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Undocumented worker entitled to damages

16 January 2008 - Two demolition firms must pay over 25,000 euros in damages to an undocumented worker who fell and broke his hip while demolishing the Wibauthuis in Amsterdam. This has been the decision of the Haarlem Court in a summary proceeding.

On 22 August 2006, the worker fell from a height of five metres while preparing the removal of the roof. According to the Labour Inspectorate, he fell through a skylight that had not been properly closed off. The employer stated that the worker did receive proper safety instructions, but he may not have understood these as a result of language problems.

The court ruled that the demolition firms, Kouwenhoven and Beelen, must pay the worker’s medical bill, amounting to over 16,000 euros. In addition, they must compensate him for his reduced ability to earn a living during six months, and pay him 2,500 euros to compensate him for the pain and fear he suffered.

The contractors argued that the worker was not entitled to a compensation for lost income because he resides illegally in the Netherlands. In fact, after finding out his residence status, they had refused to pay him for the week he had worked for them. The judge said that they should have properly checked his residence status before hiring him and that they cannot duck their responsibility now.

In principle, labour rights apply to workers regardless of their residence status, but undocumented workers are often hesitant to exercise their rights for fear of being deported. Unions and NGOs have argued that it is important that undocumented workers can exercise their labour rights, because otherwise labour conditions far all workers may deteriorate.

Ruling (in Dutch), background: undocumented workers


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