Deal on posted workers set for before EU elections

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The European Union has reached a compromise on the revision of the posted workers directive, while the French parliament has just voted for more restrictive legislation on the issue at home, EURACTIV France reports.

In an attempt to defuse the time bomb that is the issue of posted workers ahead of the European elections, the European Union has accelerated negotiations on the revision of the directive.

The directive on the posting of workers as it is now allows the worker from one member state to be sent to another member state on a provisional basis by his company. It has been blamed for promoting social dumping.

The clock is ticking for the EU elections and the issue – which pertains both to employment and immigration – is expected to feature strongly in the campaign, in which far-right parties are gaining ground. Like in 2005, during the campaign for the referendum on the European constitution in France, a scenario similar to the myth of the “Polish plumber” is possible.

Temporary agreement

On 27 February, the European Parliament, Commission and Council reached a temporary agreement on the revision of this directive after lengthy talks.

The final agreement has yet to be approved by the expert committee of the European Parliament on 18 March and then by the expert body in the EU Council. It will however not be implemented before 2016.

“The proposed legislation aims at ensuring the protection of the workers and legal certainty for companies. We have found the balance between the freedom of services and workers’ rights … let’s hope that today’s agreement will be kept in the coming votes,” said the Parliament rapporteur on the issue, Danuta Jaz?owiecka, a Polish MEP.

The revision of the 1996 directive aims to punish fraud linked to posted workers more effectively, which is increasingly happening in the EU. Since 2012, the negotiations have been greatly hampered by disagreements between member states.

The European compromise foresees the implementation of a list of control measures and a mandatory joint and liability mechanism for the contractor in the construction sector, which is the most prone to fraud.

There is not much room for amendments since the concessions made by certain member states are not extensible, as is the case with Poland.

“The balance is fragile and countries that have agreed to make a significant step will not go further,” the French EU minister, Thierry Repentin, said after the deal was struck in the Council.

France in a hurry

The French parliament for its part adopted on 25 February a draft law presented by the Socialist majority “against social dumping”, which is more ambitious than the European reform under negotiation. The law was introduced on 9 January and adopted in a hurry before the May elections.

French MP Patrice Carvalho called it a “text of circumstance” a few months before the EU elections, adding that the draft law “pretends to tackle one of the most visible and most disturbing creations of this liberal Europe.”

The French draft law on posted workers was adopted by a large majority, with the support of the majority and of the centrist parties.

“Let’s hope that the negotiations at European level on the posting of workers will succeed. In any case, when there is an emergency, we have the duty at national level to take the necessary legislative measures to reduce social injustice,” the president of the French parliament’s European affairs committee, Danielle Auroi, said.

Joint and several liability

Like the European legislation, the French draft law adopts the principle of “joint and several liability” to make contractors more responsible towards their sub-contractors. The difference is that the French law will apply this rule to all areas hiring low cost workers and not only the construction sector, the only sector foreseen by the EU text.

The French law will also create a black list of companies and contractors who have already been condemned for illegal work and post them on the internet.

The text will be subject to a single reading and must be approved by the senate before May 2014.

Danuta Jaz?owiecka MEP, Rapporteur on the Enforcement Directive on the posting of workers (EPP, Poland) “Yesterday's provisional agreement on the Posting of Workers Enforcement Directive is a sign of the responsibility taken by the European institutions. The proposed text aims at ensuring the worker's protection and providing legal clarity for companies. We have struck the right balance between the freedom to provide services and enforcement of workers' rights. It is a good sign for both the internal market and the posted workers. Let us hope that the deal will be kept in the forthcoming votes and that the file will be closed before the European elections.”

Pervenche Berès (S&D, FR), president of the employment and social affairs committee of the European Parliament said : « The Parliament helped better combat this problem. Member states will have greater flexibility for controls  because even if they must inform the Commission of new control measures, they will not need prior authoirsation. Social partners will also be better involved.”

FIEC, the European Construction Industry Federation welcomed the efforts undertaken by the European Parliament and the Council which have led to an agreement regarding the proposed Directive on “Enforcement of Posting”. “This agreement is an important step in the fight against social fraud and abuses in the field of “Posting of Workers” and corresponds to the main requests put forward by FIEC” declared Thomas Schleicher, President of FIEC

According to a 1996 EU directive, posted workers have to comply with the labour law of the host country.

However, employers pay social contributions in the country of origin, which can create a gap in labour costs and boost benefits for companies.

France has complained about the rising use of posted workers, claiming that it amounts to social dumping.

The number of posted workers in France has soared since the EU enlargement to

Eastern countries in 2004. Between 2006 and 2011, their number has multiplied by four, rising from 38,000 to 145,000. They are now estimated at 210,000, according to the French employment ministry.

  • 18 March 2014 : Vote in the European parliament committee on employment and social affairs
  • April 2014: Vote in plenary
  • 22-25 May 2014: EU elections

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