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24th Oct 2020

EU shown yellow card on workers' pay

  • More than 40 percent of all the seconded workers in the EU are working in the construction sector. (Photo: Michael Tapp)

Eleven EU member states have shown a yellow card to the European Commission over its recent proposal to warrant equal pay to posted workers.

The parliaments of Estonia, Hungary and Slovakia filed complaints - technically known as reasoned opinions - on Tuesday (10 May), hours before the official deadline passed at midnight.

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Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania had already done so.

The yellow card procedure is a way for national parliaments to warn the commission it may be violating subsidiarity, a principle saying that decisions should be taken at lower levels whenever possible.

Parliaments have eight weeks after the commission's proposal is translated into all EU languages to review it and file a complaint if they wish. They need to gather at least a third of the EU parliaments to trigger the procedure.

Given the difficulty of mobilising national parliaments, the mechanism has only been triggered twice before.

A commission spokesperson told EUobserver it would await the deadline before commenting on the issue. It could either scrap the proposal, amend it or leave it as it is.

The revision of the posted workers directive aims to prevent social dumping, the unfair wage competition between workers from different EU countries.

A posted worker is defined by EU law as "an employee who is sent by his employer to carry out a service in another member state for a temporary period".

A Polish diplomat told this website that the commission's proposal not only is a breach of subsidiarity, but furthermore harms the internal market.

The different salary levels in Denmark and Bulgaria, for example, illustrate differences in the level of economic development. They shouldn’t be seen as unfair competition, the diplomat said.

Poland is the largest sender of posted workers in the EU, followed by Germany and France.

”Adopting the proposed changes would eliminate the possibility for entrepreneurs to profit from price competition in the services sector, which in turn would increase costs of services in the EU and reduce the competitiveness of the EU economy”, the official argued.

He warned that a worsening economic climate could unleash eurosceptic sentiments in countries where many posted workers come from and recalled conflicts between member states when similar reviews took place in the past.

A famous example is the so-called ”Polish plumber”, an example used in France to oppose a directive on services when it was under discussion in 2005.

The chair of European Parliament’s employment committee, Thomas Haendel from the German Left Party, urged the commission to uphold the proposal. He even wanted it to go further and put a stronger focus on fighting abuse.

”This should be something no member state can oppose. We need clear rules for equal pay at the same place for the same work including relevant collective agreements and the whole chain sub-contractors needs to be focussed on when it comes to liability,” he said.

Swedish social democrat Marita Ulvskog, also an employment committee member, told the EUobserver it would be difficult for the commission to back away from the proposal.

"President Jean-Claude Juncker has promised that equal pay shall apply to equal work," he said.

"That was a condition for the socialist group to endorse his appointment. It will have great consequences if he doesn't live up to his promise."

She added the 11 countries had different reasons to support a yellow card and the opposition could fall apart. Denmark, for instance, opposed the proposal because it did not go far enough in protecting the Danish system of collective bargaining.

”I’m not surprised that member states use every tool in their tool box to get what they want,” she said.

There were almost two million posted workers in the EU in 2014, representing 0.7 percent of total EU employment.

They are more common in some sectors than others; 44 percent of construction workers are posted in another EU country than their own.

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