Labour mobility can bring benefits to all Europeans

Labour mobility is more than a boost to the EU's competitiveness - it can also hugely benefit individuals, writes Dorthe Andersen.

By Dorthe Andersen

08 Apr 2016

The free movement of labour is one of the most valuable achievements of the European integration process. It creates intercultural understanding and can make European societies more inclusive.

In the next 15 years, the workforce in countries such as Poland and Germany will experience a significant decline. There are already indications of fewer growth opportunities for businesses as a result of labour or skills shortages. 

Mobility is nevertheless becoming more popular, with 15 million mobile workers in the EU today, compared with fewer than 12 million in 2006. However, these figures are still lower than we would like to see.


Some labour markets continue to suffer as a result of rigid rules, or are lagging behind when it comes to creating new jobs .This causes young people to seek employment elsewhere. I believe that it is better to gain work experience and develop your skills abroad than to stay unemployed at home.

Greater labour mobility can lead to a more efficient use of human resources. This is what we need in the EU today, given that we already have too many young people out of work.

In the EESC's employers group, we believe that promoting labour mobility in Europe must continue to be a political priority, as it is a cornerstone of a deeper internal market.

A mobile European workforce is essential for European businesses' competiveness in a rapidly-changing and global market. Yet it is also beneficial to individuals - both jobseekers and workers.

Labour mobility can also contribute to innovation, the transfer of knowledge and the development of human capital. Additionally, a number of studies have identified foreign mobile workers as net contributors to the member states.

In fact, greater labour mobility in Europe can even help absorb economic shocks and benefit Europe's economy and competitiveness in a sustainable way, on the condition that member states embark on the necessary structural reforms. Labour mobility should therefore be seen as something positive and beneficial for workers, businesses and society.

This presupposes that it happens on fair and orderly terms and is based on the principle of non-discrimination, as enshrined in the treaty.

The Commission is planning to present a mobility package but, before proposing any legislative initiatives, the priority should be to enforce existing rules. 

Member states are still not taking compliance and efficient enforcement seriously. One example of this is the posting of workers directive. Before proposing any revision, the Commission should first ensure implementation of the 2014 directive on enforcement.

There are more practical ways of promoting mobility than drafting new laws. They include providing mobile workers and recruiting businesses looking to recruit with easy access to relevant information on the European labour market and on their rights and obligations. 

Another way of promoting mobility is to improve cooperation between authorities in EU countries in order to combat abuse and prevent the misuse of welfare benefits.

Any changes to the regulations coordinating social security for mobile workers should respect the diversity of national social systems while ensuring that diversity does not hamper labour mobility or give rise to misuse.

The fundamental principles of equality, aggregation and exportability are important instruments for supporting labour mobility. They guarantee that mobile workers are not treated differently and do not lose their rights when they move across borders.


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