The European Parliament is attempting to bridge the divide between East and West on the question of posted workers. In France, non-francophones are already excluded from some construction sites by the “Molière clause”. EurActiv France reports.
For the EU’s eastern members, the question of posted workers is not an issue. There are simply not enough of them in Eastern Europe to warrant the debate. But for the West, the opposite is true: some countries feel there are too many posted workers and that their presence is undermining the host countries’ social models.
These employees, sent to work for a limited period in another member state, mostly in the agriculture, transport and construction sectors, are a flash-point for disagreement between the two halves of the bloc.
Differences in pay and social conditions between the EU’s member states can be exploited by companies to cut their employment costs, leading to social dumping.
The EU’s western countries have called for urgent reform. France has even threatened to stop applying the posted workers directive altogether. But 11 of the bloc’s eastern members have vigorously opposed any change to the current rules (Denmark, Bulgaria Hungary, Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia).
The national parliaments of these 11 countries even invoked the rarely-used ‘yellow card’ procedure – in vain – to contest the reform.
“We have to get past the yellow card and not leave the subject to rot in the hands of the nationalists,” said Élisabeth Morin-Chartier, a French Republican MEP (EPP group) and the Parliament’s co-rapporteur on the posting of workers.
While the Commission has chosen to pursue its reforms in spite of opposition from these 11 countries, the debate could quickly get bogged down. Something the French MEP is keen to avoid.
“We have to make progress on social Europe and make sure the posted workers directive does not end up being stuck in the Council for years, like those on working time or the harmonisation of maternity leave,” Morin-Chartier said.
“And behind it all, there is obviously the question of the rise of populism right acrss Europe,” she added.
The European Parliament’s proposal includes ensuring equal pay between local and posted workers. But the Parliament report specifically stresses that the definition of what constitutes pay should be decided by individual member states.
Another demand made by MEPs is that the costs of posting workers, like transport and accommodation, not be deducted from their pay.
“This proposal should please or seduce the most reluctant countries,” the MEP said. “Today, deductions for fees can bring down salaries by up to €400 in France.”
The report will be discussed in the European Parliament ahead of a vote in the committees in July 2017.
The “Molière clause”
In France, this unresolved issue has gradually given rise to measures discriminating against posted workers. To promote the employment of French citizens on building projects, certain cities, regions and departments have introduced a clause in their calls for tender requiring that the French language be used on construction sites for security reasons.
This so-called “Molière clause” allows public bodies to discount bids from companies that use posted workers without explicitly targeting them. The public authorities in the Hauts-de-France and Centre regions have introduced this measure for their public procurement to eliminate competition from posted workers, while ostensibly not breaking rules on discrimination.
“But this kind of provision would not stand up for one second in the European courts,” Morin-Chartier said. “What is this if not a nationalist withdrawal?” she asked.
Opposition is strong from the EU’s eastern member states, especially Hungary and Poland, “who have caused the biggest blockages on the revision,” a parliamentary source told EurActiv.
But in the East, a different kind of social dumping is beginning to emerge. “In Poland, for example, they are beginning to be confronted by competition from Ukrainian and Moldovan workers,” the MEP explained.