Commission defends equal pay for posted workers
The EU commissioner for employment is standing her ground on a controversial proposal to give equal pay to seconded workers in the EU.
”I am sticking to what I proposed in the past,” Marianne Thyssen told members of the European Parliament’s legal committee (Juri) on Tuesday (12 July).
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”The same rules on remuneration should apply for the same work at the same location, irrespective of who carries out that work: a local worker or a posted worker", she said.
A posted worker, as defined by EU law, is an employee sent by his company to carry out a service in another member state for a limited period.
The commission has said in the past that posted workers sometimes earn only half of their local colleagues' wages.
The Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) has identified posting as a a risk factor for labour exploitation.
But the EU executive’s plans to change the situation came under fire when the parliaments of 11 EU member states in May warned that the commission may be violating the principle of subsidiarity, which stipulates that decisions should be taken by EU states or by local authorities when possible.
MPs in Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, representing more than a third of EU parliaments, triggered an early warning mechanism, popularly known as the “yellow card”, forcing the commission to review its proposal and to decide whether to maintain, amend or withdraw it.
Thyssen is also under pressure from richer countries to stick up for the review.
French and Swedish pressure
French prime minister Manuel Valls warned earlier this month his country would stop applying existing rules on posted workers if the commission backed down.
Fears that French people lose out on jobs because of “social dumping” - unfair wage competition between workers from different EU countries - have fuelled euroscepticism.
Swedish social democrat MEP Marita Ulvskog told EUobserver in May that commission head Jean-Claude Juncker risked losing his job if he failed to honour the promise to review the directive.
There are 1.9 million posted workers in the EU, representing 0.7 percent of total EU employment. Half of them go to three countries: Germany, France and Belgium.
Poland is the largest sender of posted workers in the EU, followed by Germany and France.
Polish labour minister Elzbieta Rafalska told this website that national parliaments were concerned not only about subsidiarity but also that plans could harm the competitiveness of Polish workers on the internal market.
She worried the EU executive lacked sufficient data for its proposal.
”Just a few years ago the commission stated that the directive, in its current shape, already provides very clear safeguards to protect the social rights of posted workers,” she said.
“The question is whether something has changed since then.”
The commission had claimed the current rules needed to be better applied when putting forward an enforcement directive, a piece of legislation that was to be fully transposed by member states on 18 June.
”I strongly believe that the proposed amendments are premature. We should first evaluate the effects of the enforcement directive. Only then will we have more reliable data,” Rafalska said, urging the commission to withdraw its proposal.
Thyssen told Juri members the enforcement directive gave EU members the tools to apply the rules, but that her proposal aimed to change the rules themselves.
”The laws are perfectly compatible,” she said.
East West divide
Socialist French MEP Guillaume Balas said Thyssen’s statements were “a good start”.
”Anything else would have fuelled fears that Europe can’t be trusted to fight social dumping,” he told EUobserver.
But he stopped short of saying that the proposal would satisfy French socialist and added there was need for a thorough debate on ways to enhance equality between local and posted workers.
”They will be difficult discussions,” he said.
Eastern countries have warned that a review of the posted workers directive would open up old sores between the member states. The "Polish plumber" has been used in the past as a symbol of eastern Europeans stealing jobs.
Balas said it was important not to ignore the concerns of poorer member states.
“I think some of their fears relate to the EU’s inability to address economic imbalances and wage differences between the countries,” he said.
Marita Ulvskog, the Swedish social democrat, told this website she also expected tough talks.
”The sad truth is that there is already a conflict between east and west, even if few people are willing to talk about it in the European Parliament,” she said.
”We will have to live with that,” she added. ”The only way to bridge this conflict is by offering equal rights, rather than pitting workers against each other and cutting back on rights.”
As for the yellow card procedure, Thyssen said her administration would answer each of the parliaments separately because they had raised different concerns.
The college of commissioners will also make a joint statement regarding the question of subsidiarity later this month.