2020 Annual Report Inspectorate SZW Foreword

“An employee who queues up in the morning with many of his colleagues in a tight corridor to clock in. Working with a colleague who has a bad cold but is afraid to call in sick. Colleagues sitting too close together in the canteen, without the company’s management intervening. Being picked up for work, in a van with so many others that keeping your distance is impossible. These are a few examples of the types of reports we have received since March last year. There were about 7,700 in total.

Inspecteur-generaal Sociale Zaken en Werkgelegenheid Marc Kuipers
Inspector General Social Affairs and Employment Marc Kuipers

The processing of these reports shows that most employers take the COVID measures seriously. However, there is room for improvement when it comes to implementation in the workplace. Our inspectors took action in more than 2,200 cases to make the working conditions COVID-proof and to limit the risk of infection.

The Inspectorate had already come across an accumulation of risks of unhealthy, unsafe and unfair work among employees with a vulnerable labour market position, especially among workers who perform low-paid work, on a flexible basis. This group is particularly affected by the consequences of COVID. One group that particularly stands out are the migrant workers. A disproportionately large part (twenty percent) of the reports about infection risks in the workplace concerned migrant workers. The reports, inspections but also the many conversations that our inspectors had with them show the complex and restrictive position in which migrant workers find themselves on the Dutch labour market. The vast majority of them depend on employment agencies. For work, but also for housing and commuting. Many of them have a temporary employment contract, which can be cancelled any day. In 2020, the Inspectorate’s efforts for these groups focused on combating COVID hot spots and underpayment. Special attention was given to sectors where many migrant workers work, such as the meat-processing industry, parcel delivery and agriculture and horticulture.

In other words, a lot of attention for the risk of infection in the workplace. However, a large part of the Dutch population worked from home in the past year. Working from home structurally is associated with a completely different kind of occupational risk. Stress complaints due to a disruption of the balance between work and private life and the increasing use of digital communication tools in the work context. Little is known about this so-called ‘technology stress’ among employees and employers. The Inspectorate SZW and the parties involved are looking for possible solutions.

The virus has drastic consequences for the labour market and thus for the field of activity of the Inspectorate SZW in a broad sense. Apart from risks of infection in the workplace, overload in sectors where pressure is increasing and new risks due to working from home, we have identified a risk of a decline in income and a greater dependency on facilities. All of this also has consequences for the working method of the Inspectorate SZW. To take our responsibility, we developed new working methods and approaches. For example, inspections by telephone or video contact appeared to be sufficient in certain situations and for certain types of companies. This created room for on-site inspections where necessary. More intensive and tailor-made communication, for example via social media, proved to work well for employers who are obliging but lack knowledge. And there were other forms of collaboration, with new partners. For example, we contributed to the Migrant Workers Booster Team, we collaborated with the safety regions in inspections in the meat-processing industry and participated in the Migrant Workers and COVID-19 Collaboration Platform. These new working methods and forms of collaboration will partly be given a permanent place in our regular inspection work.

The pursuit of effect continued unabated. For example, we have started the differentiated approach to industrial accidents. Sometimes, investing in safety yields more than imposing a fine. In the case of accidents in which the casualty suffers minor injuries, our inspectors can decide to have the employer draw up an improvement plan. This benefits the safety of the employees. Furthermore, various branches have asked for more attention for prevention, by complying with health and safety obligations.

Our work in 2020 was different from what was described in advance in the 2020 Annual Plan. At the same time, the COVID-19 outbreak also made developments that were actually already known to us more visible. The urgency to do something about this only increased. The long-term goals and ambitions for 2022 remain the same.

This is my last annual report as an Inspector General. The Inspectorate SZW has recently worked hard to increase the effect for fair, healthy and safe work and social security for everyone. I will be leaving the Inspectorate with full confidence that my colleagues are committed to continuing this course in the coming years.”

Marc Kuipers

Inspector General Social Affairs and Employment