poorly.”