Commission aims to help cross-border workers

21.03.12 @ 19:05

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - The European Commission proposed measures on Wednesday (21 March) to help guarantee the labour rights of temporary workers, known as posted workers, who come from one member state but are sent to work in another.

  • Abuse of posted workers is widespread and is concentrated in the construction sector (Photo: EUobserver)

"Today's proposals clarify the rules on posted workers for everyone and put practical safeguards in place against social dumping and poor working conditions, especially in the construction sector where posting of workers is most prominent and reports of abuse are highest," EU social affairs commissioner Laszlo Andor told reporters in Brussels.

Minimum employment and working conditions are often neglected for the 1 million or so posted workers in the EU. The commission hopes its ideas will improve their labour conditions, while at the same time enhancing the internal market.

The proposal does not add to existing EU legislation, but instead clarifies how EU rules on posting of workers should be better applied in practice, says the commission.

It is up to existing national liaison offices and authorities to monitor the terms and conditions of employment in each country.

Eight member states already have bilateral agreements that better respect the terms of such legislation. The European Commission, with its new proposals, wants the remaining 19 member states to catch up.

The biggest group of MEPs, the centre-right EPP, for the most part back the commission and believe the legislation should help guarantee fair competition, respect workers' rights, and provide a clearer legal framework for small businesses.

In a written statement, Polish centre-right MEP Danuta Jazlowiecka said the "posting of workers plays a crucial economic role in Europe as it helps fill temporary shortfalls in the labour market and better matches labour supply with labour demand."

The proposal includes a regulation, termed Monti II, meant to secure the fundamental rights of the workers. The commission says it will confirm the right to collective action, including the right to strike.

The regulation also sets out a new alert mechanism for industrial conflicts in cross-border situations. National laws on the right to strike remain unaffected.

However, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) claims the commission's scheme will instead undermine workers' rights and a social Europe by favouring economic freedoms and competition rules.

"A proposal in this direction would be unacceptable to the European trade union movement and we will continue to fight for an effective remedy to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) case law," said president of the European Trades Union Council, Frenchwoman Bernadette Segol.

The plight of posted workers widespread

The abuse of posted workers is widespread and is particularly concentrated in the construction sector. And while around 1 million known temporary workers are posted abroad, it is possible many more go undeclared.

Unscrupulous employers may exploit the vulnerabilities of posted workers by creating fictional or 'letter-box’ companies. A letter-box company has no genuine economic activity in the member state from which the posting actually takes place.

"Such companies cannot post workers under the posting of workers directive to other member states," the commission told this website.

Unlike migrant workers, posted workers are not fully integrated into the social security and labour obligations of the hosting country.

Posted workers may therefore find themselves stranded, without wages, and have limited recourse to sue or plead their case while stationed in the hosting country. This is especially true if the employer is a fictional company who then later simply disappears.

Compounded by language barriers and a lack of understanding of the complexities of cross-border labour and local laws, posted workers in difficultly may find themselves at an utter loss.

In other cases, posted workers are sent to replace better paid workers in the host country.

In one example, a food-processing plant in Belgium in 2005 fired several Belgian workers and replaced them with German-Polish workers contracted through a Dutch posting agency.

The German-Polish workers were paid on average €10 per hour less than the company's Belgian workers. Trade union representatives went on strike.