At the closing conference of the European Year for Workers’ Mobility, the Commission EU mobility actors took a positive outlook but stressed that, under EU Treaties, this fundamental freedom of movement is still not commonplace.
Among the issues discussed in the conference workshops were:
The family situation and the employment of spouses
Panelists and participants found that families determine the overall success of mobility and that the question of spouse employment continues to be one of the main obstacles to mobility. 90% of companies said that more work needed to be done in this respect. Only a fairly small number of big, transnational companies have experience in managing the employment situation of spouses, whereas SMEs have neither the experience nor the means to manage it. It was suggested, therefore, to address the issue, as far as non-EU citizens were concerned, in the framework of the EU policy on managing migration, with a clear preference for spouses and partners to be allowed to work freely during an assignment.
Assistance schemes to mobile workers
Positive reference was made to the winner of the Special prize of the Jury of the 2006 European Mobility Award: Wyzsza Szkola Humanistyczno-Ekonomiczna in ?ód? identified the lack of foreign language skills among nurses, one of the most intensely cross-border mobile groups in Poland, as being a main reason for their diplomas not being acknowledged in Western European countries. Consequently, Polish nurses working abroad are getting paid worse than their local colleagues. The project addressed the problem by developing an English-, German-, Italian- and Spanish- language course for nurses, which will hopefully result in payment adapted to nurses’ skills.
Panellists pointed out the positive potential of co-operation between different countries’ trade unions, such as between the Polish Solidarno?? and the British TUC, for making workers aware of their rights and giving them a feeling of trust. They also found that in particular younger workers could be addressed with web-based information tools.
New information tools for mobile workers
A number of projects based on information-age media were presented in one of the conference’s plenaries. This included Europa-mobil.de, a German-language website project answering questions sent in by mobile workers or people considering relocation for a job. On-the-move.org, described as “The Performing Arts Traveller’s Toolkit” was presented with a Mobility Award. At the heart of the project is a website in English and German, dedicated to international mobility opportunities and information in theatre, dance, music and other contemporary performing arts disciplines, directed at artists and performing-arts professionals from Europe and beyond. Experiences of artists, traditionally an extremely mobile population group, are presented on Artiste-mobilité.fr.
A workshop discussed mainly positive examples, such as SOLVIT, a joint initiative by the Commission and the European Federation of National Engineering Associations aimed at lifting barriers not only to the free movement of goods and services, but also to the free movement of workers. Other examples cited included McPassport, an official certification of the training and skills that employees have acquired while employed by the McDonald’s fast-food chain, and which facilitates finding a job elsewhere at McDonald’s when moving anywhere within the EU.
Finally, workshop participants praised “Know before you go“, an initiative by the Irish Training and Employment Authority aimed at providing prospective workers willing to come to Ireland with practical information in 13 EU languages, and for Telefónica, which provides in-company training courses in a format that can be displayed on mobile phones regardless of their user’s location.
A mobility culture for SMEs
In this workshop, more awareness of workers’ mobility issues was urged on the part of employers. Participants agreed that a culture of mobility should be part of company, as well as of country, cultures. Reference was made to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report Managing mobility matters 2006, which found that employers’ motivation for hiring new workers from elsewhere has shifted from internationalisation to cost-cutting. Panelists’ views differed as to whether this more economy-driven approach was to the benefit or detriment of mobility, but they agreed that, in order to raise Europe’s low levels of mobility, new policies may be needed but more importantly packages and tools for finding and assisting mobile workers should be developed. In this context, prior information and intercultural and language learning at an early age were defined as key priorities.
Regional co-operation and the cross-border dimension of mobility
In these two workshops, panellists and the audience came to similar results as in some of the previously mentioned discussions, namely that intercultural and language learning were of utmost importance, even more so in border regions. Around 700,000 Europeans commuting across borders on a daily basis went to demonstrate past progress as well as remaining challenges for the creation of regional labour markets. The award-winning project by the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions, “Co-operation between the Finnish and Estonian labour markets. Information Point on Finnish Working Life in Tallinn“, was mentioned as a positive example in this respect.
Removal of legal and administrative obstacles
In this workshop, participants found that “practical barriers often hide legal and administrative ones” – a situation for which there is “no quick fix”, as ECAS Director Tony Venables reported. As an example, he cited the administrative burden of organising a concert with a number of artists, who come from different countries in- and outside the EU, are partly employed, partly self-employed and partly with special statuses such as French intermittents, and who are, in addition, members of collecting societies from different countries as well as subject to different intellectual-property rights regimes. Workshop participants urged member states and the Commission to set up a one-stop shop to deal at least with the social-security issues of mobile workers. A common European social security number was brought up as another measure that might facilitate cross-border mobility in administrative terms. But more important than administrative reforms, participants said, was information on and enforcement of existing legislation benefiting mobile workers, especially directed at local and regional authorities, who are often unaware or unwilling to transpose the laws they have to follow. Special attention, panelists said, needed to be paid to unemployed people moving around Europe to find a job – the workshop found that until now, there is “no decent solution” for those people.
The return issue and the importance of reintegration after a mobility experience
The result of the discussions in this workshop was that the difficulties mobile workers face when planing to return to their countries of origin are as much of an obstacle to mobility as the ones they face when moving abroad. “Return is a new departure,” as one panelist described the experience. The difference being, however, that expatriates tend to keep a link back home and that therefore, returns are easier to anticipate than departures. It was suggested that countries of origin should publish repatriation guides, and that the return issue could also be made part of the work of