Updating the posting of workers directive is vital

It's a fundamental EU right, but moving workers around must not become a race to the bottom, says Agnes Jongerius.

Agnes Jongerius | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Agnes Jongerius

04 Jul 2017

Over the past year, our Union has received some serious slaps in the face. In my own country, Geert Wilders' party grew yet again in the March elections. Wilders wants a 'Nexit' and an exit from the Euro. Similarly, support for the Eurosceptic, protectionist Marine le Pen grew in France. The UK chose to leave the EU altogether.

I am an optimist by nature and I believe the EU can get back its support. For the sake of tackling climate change, the refugee crisis and addressing the consequences of globalisation, it must. But without solving some of the flagrant problems and inequalities our internal market has brought about, we won't manage. Updating the 1996 posting of workers directive is a vital part of recovering lost trust.

The directive was conceived to ensure it was easy to send workers abroad temporarily - an employer could do this without changing an employee's labour contract. In the country where the employee then went to work, certain key pieces of legislation, such as on minimum pay and health and safety standards, had to be guaranteed. So far, so good.


The Union was smaller at the time, as were economic differences between its members. Today, in an enlarged Union of 28 members, economic differences are substantial. Certainly much bigger than we would like.

Problems started to arise when over time posting became a business model to compete with other countries' labour costs. Before I go on, let me be clear: I take no issue at all with regular labour migration. In fact, the right of EU workers to look for a job in any of our member states is one that I attach a lot of importance to. 

But when workers move elsewhere quasi-permanently rather than for a particular project, on a foreign contract that does not need to respect local collective agreements, let alone rules on taxation or social security, it undercuts a foreign labour market. In certain areas and 'problem sectors', such as meat processing, care, building, transport and agriculture, it has resulted in a race to the bottom.

Let me therefore focus on one issue in particular: equal work for equal pay - the reason for this revision. The Commission's recent proposal obliges employers not only to pay workers the bare minimum, but to also respect other elements of remuneration that are the norm in a host country. Think of bonuses for heavy or dirty work in the building sector, or Belgium's '13th month'.

A good start. But for me, key in this discussion is that collective agreements which benefit local workers are applied to posted workers too. This means a departure from the Commission's proposal, which would only guarantee universally applicable collective agreements.

If two nurses work side by side in a care home, in a region that has a collective agreement for carers, this must mean the two are paid equally.

Telling a hard-working nurse that unfortunately, the collective agreement her colleague benefits from has not been declared generally binding, will do nothing to alleviate her sense of injustice. If we are serious about change, equal work for equal pay must become more than a slogan. It will not be easy, but I look forward to using plenty of my optimism trying to achieve that.


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