Working in Holland
Information and advice for outsiders seeking employment in Holland
...the comparative difficulty of getting and maintaining a residence permit can, in some cases, drive the sanest to distraction
Broadly speaking, conditions of work are good in Holland and pay is reasonable by European standards. However, of late, salaries have been squeezed by rising unemployment, inflation and a sluggish economy. Pension funds have also been eroded by recent financial scandals and an aging population.
Employee rights, which used to be amongst the strongest in the world, have been weakened by recent governments and unemployment benefits have been reduced, little by little, from the generous provisions made in recent decades, although they are still better than most.
Anyone wishing to work in Holland should be prepared for a crash course in Dutch bureaucracy. Non-EU citizens must get a work permit and this entails much red tape. EU citizens are not spared either: the comparative difficulty of getting and maintaining a residence permit can, in some cases, drive the sanest to distraction.
Health care is still good but growing waiting lists for doctors, dentists and hospitals do not augur well for the future. Private health insurance (‘Zorgverzekeringswet’) is obligatory for all and it is not cheap. All insurance companies have to offer a miniumum amount of agreed cover in their basic policies. Obviously, many extras can also be covered for an additional premium.
There is also a standard no-claims bonus which applies to prescriptions and therapies, amongst others. If this amount is not exceeded per year, the difference can be reclaimed. Fortunately, visits to the doctor, (most) hospitalisation costs, dental check-ups and the contraceptive pill do not count towards the no-claims amount.
Casual, or ‘black’ labour is widespread in the Netherlands but the Dutch authorities do their best to discourage it with deportation and/or fines for those caught working in the black economy.
The Dutch are famous for their command of English and long-term expats could at one time avoid learning Dutch and still find work quite easily. However, so-called ‘integration’ courses may soon become obligatory for not just newcomers but also those already living in Holland. These lessons include knowledge of Dutch society and most importantly, language. How far the present government will go in making being able to speak Dutch a requirement for employment is, as yet, unclear. Measures like these are largely political and reflect the current anti-immigrant climate across Europe.
Flower bulbs are big business in Holland and the main months for seasonal work are June through September followed by a quieter season till December. The main areas are the so-called ‘bulb district’ on the west coast between Haarlem and Leiden, and parts of the northern provinces of Groningen and Friesland. Much of the work is done in bulb factories, which are giant sheds where the bulbs are stored, prepared and then packaged for export. The pay is good, especially for packing work, the disadvantages being dusty factories and/or bad weather out in the fields.
House plant greenhouses and auction sheds in and around Aalsmeer also offer work for much of the year, but places are limited so it helps to have contacts. There is also strawberry-picking in the province North Brabant (in the South of the Netherlands) from June till about mid-July with accomodation often offered as part of the contract.
Recent developments include a great influx of workers from the ex-communist east European countries, many of whom are now members of the newly-enlarged EU. The bulb industry badly needs this seasonal injection of foreign labour but at the same time there is a populist view amongst the Dutch that these people are taking jobs the Dutch could be doing, and this affects voting trends. Unfortunately, experience has shown that the Dutch are not really interested in doing this kind of ‘lowly’, manual labour, so the politicians find themselves on the horns of a tricky dilemma.
There are many employment agencies in Holland, with the work on offer ranging from manual to office and technical, all year round. Most of the work is in the industrial triangle (Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Utrecht) of Holland. Temp jobs can lead to more permanent work but remember the agency will be taking their slice of the salary for their trouble in the meantime.
Unskilled agency jobs lack glamour and tend to involve shift-work. Contracts can also be very short, sometimes only a day or two. In their favour, agencies do help with filling out tedious but necessary bureaucratic forms. They also offer the foreigner without contacts the quickest way of finding work with guaranteed employment benefits.