Land of milk and honey?

The Netherlands has rightfully earned her solid reputation for being an economically stable and culturally progressive country. To many around the world, the Netherlands has always been an attractive country to live and work.

According to Forbes article on Mar 28, 2019 “Ranked: The 10 Happiest Countries in The World In 2019”, the Netherlands ranked within top 5! Not surprisingly, she is seen as the “land of milk and honey” by most migrants.

In recent years, there has been a steady growth in and around the Eindhoven region, attracting top-talents from all over the world. Inarguably these highly skilled migrants also have their own set of challenges, as they juggle their focus between career and complex family responsibilities both local and overseas and isolation issues for the spouses. Awareness and attention to this group and support is on the rise.

There is another group of migrants, who are also attracted to the Netherlands. Mostly not highly educated and their focus is simply to support the family, in any which way possible. Often from eastern and southern European regions, mostly with European Union citizen status. It is not their aim to build a career here at a multinational company or even to buy property. They wish to get a job and survive on any employment available to them. Sadly, these people who work on minimum wages have a completely different perspective of life in the Netherlands.

The question is how many of us are aware of the working conditions of people working in the Eindhoven area on a minimum wage? Apparently not, many of us are not aware of the struggles of these people in this employment category. Yes, when compared to developing countries, minimum wages here are certainly very much higher. But bear in mind, that the cost of living here is also very much higher. In retrospect, the net gain for those working on minimum wage here is very similar as in most developing countries!

Yes in the Netherlands, everyone has the feeling of safety and protection, with legally entitled benefits, such as minimum wages, minimum breaks, minimum health and safety. This is perfectly (technically) observed, but there is much more than what meets the legal- eye! These minimum wage workers shed light on the details that never get discussed, facts that are swept under the carpet of bureaucracy. Examples of quotes from some minimum wage workers, to share a glimpse:

  • “We work in fear, as we are told almost every day, that we can easily be replaced by 10 others waiting for this same job. We need this money, so we just keep quiet, and just do as we are told”
  • “we may be booked to work for the whole day, but we can be sent home at any time of the day if they wish. So how do we plan our lives? how to pay bills at the end of the week?”
  • “we can be scheduled to work, but put on reserve the night before, but they can still call us anytime to come to work within the hour. But we also cannot quickly find other work elsewhere for the day, as we are sitting and waiting. Nobody understands that we wasted the whole day, waiting with no salary”
  • “sometimes our schedule can change 1 hour before our shift starts. So, if I am supposed to start at 7 am, I would wake up at 5:30 am, but they can call me to cancel at 6 am? But I am already awake, having breakfast and ready to leave home. So how to feel when this happens?”
  • “if we complain, or criticise etc, we could be black-listed and not scheduled for work anymore, so we don’t complain”
  • “yes, we get a 15-minute break every 2 hours, to sit down. Yes correct, but it takes us such a long time, to clock-out in a queue, walk to the canteen, then queue again for the coffee machine, and soon it’s time to walk back again, we hardly get even a few minutes to sit, or go to the toilet”
  • “if we are few minutes too late to clock-in, they deduct 15 minutes from our salary, so we are always nervous about clocking in/out late, so we make sure by arriving much earlier, and even take shorter breaks, out of fear”
  • “we are dead tired when we get home, we do not have the energy or motivation, to look for other jobs”
  • “we get pain on the same shoulder, or the same side of the back, from doing the same thing hundreds of times a day, the same way at the same machine, and go home to rest, then repeat again tomorrow”
  • “many processes here could be optimised, if they ask us for our views, they can also save money and make more profit, but nobody listens to us”

This has raised a concern with several local politicians in Eindhoven. According to Miriam Frosi, of the CDA, “this is not correct, as we need to treat people with trust and respect, regardless of their race, education or age.”

Yes, companies around Eindhoven region, are competing at global levels. They are under continuous pressure to remain profitable. Most of these companies need to have low operational costs, where speed and flexibility are key elements to survive at their business. This is fully accepted, but the question remains, at what cost?

The issues raised by minimum wage workers is not about speed or flexibility, but social injustice towards them as lower-ranking personnel. They ask to create a positive working environment, which is not based on fear. Many of them are totally disengaged, they dread coming to work, but keep their opinions within themselves. They have not left the company, simply because they need to pay bills, and cannot find anything better (yet).

Simon Sinek, author of “Leaders Eat Last”, shares in his book that “workers lowest in the hierarchy had an early death rate four times than those at the top. Jobs that gave workers less control were linked to higher rates of mental illness as well”. And he goes even a step further to share that “a child’s sense of well-being is affected less by long hours their parents put in at work and more by the mood of their parents are in when they come home”.

This aligns perfectly with the voice of these minimum-wage workers, who ask for respect, to feel trust and appreciated at work. In small steps, they wish to create positive energy at work, which will spill-over to bring positive energy back home, to their families. This would be a wonderful step forward, to start rebuilding broken families and communities, with self-pride.

People are not numbers, as Bob Chapman, author of “Everybody Matters”, clearly explains that “everyone is someone’s precious son, daughter”. Perhaps the solution would be to change our mindset, and treat employees as our family? To change our mindset from being-in-charge of people, towards taking responsibility for those in-our-charge, instead. A vision where people on the minimum wage will feel proud at their jobs, can’t wait to go to work because they feel excited and energized with people who appreciate them and make them feel needed. And feel like equals in society!

Would it not be great .. if we in Eindhoven, together with our locally elected politicians, stepped up to this challenge? To lead the change across companies built with minimum wage workers? Leading this process with #trulyhumanleadership? And who knows, maybe even trigger a chain reaction of events, driving the Netherlands towards even higher ranking on global happiness rating in coming years .. would that not be great for all everyone? .. are you IN?

For Eindhoven News: Aroop Bhattacharjee


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