Borealis has been aware of malpractice at its Antwerp building site since May

The chemical company Borealis was told about the exploitation of construction workers by a contractor that is building its new production facility at the port of Antwerp in May. A journalist working for the daily 'Gazet van Antwerp' was able to view exchanges between a former Labour Auditor and the company from two months ago. The former Labour Auditor became aware of the malpractice at the building site after he had provided shelter to a family of Ukrainian refugees. 

Yesterday we reported that 55 construction workers had been found to be working 6 days a week for just 600 euro/month. They were being housed in atrocious conditions and were in Belgium illegally as their work permits had expired. The 55 men are from Bangladesh and the Philippines. Borealis claimed not to have been aware of the exploitation and promised to act. However, it has now emerged that the company has been aware of its contractors’ social malpractice since May.

The former Labour Auditor and Judge Ebe Verhaegen uncovered irregularities in the terms and conditions under which a Ukrainian construction worker that was staying at his home and 50 of the Ukrainian’s colleagues were being employed.

The Ukrainian had been working at Borealis’ construction site in Kallo since before the start of Russia’s attack on his country. The man decided to bring his family over to Belgium. His wife and children were given temporary accommodation at the home of the former Labour Auditor in Schoten, just outside Antwerp. Mr Verhaegen eventually helped them find a flat of their own. 

8 euro

Prior to this the Ukrainian construction worker had been living with around 50 other Ukrainians in a flat provided by their employer Irem-General Contractor. Mr Verhaegen told journalists that the more he found out about the man’s employment conditions, the more questions this raised in his mind. “He only earned 8 euro net. This is under the legal minimum set out in the collective labour agreement.

Mr Verhaegen went on to say that Irem-General Contractor works with two contracts: an official contract that it provides to the authorities in order to get its workers’ work permits and a second in which the real terms and conditions, include deductions made for the (substandard) accommodation provided, are included.

In addition to this, wages were paid late and recently the wage paid to Ukrainian workers was reduced to 7 euro/hour and they are no longer paid additional allowances for overtime.

In May Mr Verhaegen addressed his concerns to the HR Department at Borealis. The company promised to investigate. A document obtained by ‘Gazet van Antwerp’ shows that Borealis was concerned about the impact an investigation by the Social Inspectorate might have on progress at the construction site. 

This means that despite its denials on Tuesday, the company was all too aware that all was not right at the building site. 

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