Sunday

20th Aug 2017

EU parliament delays a posted workers vote

  • More than 40 percent of all the posted workers in the EU are working in the construction sector. (Photo: Lisbeth Kirk)

The European Parliament's legal affairs committee (Juri) postponed a vote on Tuesday (30 May) on the posted workers directive, in a move that further delays the controversial labour market reform.

The rapporteur for the file - Swedish social democrat Jytte Guteland - had proposed to give the directive, which regulates the pay of EU workers sent to another country for a limited period of time, a double legal basis and make it into a piece of social legislation.

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Currently, the directive is based on internal market law, and aims to ensure the freedom to provide services.

Guteland told the Juri committee on Monday that the overhaul should strike a better balance between the freedom to provide services and the rights of posted workers.

"The European Commission has already identified this two-fold objective in its proposal," Guteland said, referring to the pledge by commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, to ensure "equal pay for equal work in the same place" in the reform.

But the Swedish parliamentarian suggested the aim would fail unless the legal basis was extended to social policy.

Without it, the European Court of Justice could not in its rulings put social rights on par with those of business, Guteland said.

Sweden's social democratic party has pushed the European Commission for a review of the posted workers directive after a 2007 ruling.

In the so-called Laval case, on Latvian construction workers posted in Sweden, the court said that Sweden couldn't make it a requirement for foreign workers to be paid the same as their Swedish colleagues.

So far, the issue of posted workers has 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 directive was introduced in the late 1990s.

Back then, posted workers were a rare phenomenon.

With time, their number has grown and they have become a bone of contention between EU member states, with richer countries saying they are a cause of "social dumping".

Commission figures show that posted workers sometimes only earn half of what their colleagues working in the same company receive.

The EU parliament's two co-rapporteurs, French MEP Elisabeth Morin-Chartier from the centre-right EPP group, and Dutch social democrat Agnes Jongerius, first proposed to extend the legal basis of the directive and asked the legal affairs committee for an opinion.

Guteland told EUobserver on Wednesday that she had secured the support of MEPs from the liberal Alde, radical-left Gue and the Greens for her report, which would allow it to pass.

But EPP members of the committee - many of whom hail from Eastern EU countries - oppose the report, and say it would hurt the freedom to provide services on the internal market.

On Tuesday, they asked the chair to postpone the vote, saying that the secretariat had not provided members with the final version of Guteland's proposal.

The vote will instead take place at an extraordinary meeting on 12 June, but the delay gives EPP a chance to undo the delicate majority.

Liberal MEPs have a kingmaker position on the vote in Juri.

The group's coordinator in the committee, French MEP Jean-Marie Cavada, said he would back the report, despite strong doubts about the feasibility of Guteland's proposal.

"If we have two legal bases ... how will EU member states transpose the directive at national level in good conditions?" he said on Monday.

The EU parliament's legal team has also warned against a double legal basis, saying the posted workers directive should prioritise facilitating the freedom to provide cross-border services, with the protection of workers' rights being secondary.

Cavada's backing can be seen in the context of the French parliamentary elections.

France's new president, Emmanuel Macron, said last week during a visit to Brussels that reforms of the French labour market must be accompanied by stronger social legislation at EU level - using the posted workers directive as example.

"I am aware that Europe must become more social, humane … supporting a directive whose only aim is the functioning of the internal market would not be well-received by citizens," Cavada said.

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.

Work on the posted services reform was already delayed last year, after the national parliaments of 11 member states triggered the so-called yellow card procedure, saying the commission overstepped its powers when presenting the new proposal.

Guteland told EUobserver that she regretted another delay, but remained "hopeful" that the liberals, greens and left-wing MEPs would keep backing her.

"Macron has been clear in the election campaign that he wants a better balance between workers' rights and the right of business to provide services. This puts pressure on several political groups."

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A revision of the posted workers directive aims to make the single market fairer, but critics see efforts to root out "social dumping" as disguised protectionism.

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