Working in the flesh – whoever complains is fired, or mistreated

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Working in the flesh – whoever complains is fired, or mistreated

“Are u kidding me?” Menacingly, the burly manager of employment agency Reyhan walks up to one of his staff members and stands in front of him in a fighting stance. The employee, David Ionut, just said he’s quitting the agency. The manager lashes out with the left. He punches Ionut in the side, on the head. The manager punches him dozens of times. “No, bro,” says Ionut, trying to protect his head with his hands. “No…”

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The assault – filmed with a mobile phone – took place in October 2020 in Schijndel, Brabant, at a holiday park where migrant workers reside. The video of the assault went viral. The boss of the employment agency said in the AD that it was “a private matter” – the slapping manager is his son. He also said: “I cannot accept what my son has done.” He had, he claimed, fired his son on the spot. But now it is back to work for him.

David Ionut, 29, quit Reyhan after three years because he didn’t agree with how employees were treated. He ran from the holiday park after the assault and fled to England the same day. “I was very scared,” says Ionut, who for the first time tells his story in detail about his time at the employment agency. “Something has to change: the Netherlands must better protect labor migrants.”

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It is not the first incident with the Gelderland employment agency Reyhan. NRC read reports to the Labor Inspectorate about the company and spoke to (former) employees, municipal officials, other government sources and employees of the FNV trade union.

Where Reyhan is, there are problems. Complaining employees are fired – or even mistreated. Municipalities are powerless against the company: penalties they impose do not impress Reyhan. Union workers who have been approached by Reyhan staff for help, have hardly dared to address the company since the video. Fear dominates.

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Employment agency Reyhan (founded in 2008, approximately 40 employees) is a big boy in the meat industry. It has, according to its website, been supplying staff to the main meat processors in the Netherlands for about thirty-five years. Reyhan recruits deboners, meat cutters and experienced butchers for them. About 1,500 men and women in total.

Most of the staff get the agency from abroad, especially Poland and Romania. The Dutch meat industry, with a turnover of roughly 10 billion euros, employs about 12,000 people every day, four-fifths of whom come from abroad.

David Ionut is also from Romania. He will start in 2017, like many new employees at Reyhan on the assembly line in a slaughterhouse in Utrecht. He worked long days working on pig carcasses. “That work was okay,” says Ionut, who was also a butcher in Romania.

He will be promoted after two years. Ionut becomes coordinator. He arranges documents, places to stay and transport for compatriots. His main task is recruiting people. He is looking for new staff through websites and intermediaries. “There was a lot of work, so a lot of people were needed.”

Romanian coordinators play an important role at Reyhan, say former Reyhan employees. Because many labor migrants do not speak English or Dutch, coordinators act as a point of contact. The company also uses them to tell bad news, for example if someone is fired or if there is no work.

David Ionut lied about the salary new employees would earn at his boss’s insistence. “I promised them 1,500 to 2,000 euros a month,” says Ionut – three to four times the average salary in Romania. “But once in the Netherlands they received 700 to 800 euros per month.”

Romanian migrant workers who worked for Reyhan, and about whom NRC previously wrote, told similar stories. They were lured to the Netherlands with salaries of 1,500 to 2,000 euros and stories about a beautiful house. Once they arrived, they were paid much less and slept in old accommodations from the employment agency. When they protested, the problems really started: payouts lagged. In the worst case, they were fired, after which they had to leave their home immediately.

Such complaints about Reyhan also ended up with the Labor Inspectorate, according to reports that NRC saw. A 2018 note is about 23 Romanians who have been promised “golden mountains and a good salary” but are then put together in a house without central heating. They would not have been paid for the days they work.

Another reporter calls the working conditions “very difficult” and says that his ID has been confiscated and has not been returned. In the summer of 2019, a Pole complained that he and his girlfriend did not receive a salary from Reyhan.

The Labor Inspectorate often encountered irregularities at Reyhan. In 2017, she fined the temporary employment agency because 21 temporary workers had been paid in cash. The company was fined EUR 11,500. During an inspection at meat processing company Vitelco in Den Bosch, a year later, inspectors encountered ‘foreigners’ who had no papers to be allowed to work in the Netherlands. Both companies were fined 8,000 euros.

Regular excesses

In his office at the town hall in Didam, Walter Gerritsen, alderman (Wonen, CDA) of the municipality of Montferland, met Reyhan’s boss and his two sons for the first time three years ago. The employment agency lobbied for more residential accommodation in the region, which the municipality had to facilitate. That was “a friendly conversation,” says Gerritsen.

The tone has now changed. Montferland ended up in a conflict with Reyhan, because, according to the alderman, “excesses” regularly occur at the company.

As in the summer of 2019. Complaints were received at the municipality about a corner house in ‘s-Heerenberg, a town on the border with Germany. The property, leased to Reyhan, would be a walk-in for Poles and Romanians. An inspection revealed that the bright white corner house, with 125 square meters of living space, had been converted into a migrant worker hotel with 22 beds. “There were even mattresses in the basement,” says the alderman.

The municipality had the building evacuated because it was unhygienic and unsafe. But when checked a few weeks later, it was wrong again. Officers and enforcers found nine people in the property, intended for one household. The municipality imposed a penalty of 50,000 euros on Reyhan if he did not solve the problems.

That has now been converted into a fine – which has not been paid, says Gerritsen. Reyhan appealed to the Council of State, and that procedure is still ongoing. To increase the pressure, the municipality has increased the penalty to 200,000 euros per week, with a maximum of 600,000 euros.

“It’s a calculation for those boys,” says Gerritsen. “Apparently 50,000 euros in penalty was too low to get them moving. They earn that back. That is why we have increased the amount so that there is more coercion. Their financial drive is more important than their image.” According to the alderman, Reyhan earns not only from the secondment of staff, but also from housing migrant workers.

Philip Meijran of the Labor Inspectorate called it a “dangerous construction” in NRC last year that an employment agency helps migrant workers to find a home and work. This is how they get in trouble: if they lose their job, they also have to leave their home.

Reyhan also causes problems in North Brabant, according to the reports to the Labor Inspectorate. The employment agency is said to be housing “persons illegally” in the municipality of Meierijstad (Schijndel, Sint-Oedenrode, Veghel), an official emailed the Labor Inspectorate in October 2018. The official suspects “exploitation” of employees and fears that wages will be withheld from them wrongly. He asks to investigate whether Reyhan “complies with the applicable law and regulations”. The municipality declined to respond to questions about these reports. And the Labor Inspectorate does not comment on “ongoing investigations”.

Abuse proven

After two years as coordinator, David Ionut was done lying about high salaries, disguising poor working conditions and the stress that came with it. When he tells the boss that he wants to stop, his son, the manager, came to talk to him. After the assault, Ionut’s body was covered in bruises, his ear was broken. “Everything hurt. But I was too scared to go to the hospital,” he says.

Ionut regrets telling compatriots as coordinator that Reyhan is a good company, he now says. “I wanted to be honest, but I was expected to bring in new employees. I felt that pressure all the time.”

After the assault, Ionut returned to the Netherlands one more time, for the trial at the end of last year. The judge found the attempted aggravated assault to be lawful and convincing. According to him, Ionut was kicked several times with reinforced shoes, while he was defenseless and did not use violence himself. The court also established that the manager “has experience” with martial arts. “The victim is lucky that he has not suffered more injuries.” The manager was sentenced to 90 days in prison, 73 of which were suspended, and 180 hours of community service.

The manager also has to pay the Romanian 1,500 euros in damages. That amount has not yet been transferred, says Ionut. “I don’t have a lot of money, so it’s very important that I get this quickly.” If payment is still not made within eight months, the judicial collection agency takes over the claim and advances the amount to Ionut.

In December 2020, two months after the video of the abuse came out, Reyhan hired a crisis manager to combat the abuses. The employment agency also involved the FNV. Conversations ensued, there was e-mailing back and forth.

But after the union had signed agreements about this, Reyhan was no longer heard from, says FNV director John Klijn. “It was a flight forward,” he says. “The crisis manager is now also gone.”

Alderman Gerritsen van Montferland notes that the possibilities are limited to tackle employment agencies such as Reyhan. The municipality can enforce if a zoning plan is violated because a building is misused, “but we have no other legal ground to act.” And if he maintains, Gerritsen says, the problem will not go away. “Municipalities are no match for such an employment agency. If one municipality acts, the company moves to another.”

According to the alderman, more cooperation is needed between municipalities. They should be able to exchange information on a ‘large scale’ about companies and the housing of migrant workers, he believes. “We need to know if there are people with a criminal background who work there.” But for that, the privacy legislation has to be adjusted, he says.

David Ionut “cannot understand” that a temp agency manager beat him up, and that the company still exists. “I loved the Netherlands and wanted to make a career there, but I don’t dare go back.” He hopes that his story will help to improve the situation of migrant workers in the Netherlands. “Workers from Romania help the Netherlands in production. They should be treated with more respect.”

In the meantime, Reyhan continues to work under other names, various sources say. FNV member Klijn: “The name Reyhan is infected with migrant workers.” In this way, they recruit new staff abroad undisturbed.

Reyhan’s management has been repeatedly asked for comment, but has not responded.

Working in the flesh – whoever complains is fired, or mistreated
Source link Working in the flesh – whoever complains is fired, or mistreated

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