On Tuesday, house searches took place in thirteen places in the provinces of Antwerp and West Flanders in the context of an investigation into human trafficking and social fraud at a transport company. The federal prosecutor’s office has announced this.
The company, with headquarters in Arendonk, is said to have employed foreign drivers – mainly Romanians – through PO box companies in various European countries at rates that are unacceptable in Belgium. Many drivers also complain about working days that are too long, violations of driving and rest times, working periods that are too long and limited facilities in terms of toilets, showers, heating and accommodation. Three suspects were arrested.
The searches took place at the company’s headquarters in Arendonk, as well as in the private homes of a number of managers at various levels. For the investigation, the federal public prosecutor’s office is working together with the Turnhout department of the Antwerp Labor Auditorate and received support from civil protection during the searches. Investigators searched for evidence after indications surfaced that the transport company would try to give the impression through post box companies that workers were seconded from other countries. According to the public prosecutor’s office, the investigation seems to show that, among other things, the choice of drivers, the destinations assigned to them and the assignment to maintain the trucks were taken in Belgium and not abroad.
The drivers’ pay amounted to 600 euros per month plus an expense allowance. Based on the statements of the drivers, there would also be human trafficking, given the conditions in which they had to work.
The foreign companies would not have been set up directly by the Belgian suspects, but via companies abroad over which they had control. At the request of the Belgian authorities, house searches have also taken place in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Portugal.
The socialist trade union BTB-ABVV says in a response that Romanian and Bulgarian drivers already contacted him at the end of 2018 about the practices of the transport company. “We put the company’s drivers in contact with the inspection services and, together with the information we passed on to the services, this ensured that the inspection services received a strong file”, says Tom Peeters, deputy federal secretary BTB Road Transport and Logistics. The union further calls it “essential” that drivers dare to make statements to ensure that malicious employers are caught and convicted.
BTB-ABVV already described the working method of the transport company in question in its most recent “Black Book Social Dumping” from 2019. “Investigation by BTB-ABVV revealed that, according to the NSSO data, there are only a maximum of five employees employed in Belgium ”, it sounds. “The company exploits its Romanian and Bulgarian drivers through a PO box company that concludes Slovakian employment contracts with the drivers for 500 euros gross per month. The trucks are registered via a Portuguese transport company. ”
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