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16th Feb 2019

EU proposes equal pay for posted workers

  • "We propose that what applies to local workers also applies to posted workers", Thyssen said (Photo: marcovdz)

The European Commission on Tuesday (8 March) decided to reform the directive on posted workers in order to limit social dumping inside the EU.

According to the proposed new rules, a posted worker - defined as "an employee who is sent by his employer to carry out a service in another member state for a temporary period" - will have to paid as much as a local worker.

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Until now, employers were obliged only to pay them at the minimum rate, when it existed, even if the local workforce was paid along higher wage scales.

"We propose that what applies to local workers also applies to posted workers", social affairs and labour mobility commissioner Marianne Thyssen said at a press conference in Strasbourg.

The proposed new law will also require that national rules on temporary agency workers apply for both for domestic and cross-border agencies.

In another measure to limit abuse of posted workers, a worker will be considered as a local worker, with the same rights, if his posting lasts more than 24 months, instead of 30 as until now.

Cornerstone

Introduced in EU law by the 1996 directive, posted workers have become a constituant part of the single market, but also a symbol of social dumping symbolised by the stereotype of the Polish plumber.

"The provision of services across borders is a cornerstone of the internal market," Thyssen said

There were 1.92 million posted workers in the EU in 2014, according to the commission, a 44.4 percent increase compared to 2010. The average posting was four months.

The three countries sending the most workers elsewhere in the EU were Poland, Germany and France, while the three countries recieving the most posted workers were Germany, France and Belgium.

Since the 1996 law, "the labour market situation has changed," Thyssen noted.

She said that "divergence and wages among member states have significantly increased" and that posting workers is now "seen by many as enabling unfair competition and social dumping".

She assured that the commission's legislative proposal would create a "clear, fair and easy" legal framework.

But her proposal could also reignite a debate with EU countries among which social differences remain deep, with some of them having an interest in keeping in place a mobile and cheap labour force.

In a recent interview wih French daily Le Monde, she admitted that the debate with countries that want the status quo would "not be simple".

'Not satisfactory'

The proposal was welcome by socialist MEPs, who said they were glad that "the debate on the fight against social dumping has at last cut to the chase".

But they regretted that the posting was still possible for 24 months, not less, and that social security contributions remained too different between the home state of workers and compnaies and the host state where workers are posted.

The reaction of civil society was also mixed.

"We appreciate the commission’s intentions and efforts, but the solution proposed is not satisfactory," Luca Visentini, the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation said in a statement.

He said that "many posted workers will never get" the equal pay promised by the commission and that "workers and trade unions will be obliged to continue to go to court to see their rights recognised".

Ahead of its publication, Visentini together with business unions had deplored that the proposed reform of the directive was prepared without consultation.

In an open letter sent to the commission's president Jean-Claude Juncker last week, they asked the commission to "take the time needed to adequately consult with the social partners"

In Sweden also, trade unions and business leaders came together against the proposal, saying it would threaten their social model.

"We fear that the revision of the directive that does not fully take into account our industrial relations system would put our well-functioning wage formation system in jeopardy," the leaders of the main workers and business unions wrote in an open letter to Juncker last week.

But Thyssen assured that her proposal would "not interfere with member states' competences or national specificities on wage setting".

Social pillar

In addition to the reforms on posted workers, the commissioner announced the launch of a public consultation on the so-called European Pillar of Social Rights promised by Juncker when he took office.

Although the EU's social model and social market economy are "a success story", they are confronted to long term challenges, Thyssen said.

However, she said, “we need to screen whether the European social model is still fit for purpose".

“It is time for reality check," she said, citing "long term challenges like globalisation, ageing of society and changing work paterns" as well as the aftermath of the economic crisis.

The consultation, which Thyssen said would be "open to social partners, member states, civil society, academia and most importantly European citizens" will run until the end of the year.

The commission said the European Pillar of Social Rights should be presented early in 2017.

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