Long hours, low wages and language classes: a day in the life of Holland’s Polish migrants

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A snapshot of Polish immigrants in the Netherlands has revealed a community of people keen to settle in the country in spite of low wages and poor job security.

A report by the office for social and cultural planning found that young Poles aged between 15 and 25 were especially vulnerable to unemployment and struggled to integrate into Dutch society.

The number of Poles in work was comparable to Dutch people of the same age and higher than other minority ethnic groups such as Turkish and Moroccan migrants.

Poles also showed an enthusiasm for learning Dutch, with language classes springing up across the country to meet the demand.

Claudia Cenkala-ten Dam, founder of the Multicultural Platform for Peace and Freedom (MPVV) in The Hague, told Trouw that hundreds of Poles had passed through the institute’s doors to attend Dutch language classes.

She said: “We have just finished 18 courses and are starting another 15 this week. Every class has about 20 students and they quickly fill up through word-of-mouth recommendation.”

More settled migrants, like Krzysztof Koczmela and Iwona Misztela, both 24, see learning Dutch as a step towards a long-term future in the country with better job prospects.

“You have a better chance of a good job and it’s essential if you want to start your own business. People look at you differently if you can speak Dutch.”

They also speak of dealing with prejudice in their adopted homeland. “The Dutch don’t like the Poles. We have a reputation for drinking, stealing cars and that kind of thing.”

Many Poles move to Holland because of poor job prospects in their own country, but are vulnerable to employers looking for cheap labour. Often they end up working longer hours for lower wages than their Dutch counterparts.

Cenkala says: “They come here to work, but don’t expect to be working 10 or 12 hours a day because otherwise they’ll be fired.

“We make sure they get information about rights and responsibilities in Holland and learn that they shouldn’t sign a contract without reading it first.”

Source: Trouw: Poolse migranten: Als je Nederlands spreekt word je anders bekeken
Photo by Cathdew

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