Workers Party of Belgium slams exploitative labor subcontracting 

Authorities have found out that 55 potential victims of human trafficking were employed at a construction site in Antwerp at extremely low wages

August 02, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Labor subcontracting - Belgium
Representative image. (Photo: via Trade union ACVBIE - CSCBIE)

The Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) has protested human trafficking and exploitation of illegal migrants by labor subcontractors and construction companies in in the country. On Monday, August 1, PTB announced that Sofie Merckx, head of the party group in the Chamber of Representatives in the Belgium Federal Parliament, will file a bill to fight exploitation of laborers by subcontractors. 

Reports of exploitation of laborers at the Antwerp site of the chemical company Borealis have provoked widespread outrage among working class sections in the country. Following the reports, Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne assured an investigation into the matter. Working class sections have demanded that the government support the victims and ensure strict punishment for the subcontractors who have exploited the laborers, as well as human traffickers who illegally brought the workers to the country.

Last week, the Labour Prosecutor’s Office found that 55 potential victims of human trafficking were working at a large construction site of Borealis in the outskirts of the port of Antwerp. According to reports, the workers from the Philippines and Bangladesh were hired at a monthly wage of EUR 650 (USD 664.03) at the site and had to work six days a week. Borealis halted work at the site for three days after the report and suspended its contract with the contractor IREM-Ponticelli that managed the construction site.

Quickenborne stated that “this is a case of very serious magnitude, rarely seen in our country. Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg because, according to the Global Slavery Index, there are 23,000 people in our country who are victims of exploitation or modern slavery.”

Merckx said that “the chief contractor is responsible for the full payment of employees’ salaries, regardless of the number of subcontractors and regardless of the sector.” 

“The companies that give the contract must be responsible for the entire chain of subcontractors working on their sites. We must end the current situation where some large companies hide behind a multitude of contracts to avoid their responsibilities regarding wages and working conditions,” she added.

Patrick Vandenberghe, president of CSC Building – Industry & Energy (CSCBIE), opined that “the social exploitation and trafficking of human beings at the Borealis site show that the construction sector in Belgium is becoming more and more serious. Such abuses are unacceptable and must stop urgently!” 

The CSCBIE has called for implementation of measures to protect workers, including recording of attendance at construction sites (check-in/check-out), additional investments in the labor prosecutor’s office and strengthening of inspection services, limiting the subcontracting chain, organizing stricter controls on posting regulations, and regulating the global flow of cheap labor.