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Investigation claims 'toxic' work environment at Plopsaland theme park

14:40 20/02/2023

The working environment for employees of the popular Plopsaland theme park has been described as "toxic" according to an investigation by Flemish newspaper De Tijd.

Dozens of people provided testimony of insults, humiliation and harassment, in addition to a ‘work 24/7’ culture. Ghent's labour auditor has launched an official investigation into the claims.

Plopsa's parent company Studio 100 said it was taking the report very seriously and has launched a thorough and independent investigation of their own.

To that end, lawyer Christine Mussche has been commissioned for the task. Mussche will investigate Plopsa's corporate culture and the concerns raised by 52 different people that De Tijd interviewed between November and February.

The interviewees were mainly former employees but represented a broad range of departments: human resources, IT, accounting, sales and marketing, purchasing and Plopsa Hotel among them.

Some 45 of the people interviewed reported incidents involving management between 2003 and today, many of which place chief executive Steve Van den Kerkhof as a key instigator and propagator of the abusive culture, along with two of his managers.

People described him as an aggressive bully who did not respect holidays and rest days, often pitting employees against one another.

High turnover at Studio Plopsa, based in De Panne on the Belgian coast in West Flanders, close to the French border, lends credence to employee complaints about the toxic work culture.

There are about 75 permanent workers at Studio Plopsa, but former employees say retention is hard not only due to the management style and personality of Van den Kerkhof, but also that of his close colleagues.

Van den Kerkhof denies the allegations, saying that employees organise their own working hours and extra benefits are provided for specific needs.

For non-executives, “the collective labour agreement of 50 hours a week and 11 hours a day is strictly respected”, he said.

He also refutes any accusations of humiliating workers, adding that the he only “closely monitors [certain departments] and adjusts if necessary” when it comes to individuals whose performance he is concerned about.

“But in no way are departments and/or individuals being pitted against each other, or gossip being spread by myself,” Van den Kerkhof said.

He also said that he has never once heard a complaint and that all wellbeing surveys have been positive.

“As long as the investigation is ongoing, we have confidence in the management of Plopsa,” said Studio 100, adding that “ensuring a safe environment for both workers and visitors remains a top priority”.

Current employees at Plopsa placed an open letter, in the form of a full-page advertisement, in Het Nieuwsblad on Monday, voicing their support for the company and its chief executive.

"It is with dismay that we read all of these stories about our employer this past weekend," the signatories wrote.

Written by Helen Lyons