According to the source and contact investigation of the GGDs, 959 infections could be traced back to the work situation last week. That is 13 percent of the total number of traced infections, making the workplace a bigger source of infection than, for example, the troubled catering industry (130) or sports club (237). The GGD currently has some 423 work-related clusters in the picture, with an average size of 5.5 people. Nevertheless, strict measures in the workplace are still not taken.
During the press conference at the end of September, Prime Minister Rutte changed his adage ‘work at home as much as possible’ to ‘work at home unless’, he said he was unable and unwilling to enforce this immediately. Instead, the cabinet places the responsibility with the employee and employer organizations, which made an urgent appeal to their members on Thursday to encourage working from home.
Of course, working from home is not possible for many workers, for example those in healthcare or industry. But the workers who can, did so much less in recent weeks than during the lockdown this spring – when the children were also at home. While office occupancy almost halved in mid-March, it was ‘only’ 20 percent lower in the week after the tightened cabinet advice in September than before the corona crisis. No data is available for the past week.
The government is not taking any more action against this because it “prefers not to impose any obligations,” explains a spokesperson for Social Affairs and Employment. Moreover, it would not be possible to enforce working from home via the Working Conditions Act (Working Conditions Act). ‘The current corona crisis creates a very complicated and unique situation, which presents us all with new challenges. The Working Conditions Act does not provide for this, ‘said a spokesperson.
Intervention is possible if, in Rutte’s words, ‘a serious contamination’ takes place at the work location. If the GGD detects a cluster in the workplace, it can advise the Safety Region to force a company to close for two weeks. A tour of 15 security regions shows that hardly any happened in recent months. The forced closures that have been carried out to date mainly concerned catering establishments and a few shops.
Companies in only two regions had to be locked up after outbreaks of infection in the workplace. Van Rooi Meat in Helmond had to close its doors in Southeast Brabant after dozens of labor migrants were found to be infected with the corona virus. The same happened in Gelderland, where after at least 147 infections two factories of meat processor Vion were closed to the employees who were working there at that time.
According to the GGD, such advice is given on the basis of ‘different variables’ and certainly not lightly. “We are looking at whether there is an ongoing situation or whether the employer is willing and able to change the working conditions,” said a spokesperson. ‘If it happens once, a company does not have to close immediately, but if the activities in a slaughterhouse, for example, can only be continued under the same wrong conditions, the advice could be closure.’
Those who prefer to intervene before it is too late can contact the corona reporting point of the Inspectorate SZW (formerly the Labor Inspectorate). Since the start of the corona crisis, 3,500 reports were received about employers who did not comply with the corona guidelines. For example, because they did not guarantee the meter and a half or because sick employees were at work. In very few cases, these complaints resulted in a fine.