Focus (2)

Soualiga Newsday Focus (3469)

Missed flights? Travellers will be compensated, airports say

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Schiphol and Eindhoven airports have said they will compensate travellers who missed their flights because of the long queues to get through security this summer.

The deal will cover travellers who missed flights between April 23 and August 11 and who were at the airports in plenty of time to board, Schiphol group chief executive Dick Benschop said on Thursday evening.

Queues of several hours to get through passport control and security have led to hundreds of people missing planes, forcing airlines to cancel some services and move some flights to other airports this summer.

The airports will compensate travellers for costs which are not being met by their airline or their travel insurance – such as missed nights in a hotel which could not be cancelled.

So far, the airport has had 1,500 claims and expects many more before the September 30 deadline.


Meanwhile several people have been in touch with Dutch News to say that their suitcases are still missing, following problems with baggage handling earlier in the summer break.

Reader Maria Fernanda’s bags went missing on her way from Amsterdam to Oslo, on a connecting KLM flight from San Fransisco on August 1. ‘Unfortunately, I couldn’t travel light as we are moving overseas including a baby,’ she told Dutch News.

‘My check-in luggage contained my medicines and other irreplaceable essential items for work and personal items such as my wedding dress.’ Another reader said he was still waiting for news about his missing luggage, which vanished at the end of June.

‘I have contacted KLM on numerous occasions to ask if they still have a backlog but not been able to get any response,’ he said.



American jailed for seven years for stabbing police officers

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – An American national who stabbed two police officers in Groningen during the coronavirus lockdown in March 2021 has been jailed for seven years to be followed by treatment in a psychiatric clinic.

The man was found guilty of attempted murder and causing serious physical harm when he attacked the police officers who questioned him after he and another man were out on their bikes after curfew.

The police officers, one of whom was stabbed in the neck and face, had asked the men to show their ID when they were attacked. The two men fled to France after the incident where they were later arrested.

The American national, who was born in 1989, has lived illegally in the Netherlands since September 2020 while his 22-year-old friend had previously been in a psychiatric hospital.

The American told the court he had stabbed the police officer because his friend did not have ID and he feared their relationship would end if he was sent back to the clinic.

The public prosecution department had called for 117 days in jail for the younger man, but the court ruled his role in the incident was minor and that he should be allowed to go free.



More freelancers give up, bankruptcies also rise slightly: CBS

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – In total, 76,000 companies shut down in the first six months of the year, the highest number since 2007 when records began, national statistics agency CBS said on Thursday.

Most of the companies to fold – some 84% – had been set up by freelancers, indicating they may have found permanent work or had given up. ‘Coaches, physiotherapists, beauty specialists, a lot of them start and then stop,’ CBS economist Marjolijn Jaarsma told broadcaster NOS.

A large number of webshops also closed and there was a clear rise in the number of restaurants closing their doors, the figures show. There was also a slight increase in the bankruptcy rate, but it still remains extremely low, the CBS said.

One reason for this is the government’s coronavirus support package, which allowed companies to defer tax payments.

The CBS had said it expected a wave of bankruptcies when the deferral date passed, but this has not materialised. In total, 961 firms have gone bust in the first six months of the year, of which 139 were run by freelancers.



Privacy watchdog slams draft law on reusing personal information

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – New legislation aimed at governing the use of personal data collected by government agencies by other state institutions is not tight enough and information may be spread or sold without the knowledge of those involved, the Dutch privacy watchdog AP said on Thursday.

The draft legislation aims to ensure that as much government data as possible is made available for research, but also for commercial use. The data must also be searchable with software and combined with other data.

‘When it comes to the amount of trees planted in a certain neighborhood or the air quality in an area, there is of course no objection,’ AP deputy president Monique Verdier said.

‘But when it comes to people, and their addresses, their telephone numbers, their property, it is something else entirely.’ The basis of the legislation should be that you are in charge of your own personal data, Verdier said.

‘It should not be left to government agencies to consider whether personal data can be shared.’

The AP has previously criticised the publication of personal data in Chamber of Trade records and Land Registry, and the cabinet is working on plans to make it possible for the self-employed to protect their addresses if they work from home.

But the cabinet’s proposals will make it even easier to retrieve personal data from those registers, Verdier said. ‘By using an algorithm and combining the personal data with other sources, companies can, for example, create profiles of people and sell them.’

It may also become even easier to find out where someone live and threaten them, she said. The AP says the reuse of personal data in public registers should be banned in principle and that legislation should focus instead on when to make exceptions.



Ministers intervene, earmark two locations for refugee housing

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Ministers have confirmed that they will start forcing local authorities to accept refugees if they persistently refuse to change zoning plans to allow suitable buildings to be used as temporary housing.

The state would rather not go so far, but will use the legal instruments at their disposal to bypass local officials if necessary, housing minister Hugo de Jonge and junior justice minister Eric van der Burg have told MPs in a briefing.

Currently ministers have their eyes on two locations, which could provide housing for 1,000 refugees between them, both of which are owned by the state. The ministers did not name the local authorities but did say talks are underway.

Efforts to permanently solve the problem by appealing to local councils have failed to produce enough beds and ministers said in May they would commandeer empty state-owned buildings to use as emergency accommodation.

One reason for the overcrowding in refugee centres is the lack of suitable accommodation for people who have been given residency permits. The refugee agency is currently providing beds for some 40,000 people, but 15,000 of them should have moved into regular housing.



Drought threatens industry, holding on to water is key

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – As the Netherlands enters a second week of an official water shortage, with temperatures again topping 30 degrees, experts say smart water management could be the key to a solution.

Big water users, such as the steel and chemical industries and food manufacturers have not had to interrupt production yet, but they may soon join shipping and farming in experiencing the consequences of the drought, Roy Tummers, spokesman for the industrial water institute VEMW told the AD.

Reduced water levels are increasing the temperature and the salt content of the water and that can cause corrosion and wear to installations, particularly in the western provinces where salinisation is becoming a problem, he said.

The temperature of the water is another potential problem. ‘If the water is too warm companies may not be allowed to release water they have used for cooling and that can cause production loss as well,’ Tummers said.

‘It is really very odd for a country like the Netherlands to have a water shortage problem because we have so much of it,’ aquatic ecology professor Leon Lamers told broadcaster NOS.

‘The problem is that we get rid of it too quickly. That has to change.’ Rain water ends up in the sewers and is then released into the rivers and the sea but, said Lamers, water management should be focused on holding on to the water.

Water can be stored in nature, in cities and above and below ground, Lamers said. In Spangen in Rotterdam, for instance, rainwater is stored underground to use to keep the pitch at adjacent football club Sparta green and in Apeldoorn a similar ‘water cellar’ is used to keep 200,000 liters of rain water to use for the city’s green spaces.

The water boards are already working on ways to retain water. Changing waterways into meandering streams, for instance, will keep the water inland for longer.

But, a spokesman for the union of water boards said, water will have to play a bigger role in planning new homes or industry. Agriculture will also have to adapt.

Farmers could grow crops which can cope with salt water and so-called paludiculture, or wet agriculture, could be a solution for the peatlands where water is currently pumped out, Lamers said.



Government agencies struggle to recruit staff

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Government departments which are charged with putting government policy into action, such as the tax office, highways department, and the jobs and benefits agency UWV, are finding it difficult to recruit thousands of new members of staff, public broadcaster NOS said on Tuesday.

The tax office, for example, needs to recruit 1,350 people to add to its workforce of some 30,000, and the shortage of staff means telephone inquiry waiting times are going up, NOS said.

Activities in prisons are also being hit by the shortage of prison staff and the IND is struggling to meet the demand for residency permits. It has plans to recruit 500 new members of staff, NOS said.

Employment experts told NOS that government cutbacks in previous years and a short-sighted approach to staffing are partly to blame. In addition, the government agencies are grappling with high absenteeism rates of between 5% and 8.4%, which is well above the pre-coronavirus average.

An added problem is the government’s reputation. Working for the government has fallen out of favour, Professor Paul Boselie told NOS. ‘The tax office used to be one of the most popular employers but now it is not the sort of place you want to say you work at when asked at a party,’ he said.

Health ministry

Meanwhile, the health ministry has launched a recruitment campaign to find 13,000 people to help out in the coming autumn’s coronavirus vaccination programme.

The hospitality industry is angry about the ministry jobs drive, arguing that the government is competing unfairly for scarce workers by offering far higher wages.

Thousands of bar and café staff left the sector during the pandemic to work in the various testing centres. Although many have now returned to catering, employers fear they may be encouraged to leave again in the autumn by the higher pay on offer.

There are currently some 80,000 vacancies in the hospitality industry, Rober Willemsen of the hospitality industry association KHN told broadcaster NOS.



Police arrest two more men in motorway dumping investigation

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch police have arrested two more people for dumping waste on the A7 motorway during the radical farmers’ protests. The new suspects, aged 19 and 20 and from Friesland and Groningen, bring the total number of arrests in the investigation to four.

Police have been trying to trace who was responsible for dumping pallets, farm waste, asbestos, and other rubbish at different locations on the motorway on July 28 and August 1.

The A7 is the main connection between the north of Amsterdam and Groningen and continues up to the German border.

One driver had a lucky escape when his car ploughed into the waste and was badly damaged, but so far no-one has been injured in an accident caused by protests. Specialists were brought in to clear up the asbestos.

Police also said on Tuesday that the 32-year-old man who was arrested earlier has been remanded in custody for a further two weeks and that more arrests cannot be ruled out.



Mayors, health board unhappy at plans for permanent coronavirus laws

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Mayors, local health boards and legal experts are highly criticial of the government’s plan to enshrine temporary legislation to manage coronavirus into permanent law, Trouw reported on Monday.

The legislation will not contribute to a ‘robust’ system to combat the pandemic but is likely to create confusion because it is not clear about the responsibilities and powers of both mayors and safety board chiefs, critics have told the paper.

The new legislation, which is being incorporated into public health law, will give national government the power to limit constitutional rights should there be a surge in new cases.

This could include enforcing social distancing, the closure of public buildings, test and quarantine requirements and compulsory face masks. The legislation will also give the heads of the 25 safety boards the power to intervene if faced with a local epidemic.

The legislation is being rushed through because the senate, in May, refused to extend the temporary coronavirus legislation, which means that the cabinet no longer has a legal basis to impose restrictions on movement if coronavirus flares up again.

The temporary legislation required extending every three months and expired on June 1.


The draft bill is currently being assessed by the Council State, which is due to report back later this month. In particular, mayors are not happy that a ‘temporary problem’ is being dealt with by far reaching legal changes which they say have been quickly cobbled together.

The legislation is ‘full of sloppiness and sent out for consultation just before the summer break,’ Joost Keemink-Haane, who chairs the Dutch mayor’s association, told Trouw. ‘We think if you are going to do this, then do it well.’

Health service experts have also complained the legislation is not clear about the rules for quarantine and self-isolation. A spokesman for health minister Ernst Kuipers said the government too would have preferred more time, but that it had no choice because of the senate’s decision.



Fewer new homes are being built, and there is no improvement in sight

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The downturn in building new owner occupier properties first recorded at the end of last year is continuing, according to research by Delft University.

In the first quarter of this year, just 4,500 new owner occupier homes were completed and 5,500 were bought – back at the level of the 2013 financial crisis, the university says in a new report.

In addition, new building permits do not suggest any improvement in the short term. Councils have handed out fewer building permits in the first five months of this year, with the owner occupier sector down by 20%.

‘It is worrying,’ housing market professor Peter Boelhouwer told NOS radio. ‘If fewer new homes are available, that will have a negative impact on the rest of the market.’

Boelhouwer also says that demand for the properties which are being built is down because they are expensive, due to high building costs, and their location.

‘Local councils are going for expensive city flats, but developers want to build on the edge of cities and are not being given the opportunity to do so,’ he said.

Developers and investors have warned that government restrictions on the amount of owner-occupier property they can build, plus plans to increase rent controls to some 90% of the rental sector, are hitting new projects hard.

The government has said it wants to increase the current housing stock by 900,000 new homes by 2030. ‘If you look at building permits for the coming two years, it is not looking good,’ Boelhouwer said.


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