Domestic workers in the Caribbean Netherlands are not always properly housed, do not always receive the agreed upon wages, and sometimes have to work for long hours without getting paid overtime. This was established during 30 inspections carried out last year by the Labour Inspectorate in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. Five possible cases of exploitation of workers were reported to the Police and the Prosecutor’s Office.
The exploitation of labourers is considered a form of human trafficking. Bad working conditions, underpayment and the physical or mental threatening of labourers are also considered exploitation.
“Working for extremely long hours without getting paid in combination with threats to repeal the employment permit is a signal for the Labour Inspection that there may be a case of labour exploitation,” the Labour Inspectorate stated in the so-called factsheet of the Domestic Workers Inspection Project. Senior Inspector at the Labour Inspectorate Leo de Jong presented the report to Dutch Government Representative Gilbert Isabella in late December.
The Labour Inspectorate reported five cases of possible exploitation of domestic workers to the Caribbean Netherlands Police Force and the Prosecutor’s Office. In two cases this has led to the victim filing an official report with the Police. In one of these two cases the Police assisted the victim in getting out of the situation.
In a third case, the victim was successful in finding a different employer through the intervention of the Unit of Social Affairs and Employment. The fourth case concerned a domestic worker who was still on probation. The employer was notified of his legal obligations and received an offi cial warning for violations of the Labour Law and the Law on the Minimum Wage. A fi fth victim of exploitation is still holding an offi cial complaint in consideration.
The Labour Inspectorate stated that, based on the law on foreign employment, the exploiters will not be able to apply for new employment permits.
During the inspections, which were carried out on all three islands, it was investigated whether domestic workers from abroad were properly housed.
In almost all cases, foreign domestic workers are properly housed on Bonaire and Saba. On Statia, however, the situation is totally different. This is closely tied to general quality of housing on this island, it was stated. Especially fi re safety leaves much to be desired.
Despite the fact that housing of workers on Statia did not meet requirements, no warnings were issued for infractions due to the general state of housing on this island, the Inspectorate stated.
The deductions for room and board of in-house domestic workers were deemed reasonable, but in a number of cases the Inspector found that salaries were below the legal minimum hourly wage.
“In certain cases, the remuneration was less than half of what the employee was entitled to. This was especially true in cases in which the employee worked for much longer than the number of hours on which the monthly salary was based,” the Inspector said.
The Inspectorate said that where times for work and leisure were concerned, the stipulations in the Labour Law were at times very liberally interpreted. In certain cases, domestic aides had to be available for nearly 24 hours.
The Labour Law 2000 BES provides for 11 standard working hours per day and 55 hours per week. The law, however, does not set a limit on overtime, which means that labourers can in fact work 24/7.
The Labour Inspectorate issued five official warnings for violations in the areas of work- and rest-times and remuneration. A four language brochure with information for the people who hire domestic workers, and for domestic workers to improve their situation is available at Government Service Caribbean Netherlands RCN. The brochure is also available online.
The Daily Herald.