Thursday

27th Jan 2022

Member states agree reforms on foreign worker rules

  • European Commission estimates suggest the EU has around 1.2 million posted workers (Photo: Wonderlane)

EU governments have agreed on reforms to stop social dumping and exploitation of people relocated to another member state by their employer on short-term contracts.

"We have finally reached agreement," said Lithuania's employment minister Algimanta Pabedinskiene, who chaired the ministers' meeting.

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"It will help to protect the rights of the posted workers and will prevent possible abuses and infringements," she said Monday (9 December).

The deal means member states now have a mandate to enter negotiations with the European parliament on the revised draft of the 1996 posted workers directive.

The 17-year old directive is supposed to guarantee basic labour rights of people sent to another member state by their employer – there are said to be around 1.2 million posted workers in the EU - to work on a temporary basis.

EU rules say they should be employed under the same conditions in the host country but often this is not the case.

This leads to locals complaining their jobs are being undercut by cheaper labour – particularly in the construction sector - from other member states.

This issue became a hot political topic in recent years with the term ‘Polish plumber’ becoming synonymous with the law.

It is particularly sensitive in France, which hosts over 200,000 posted workers every year. Many of them are from Poland, Romania, and Portugal.

“Today we are seeing increasing circumvention of the rules, a failure to declare, bogus companies, letter-box companies, unfair pay levels in the country of employment, all this distorting the fair competition that otherwise would exist,” said France’s employment minister Michel Sapin.

To end abuse of the system – which also resulted in the foreign workers being exploited by bogus companies - the commission proposed a so-called ‘joint and several liability’ but only for the construction sector.

Austria, Germany, Spain, Finland, France, Italy, The Netherlands and Belgium already have such a liability scheme, said to deter exploitation because it encourages contractors to make sure the subcontractor is legitimate.

Member states on Monday in a watered down version of the commission’s original proposal reached a middle ground.

The company that sends the workers has to provide documents to the hosting member state’ national authorities.

A member state can also choose whether to implement the commission’s liability scheme or come up with its own equivalent.

The UK and Ireland opposed the mandatory liabilities scheme arguing it would be too burdensome.

“We believe compulsory liability in the construction sector will be an additional burden at a critical time where the sector is beginning to show some very tentative signs of recovery,” said Irish employment minister Richard Bruton.

UK employment minister Esther McVey said mandatory requirements risked distorting the internal markets.

She noted that inspections and other preventive measures are good enough to stop the abuse.

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