EU labour ministers reached an agreement this week on new rules to regulate workers posted from one country to another, but the compromise has been deemed “less ambitious” than what MEPs wanted, putting the Socialists under pressure.
The compromise text was agreed on Monday (9 December) after 18 months of negotiations on the so-called posted workers directive, which is supposed to curtail abuses of European Union law that enable companies to move cheaper, foreign workers from one EU country to another, but which trade unions say prevent locals from getting work, is yet to be agreed in the European Parliament.
Five months before the European elections, the matter is highly sensitive.
While the Parliament rapporteur, Polish centre-right MEP Danuta Jaz?owiecka, thinks that there is a “real chance” of finalising the negotiations before the last plenary session in April, the question will keep dividing MEPs along political and national lines until the end of the process.
The president of the employment committee in the Parliament, French socialist MEP Pervenche Bérès, welcomed EU minister’s compromise “given the difficult circumstances” but told EURACTIV that the MEPs' report on the enforcement of the directive was more ambitious, a report which never reached the plenary, however, and was already very divisive during the committee vote.
Where the Council’s text says that only the direct subcontractor will be held liable, the Parliament’s report wanted responsibility from the entire chain of subcontractors. In addition, yesterday’s agreement by EU member states proposes that sanctions be mandatory only in the construction sector, whereas the MEPs had agreed on a text making them obligatory in all sectors, a demand formulated by labour unions, too.
“We need to find a compromise between the two institutions but we don’t want to alienate the trade unions,” Bérès said.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said in a press release on Tuesday (10 December) that unionists would keep pressuring MEPs in the coming months.
“Problems are particularly acute in the construction sector, but not limited to it. The ETUC will continue to demand a compulsory joint and several liability covering all sectors”, ETUC said, adding that “in the upcoming negotiations ETUC will look to the European Parliament to clear ambiguities and ensure that mechanisms are put in place so that all EU workers enjoy fair and equal working conditions”.
On the campaign trail
The posted workers directive will be an important issue in the upcoming European elections in May, especially in countries like France, where the presence of foreign low cost workers is often perceived as a threat even though they represent “less than 0.5%” of the workers.
The issue is at the heart of the Social-Democrat Group’s programme and concerns, too.
Sources in the S&D group told EURACTIV that the “feeling in the group is that a majority of countries lean toward reaching strong solution”, even if it meant a “full revision” of the directive, rather than rush to a lukewarm compromise with the Council ahead of the EU elections.
>> Also read the interview with Pervenche Berès on EURACTIV France (in French)
But Social-Democrats are well aware that the divisions on the posting of workers issue are much more national than they are political.
“Even if we had the backing of the Greens and the Liberals (ALDE) on this, it might not be enough; individual members in each group would reject it, as the divisions are mainly national, making this practically a lost position”, a source said.