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26th Sep 2020

MEPs set out to give posted workers equal pay

  • Almost half of all seconded workers in the EU are working in the construction sector. (Photo: Michael Tapp)

MEPs discussed for the first time on Thursday (23 March) the more than 500 amendments tabled to revise the directive that regulates conditions of employees sent to another member state for a limited period of time.

French centre-right MEP Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, one of the co-rapporteurs of the dossier brought to the European Parliament's employment committee, said however that the number of amendments wasn't particularly high when contrasted with the importance of the issue.

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So-called posted workers account for just 0.7 percent of the labour force in Europe, but have been at the heart of a long-standing political controversy between EU member states.

In March 2016, the European Commission proposed a revision to the current legal framework, which richer states say is a cause of "social dumping".

The proposal is "about one thing," the EU executive's president Jean-Claude Juncker said in November: "Making sure that, wherever you work in Europe, a single principle applies: equal pay for equal work in the same place, and that is going to be implemented whatever the opposition."

The commission's own figures show that posted workers sometimes only earn half of what their colleagues working in the same company receive.

Eastern member states say they need to compete on lower wages and working conditions, and that attempts to scrap their competitive advantage go against the freedom of movement and services in the EU single market.

Moliere clause

There have also been accusations of racism.

With the upcoming presidential and legislative elections in France, which hosts some 300,000 posted workers, several regions have introduced a so-called "clause Moliere", named after the 17th century playwright.

The clause, introduced in public tenders, says that construction workers on public projects must speak French for safety reasons.

Morin-Chartier said she was fighting fiercely against the clause, and had managed to stop it in the French parliament.

Noting that most of the clauses had been introduced by politicians from her own Republican party, she said "some people have less of a European spirit."

"But this clause has to be fought, because it means the unravelling of the freedom of services, movement of people and workers."

She said that she and the other co-rapporteur Agnes Jongerius, a Dutch social democrat, would aim to preserve the commission's proposal of equal pay for equal work.

"We have to preserve social notions and send a clear signal to workers that we share their concerns. Open any newspaper today and you will see that the main cause of angst today is work," she said.

The two MEPs also seek to extend the legal basis of the posted workers directive to employment legislation, instead of it being solely based on the single market.

"We have to protect fundamental rights: the freedom of movement and the right to seek work abroad, but also workers' rights," Jongerius said.

The issue of posted workers has so far only been seen as a single market issue because two member states - Portugal and the UK - wielded their veto against a proposal to base the legislation on workers rights protection when the law was introduced in the late 1990s.

Differences remain

Back then, posted workers were a rare phenomena. The number, albeit still quite small, is growing at a fast pace.

According to the commission, there were over 1.9 million postings in the EU in 2014, an increase of 10 percent compared to the year before, and of 44.4 percent in comparison to 2010.

The co-rapporteurs welcomed their colleagues' cooperative spirit, and said it was important that the parliament was united on the file, to strengthen its bargaining position with the Council, where the governments of EU member states are represented.

But important differences remain.

Around 70 amendments related to the maximum length of the posting of workers. While the commission has proposed to keep the current limit of 24 months, some want to limit it to 3, 6 or 12 months, while others wish to extend the time limit to 36 months, or scrap it altogether.

Members also disagree on which collective agreements should apply to posted workers. Some said they should be covered by sectoral accords, while other MEPs said that only the basic pacts should apply to posted workers.

Representatives of all the political groups will meet on 5 April to discuss ways to take the file forward.

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