Friday

23rd Aug 2019

Member states eye agreement on posted workers

  • The treatment of the transport sector remains one of the main blocking points in the discussion. (Photo: EUobserver)

After months of negotiations, EU member states are trying to break a deadlock in discussions over the revision of a directive on posted workers before a crucial meeting next Monday (23 October).

The issue revolves around differing pay levels for workers temporarily posted in another EU country compared with native workers.

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  • "We had to go against the idea that there are emitter countries and receiver countries," said EU parliament rapporteur Elisabeth Morin-Chartier. (Photo: European Parliament)

"A deal is within reach," an EU official said on Tuesday.

But he warned that some elements of the discussions would "demand a political compromise."

Diplomats will try on Wednesday to prepare the ground for employment ministers, who meet in Luxembourg next Monday.

Discussions between some EU leaders will also take place on the margins of the EU summit on Thursday and Friday in order to overcome the last blocking points.

"We cross fingers" that a deal will be reached on Monday, so that it doesn't go up to the EU leaders at their next summit in December, said another official.

The issue has been controversial since the European Commission proposed in March last year to revise a directive dating back from 1996.

Arguments over 'duration'

Diplomats admit that different groups of countries are still at loggerheads on issues like the duration of long-term posting, the date of application of the new rules and the transition period; or the treatment of the transport sector.

The commission is proposing that the directive applies on postings for 24 months, before workers fall under national labour laws.

Since Emmanuel Macron came to power in spring, France has been insisting on applying the directive only for 12 months, while some other countries would like six months.

Another major stumbling point is whether lorry drivers should be included in the scope of the directive.

France wants them to be considered as posted workers, in order to protect its national sector. Paris is supported in its demands by Germany, Austria and the Benelux countries - Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg.

Countries like Spain, Portugal and Poland, whose transport sector is active across Europe, reject the idea. Others, whose economy is mainly based on exports, like Slovenia, also want transport to be treated differently.

 The blocking countries argue that a mobility package proposed by the commission in June would be enough to regulate the sector.

Under the rules proposed by the commission, a driver would be guaranteed a higher remuneration after being "at least for three days in a month in a member state with higher pay rate."

"On this issue, contrary to others in the directive, there is a blocking minority" to exclude drivers, a diplomat told EUobserver, insisting that "all sides will have to make a compromise."

Member states are under more pressure to find an agreement after MEPs in the employment committee adopted on Monday a report setting out the the European Parliament's position.

The report is expected to be adopted by the plenary on 26 October.

If member states succeed in agreeing on Monday, final negotiations between the EU Council, where member states meet, and parliament could then start before the end of the year.

Equal pay for equal work

The parliament's report, elaborated on by Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, a French centre-right MEP, and Dutch centre-left Agnes Jongerius, include new elements to the commission's proposal.

"The objective is to ensure a fair competition between companies and fight against social dumping, in order to guarantee a fundamental freedom, the free movement of services, but also the free movement of workers," Morin-Chartier said about the compromise found in the parliament.

"We had to have a new look at the 1996 directive in the light of today's Europe and of this political objective: equal pay for equal work," she said.

The text proposes to extend the directive's legal basis, to make it relevant to the social legislation and not only to the freedom of services legislation.

In order to achieve the principle of 'equal pay for equal work', it also proposes that "allowances specific to the posting shall be considered to be part of remuneration" and that "expenditure on travel, board and lodging … shall be provided for by the employer and shall not be deducted from remuneration."

The parliament proposal also states that "for the calculation of the remuneration, all mandatory elements, laid down by law, applicable collective agreements or arbitration awards, should be taken into account, provided that these elements are also applied at local level."

"We had to get out out of the rut that was the issue of different payslips," Morin-Chartier noted, explaining that "it is the key of the use of posted workers to do social dumping between workers and create unfair competition between companies".

The parliament's text is a compromise between political groups but also between MEPs from different countries, on an issue that has pitted some eastern members states against western countries.

"We needed clear political lines," the French MEP said. "We had to go against the idea that there are emitter countries and receiver countries. There are posted workers all across Europe."

"I didn't see much difference in the parliament's position to where the council is at the discussion now," noted one of the EU officials.

He said that discussion between member states over the equal pay for equal work were "very much in line" with the parliament's position.

Much of an agreement in the council on Monday, and with the parliament later will depend on the French position.

A Macron priority

Macron, who toured the eastern EU in the summer, has made the issue a top one on his political agenda and has obliged others to take a position themselves over his demands.

But while he has made the 12-month duration of posting a key element in the discussion, he could back down if others of his demands are met.

Between 90 and 93 percent of posted workers work no longer than 12 months, and the average duration of their work is 44 days.

"What is the meaning of 'set a duration'? It is much more important to set the length of the mission with very clear rules that can be controlled," said Morin-Chartier.

The parliament's proposition is "not at 100-percent the French position, but it contains very important progress," a French source said on Tuesday, pointing out to anti-fraud mechanisms that are included in the text.

The source said the French government also hopes that "a good agreement" will be reached by ministers on Monday at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) meeting.

Paris expects that a package that includes the revision of the directive as well as an EU regulation on social security will be adopted.

"With Macron, we are looking at the same finish line," Morin-Chartier noted. "France really wants to succeed on this text."

But agreement wil also depends on how France's views reconcile with those of countries like Spain, Poland of Hungary.

"There is one more EPSCO before the end of the year, and we could agree after in a week or two.. It is not like we want to go forward at any cost," one of the EU officials said.

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After a 12-hour discussion, EU employment ministers struck a compromise to reform the rules on workers posted in another country. The principle of equal pay for equal work has been adopted but the transport sector will get special treatment.

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