emploemployment.jpg

Demonstrators stand next to a a fake coffin during a protest outside the EU Headquarters in Brussels during a meeting gathering European Labour ministers and focused on Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs, on 9 December, 2013.

EU Ministers agree on posted workers’ protection framework

09.12.2013 - 19:37

On Monday, EU Employment ministers reached a general approach on the controversial posting-of-workers enforcement directive after three ministerial roundtables and three amendments of the legal text.

EU employment ministers managed to agree on a compromise version of the controversial posting-of- workers enforcement directive late on Monday afternoon. The Lithuanian presidency was obliged to change the text three times in order for “a wider compromise” to be achieved. 

The Directive’s initial aim was to resolve various well-known legal, administrative and practical forms of abuse, circumvention of regulations and fraudulent practices when workers are temporarily posted in another country.

However, ever since, two opposing groups of Member States divided the Council. 

Following October’s meeting where the ministers failed to reach an agreement, the Lithuanian Presidency prepared a new version of the text and presented it to the ministers, focusing on two problematic points. The first has to do with the control measures at national level. Some countries, including France and Belgium, did not want the EU legislation to be restrictive, but to provide an open list of control instruments. They feared that predefined and inflexible EU rules will permit companies to find new ways to “import” workers from low-protection countries and underpay them, resulting in the so-called “social dumping”. Prioritising freedom of movement and fearing of the “distortion of the internal market” and the lack of competitiveness, other Member States, among which the UK and Ireland but also most of the Eastern European countries, suggested a closed list of mandatory measures for all EU countries. “The text agreed by Council strikes a balance between the necessity of guaranteeing legal certainty and transparency for service providers, while acknowledging Member States' competence,” Commissioner for Employment, Lazlo Andor said in a presser.

The second issue referred to the joint and several liability for contract chains. According to the European Commission, the text agreed by Council recognises the importance of liability of the contractor in this respect, while allowing Member States some flexibility to uphold the necessary appropriate measures, thus respecting the different social models and industrial relations systems existing in EU countries.

But not everybody was satisfied with the final agreement. According to the trade unions who were protesting outside the Council building against any kind of compromise with the current version of the text, the Directive does not take satisfactory measures in order to hold the main contractor responsible, imposing a number of conditions to be met before actions can be held liable in case posted workers are left without payment. Representatives of workers argue that the repeatedly amended by the Council version of the legal text has been going in the opposite direction, failing to give a political solution to cross-border exploitation of workers and social dumping.

“In the UK the Directive was never properly implemented. We are trying to strengthen the rules because workers are so widely exploited by unscrupulous contractors and employers, who are basically undercutting terms and conditions in the UK by using posted workers and exploiting them. They are trading worker against worker. Posted workers are still a minority compared to the indigenous workforce, but the effect they have on the labour market if they are being exploited it is very destabilising. That is the problem we have in the UK,” a British trade unionist comments.

According to official figures, it can be estimated that companies based in Europe post around one million workers each year from one Member State to another.

As a next step, the Council needs to negotiate the text agreed with the European Parliament.