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10/1 Zuidas: People feel that we are losers

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3/1 Gaza protest criticises politicians

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Amsterdam creates its own poverty

12 December 2007 - Last month, the Amsterdam Municipality published the tenth Amsterdam Poverty Monitor. A striking finding, besides the slight reduction in the number of poor households, is the substantial growth of the number of working poor.

The number of households with ‘another source of income’ - no social assistance and no old age pension - has risen from 17.390 in 2003 to 25.325 in 2006, which amounts to one in three poor households. The rise in the number of working poor is apparently a trend that will continue, if only because the Amsterdam Poverty Monitor indicates that there is still a lot we do not know about this group.

What is the municipality doing to help these households with minimum incomes? On the one hand, it of course provides all kinds of income support: its anti-poverty policy. On the other hand it creates economic opportunities. The favourite elements of the Amsterdam economy, the Zuidas business district and Schiphol Airport, are the job creators that are supposed to help Amsterdammers find work in the coming years. This is exactly why the municipality is investing a lot of public money in these sectors. The municipality owns 25% of shares in Schiphol and is investing hundreds of millions of euros in the Zuidas.

However, at the places where the serious money is made - the Zuidas and Schiphol are the two most expensive office locations in the Netherlands - almost all low-educated work is outsourced: cleaners, security staff, and hospitality staff. Facility managers routinely buy services at the lowest possible price. Employees have to bear the consequences: for example, cleaners often earn at most 9 euro per hour and since many are working part-time and have flexible contracts, large groups of cleaners are among the working poor.

While the municipality on the one hand is trying to help people escape poverty, on the other hand it is generating a polarised economy that creates poverty. Amsterdam’s social policies are therefore increasingly becoming a veiled subsidy for employers to pay substandard wages.

We argue that Amsterdam, like London and New York, should apply social conditions to its investments in the economy. Surely, it is not too much to ask the richest companies in the Netherlands to see to it that their outsourced employees are paid a living wage?

Not long ago, a campaign was launched in the cleaning sector: ‘Cleaners for a better future’. Both at the Zuidas and at Schiphol, cleaners visited companies that are getting their cleaning done cheaply by their subcontractors. The companies were asked to see to it that proper labour conditions apply when contracting out cleaning. The municipality would do well to assert its influence as well.

The article above was published in today’s het Parool and is signed by Merijn Oudenampsen (political scientist), Remine Alberts (SP Amsterdam), Marco de Goede (GroenLinks Amsterdam), Nuri Karabulut (Turkish workers’ organisation DIDF), Evelyn Schwarz (Protestantse Diaconie Amsterdam), Mustafa Ayranci (Turkish workers’ organisation HTIB) en Hassan Ayi (Moroccan workers’ organisation KMAA)

Illustration: Cleaners protest at ING (photo: Cleaners for a better future). Campaign website


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