Labour mobility package: EU cannot afford to keep wasting its talent

Written by Marianne Thyssen on 4 April 2016 in Opinion

Encouraging labour mobility is about making sure EU workers have the right skills, at the right time and in the right place, argues Marianne Thyssen.

While some countries continue to grapple with unacceptably high unemployment, companies elsewhere find it difficult to recruit staff with the necessary skills. 

Labour mobility allows workers to escape unemployment or to find a better job, and it helps employers to fill labour and skill shortages, generally increasing the efficiency of labour markets. It benefits citizens and is of great economic importance for our internal market - even more so for the Eurozone. It is an essential tool of flexibility, adjustment and competitiveness.

While I will continue to promote the values of free movement that the EU stands for, we also need rules that are clear, fair and enforced on the ground. This is not always the case today - there is room for improvement.


We now have four instruments in place that already offer national authorities more and better tools to make sure that free movement is fair and well managed: EURES; the platform to fight undeclared work; the enforcement directive on free movement of workers and the enforcement directive on posting of workers. 

A fair European labour market will only exist if the measures that we have adopted are also implemented. Implementing the rules we have in place is one part of the answer.

Going further, we also need to improve, update and strengthen rules where needed. With this objective in mind, we finalised the preparation of a labour mobility package at the end of last year. 

Its adoption was postponed until after the European Council, where the UK issue was to be settled in order to avoid any interference with ongoing political discussions. Until the outcome of the UK referendum, we cannot proceed with our proposal to amend the social security coordination rules in Europe.

However, in the meantime - as part of the Commission's 2016 work programme - I recently tabled a proposal for a targeted revision of the posting of workers directive.

It is my political conviction that we need more postings in Europe - not less. There are about 1.9 million postings per year now - a steep increase, but still less than one per cent of our workforce. There is potential for more, and the Commission will continue to push for removing barriers to cross-border service provision, as set out in our internal market strategy.

Yet while pushing for more cross-border service provision, for more posting, we should also make sure that the system is organised in a way that is fair for both workers and businesses. The revision follows the principle that the same work at the same place should be remunerated in the same manner.

I am convinced that this targeted revision of the posting rules is in the interest of all member states; for businesses and workers. It is what is needed to have the continued support of our citizens for free movement.

If we cannot put in place European rules that are clear, fair and enforceable, we risk facing a patchwork of national measures, which would be dramatic for the internal market.

Labour market mismatches also occur because of the lack of the right skills. Many people in Europe can't find a job because they don't have the right skills or are working in jobs that don't match their talents. We cannot afford for the talents of so many Europeans to go to waste.

What's more, an unacceptably high proportion of Europeans - one in five - are still struggling with reading and writing and even more have poor numeracy and digital skills. These people are at high risk of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. 

This skills gap calls for action; 30 per cent of qualified workers are in jobs requiring only low-level qualifications; the skills of Europeans with a migration background are not fully used; and learning experiences acquired informally, for example through volunteering, are not sufficiently recognised.

In May, I will present an ambitious new skills agenda for Europe. We want to help people keep up with economic, technological and societal changes, find good jobs and improve their life chances. To achieve this, we will need to create strong partnerships between education, training and labour market actors; all have their part to play.

Our skills agenda will focus on developing and upgrading skills - both basic and specialised - as well as measures to improve transparency and comparability of qualifications and making it easier to anticipate labour markets' skills needs.

We want to boost the skills needed for a competitive economy, preserving and strengthening the European social model. The EU's productivity, competitiveness and growth depend upon a skilled and adaptable workforce.

We want to make sure that Europeans have the right skills at the right time and at the right place, to make it possible to reap the full potential of digital and technological change.


About the author

Marianne Thyssen is European employment, social affairs, skills and labour mobility Commissioner

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