The European Parliament and member states have reached an agreement to set up a new European Labour Authority (ELA) to protect workers’ rights and launch cross-border investigations in case of potential abuses.
“ELA is an important missing piece of the puzzle” to ensure that Europe upholds “free and fair labour mobility”, the Parliament’s rapporteur Jeroen Lenaers (EPP, Netherlands) said on Thursday (14 February).
Despite the progress made in improving some EU rules over the past years, including the posted workers directive, the implementation and enforcement of the laws remains a challenge, he said.
As a result, more than 17 million workers living or working in another member state are exposed to possible violations of their rights, either because of poor implementation of the EU rules, disinformation or lack of coordination among member states.
“It is high time for a European Labour Authority to support our mobile citizens, facilitate the work of our member states and ensure fairness and trust in our single market,” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement.
His Commissioner for Employment, Marianne Thyssen, highlighted the operational nature of the new entity, aiming to support the capitals in enforcing the rules and organising inspections in case of potential abuses.
“It will serve the double mission of helping national authorities fight fraud and abuse and making mobility easy for citizens,” she said.
To that end, the new body was finally designed as an authority, like the Parliament and the Commission wanted, instead of an agency with watered-down powers, as some member states insisted.
Berlin found it problematic to designate the entity as an authority, as this could be misinterpreted in terms of its role when it was translated into German. Nordic and Eastern countries weren’t in favour either. But a qualified majority of member states (at least 16 member states representing 65% of the population) finally supported it.
The agreement reached by the co-legislators’ negotiators now has to be ratified by the Parliament’s plenary and the Council.
The Romanian Minister of Labour and Social Justice, Marius-Constantin Budăi, whose country is chairing the Council this semester, said the agreement represents “another important step to ensure a well-functioning EU labour market”.
He highlighted that member states “will only take part in ELA’s activities on a voluntary basis”.
But Lenaers warned that “a simple ‘no’ will not be enough” to escape from the authority, especially in regard to organising “joint or concerted” inspections of potential abuses with national authorities.
Countries rejecting involvement in these inspections will have to provide not only their reasons but ideas and plans to address the complaints raised in a particular case. In addition, ELA could take measures to ensure a proper follow up on the issue in case member states do not participate.
The Parliament was “very satisfied” with the final agreement, Lenaers said.
The deal was also welcomed by unions. “It’s not perfect but it is a success,” said Liina Carr, confederal secretary at the European Trade Union Confederation.
The unions convinced the co-legislators to have the possibility of filing complaints directly to the ELA, instead of having to pass through the national authorities.
If a worker’s rights are violated in a member state where he is posted, he could complain to his national unions, who would send the case to the European authority.
The unions also welcomed the possibility to address social security issues under the new body, a possibility that some member states were reluctant to take on board.
However, Carr regretted that some critical sectors, including transport, were excluded from the deal, as Poland and some other Eastern countries fought to limit the scope. Nevertheless, the text included a review clause in order to enlarge the areas covered in the future.
The new authority will be also instrumental in the fight against fraudulent entities, like ‘letterbox companies’ set up in countries like Luxembourg for tax dodging purposes.
BusinessEurope was not immediately available for comment.
Labour rights, especially for cross border workers, had proven to be one of the most sensitive areas in EU legislation in recent years.
Still, the agreement was reached in record time. The proposal was made in March last year and the first trilogue including the negotiating teams of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission took place in December.
“It is an extraordinary achievement,” said Lenaers. “It shows the commitment of all institutions”.
The ELA is also seen as a concrete achievement for companies and workers, in a year where the benefits and results of the EU will be judged by voters next May in the European elections.
The authority “will ensure fair mobility and strengthen the trust and fairness in the internal market”, summarised Lenaers.
“Today we take another big step forward in delivering on our commitment for a more social Europe,” Juncker said.