February 26, 2024

Taylor Daily Press

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'We were urged to destroy cleaners' sick notes'

'We were urged to destroy cleaners' sick notes'

Cleaning assistants who cannot or do not dare to protest and consultants who go above and beyond to get bonuses: the stories of fraud in the service voucher sector are not pretty.

ACC Dienstencheques, a home services subsidiary that employs 700 cleaning assistants, has been revealed to be suspected of widespread fraud with temporary unemployment. The newspaper In spring 2023. talent I spoke to Delphine*, an employee who witnessed the company's fraud firsthand.

It was fun working at ACC Dienstencheques for the first few years. Until growth suddenly accelerated. Someone was even hired to encourage his colleagues to “color outside the lines as much as possible.”

“Usually the cleaning assistants were not aware that they were in violation. They did not know the system and the legislation. It was even more annoying for the people in management, who had to keep up with the deception. It went so far.”

“Although this is strictly prohibited, we have had offices, doctors' closets, public parts of apartment buildings and vacation homes cleaned with service vouchers that our manager or our family members purchased from him.” At one point, we sent cleaning assistants to the factories. When someone had a work accident there, the owner of that factory was fined – and ACC was unaffected. Our contracts state that we only clean residential homes, and that seemed to be enough.

RVA fines

“Then there were the rewards.” They went to the fastest growing office each month. To win, you had to increase the number of cleaning assistants' working hours as much as possible, for example by reporting as few sick hours as possible. We were urged by our regional manager to destroy the sick notes. The cleaning assistant who dropped a medical certificate in the mailbox? We didn't get it. The cleaning assistant was illegally absent and therefore received no pay. The cleaning assistants are not strong enough to do anything about it. They often do not know their rights and barely understand what is stated on their pay slip, because they speak little or no Dutch.

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“Some colleagues, who often received the bonus, found an 'interesting arrangement': fictitious achievements. We provided people with service vouchers for cleaning hours allegedly done by relatives of managers and office managers. The ACC collected the government subsidy.

talent He was able to view parts of the criminal file against ACC Director Johan Goossens. There is talk of a hairdresser who was falsely registered as a cleaning assistant with ACC, and thus was able to perform hairdressing as a secondary occupation, which meant that she had to pay lower social security contributions. Sometimes, according to Delphine, there were also fake employees who were hired for a very short period, but then full-time with one client. This fictitious registration may have been a way to obtain the right to receive sickness and unemployment benefits. It always amazed me that a company could get away with that. However, we got on the radar of the trade unions and the RVA more often, and in the long term we had to defend a lot of files. We received some fines from RVA, but they clearly did not outweigh the proceeds of the fraud.'

“These bogus offers, just like temporary unemployment fraud, appear in black and white on the ACC social inspection report,” says Ben Debognes, a study staff member at ACV Nutrition and Services.

Some colleagues, who often received the reward, found an “interesting arrangement”: imaginary achievements.

Data tampering

One of the most common problems in this sector is the abuse of the “authorised absence” system. Issam Benali from ABVV Dienstencheques explains how this happens. “Imagine: The client's cleaning service is cancelled. The employer does not receive a subsidy for hours not worked. Instead of continuing to pay the domestic worker—which is mandatory—the employer says, 'I'm putting you on an absence leave,'” and asks the domestic worker to Confirm this with your signature.But an “authorized absence” is actually unpaid leave, and this obviously has an impact on income.

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“If a customer cancels their reservation in time, you can also request temporary unemployment. However, this is not possible for half a day. Therefore, this is not an option if the customer is absent in the morning, while cleaning can continue in the afternoon.” “Then companies use authorized absences,” said Ben Ali. “This has also happened at ACC,” says Anne Deheger (ABVV). “And in a well-known cleaning company they also have pre-printed forms for this purpose.” Ben Debugnes (ACV) confirms that Abuse of permitted absence is common in this sector. “Cleaning assistants in larger companies are also being pressured to agree to this.”

The ACC has dealt particularly creatively with temporary unemployment. “If a client disappears, the cleaning service will never be paid for those hours,” Delphine says. They tampered with the data and half of the two days were “combined” into one day of unemployment. This is Social Security fraud. But I hear from former colleagues who now work elsewhere that this is a widespread practice.

corona

In the January 2022 Corona wave, ACC management decided to wrongly place all employees who became legitimately ill during that month on “temporary unemployment due to force majeure.” This way the company did not have to pay its guaranteed wages. Both ACV and ABVV confirm that they have witnessed these practices in several local offices, so there was a clear pattern.

talent I was able to view an internal email sent by an ACC administrative employee to a domestic worker on February 3, 2022. It refers to management's decision to convert sick leave from January 2022 to temporary unemployment for all 78 domestic workers. “I want to make clear that I do not support this!” Write in this email. “But the scheme was also applied to advisers that month, who were fully aware that they were losing money,” says Delphine. “They wouldn't accept it, and so the ball started rolling.”

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*Delphine is a pseudonym

ACC responds

When asked to respond, Johan Goossens, managing director of ACC Dienstencheques, emailed that his company had recently appeared before the recognition committee and explained its position there. “It would be disrespectful for this committee to publish these clarifications in the press,” Goossens wrote. ACC Service Checks challenges any irregularities or breaches of any regulations. (…) The government's interpretation of some regulatory provisions differs from our interpretation. There's nothing wrong with that.' If necessary, the court must decide which interpretation is correct, according to Goossens. He also believes that the investigation carried out by the Flemish Social Inspectorate was not “contradictory”: “It does not pass the test of reliability and integrity.” Finally, it also points to the difficulties faced by this sector and the high prices of some of its peers. ACC tries to avoid this, which is why “the company cannot give fringe benefits to employees even if it wants to.”