EU rules on the temporary posting of workers to another member state have been in place since 1996. They serve a dual purpose of facilitating labour mobility and the cross-border provision of services, while setting minimum standards to protect workers from exploitation and abuse.
I believe the current proposal for a revision of the directive on the posting of workers is premature. We should have waited to see the impact of the enforcement directive, which is still to be transposed by all member states, before proposing modifications to the original directive.
From listening to fellow MEPs discuss these proposals, it is clear that serious divisions exist and I strongly believe that we must avoid dividing Europe between east and west.
I fully agree that fraud and illicit practices need to be tackled. We should remove loopholes that enable bogus posting, undeclared work and letterbox companies. However, free movement of workers and free provision of services are fundamental principles of the EU and we must guard against over-regulating, and thus undermining, the functioning of the internal market.
It is important that businesses of all sizes, from SMEs to global multinationals, have the ability to move their workers within the single market. Restricting or impeding this movement simply leads to uncompetitive businesses for some and lower skills, lower wages, and lower living standards for others.
In particular, we must ensure we do not make it difficult for smaller businesses. If the regulation becomes too complex, it will prevent small and micro businesses from getting involved in work across the European Union. Large companies can always employ lawyers and whoever else they need to ensure compliance; small companies cannot.
One of the proposed complexities is to replace the notion of 'minimum rates of pay' with the notion of 'remuneration'. Remuneration means different things in different countries and is likely to lead to costly interpretation by the courts.
Posted workers spread knowledge and skills across European industry - they train other workers, bring specialist skills to businesses that need them, and support high quality apprenticeships, training the next generation of skilled workers. This may be short, medium, or long-term work, and Europe must find ways to make this easier, not harder.
Many of today's manufacturing companies, rather than simply purchasing a machine tool, buy a service which comprises of the tooling and its maintenance. If the machine breaks down they are guaranteed a technician, often from another country, will come and fix it. There is no time to lodge forms with the authorities to enable the posting of the technician.
I have a real example of this. A company which supplies the Jaguar Land Rover factory in my region uses German machinery to produce its components. A while ago it suffered a breakdown on a Friday afternoon. This could only be fixed by staff based in Germany jumping on a plane to England and working the weekend to have the line running again for Monday morning. If they hadn't been able to do that, the JLR production line would have ground to a halt.
At all costs, we must avoid the unintended consequences which so often beset EU legislation. Businesses in Europe, whether small or large, need clear rules to follow. The ways individual member states have adapted the rules on posted workers is almost infinitely variable and businesses, particularly SMEs, simply cannot comply with this. Fixing this - making the rules clear and consistent - must be our priority.