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Posting of Workers: an explainer

20/10/2017

Learn more about why the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive is important for workers' rights in the EU

Posting of Workers: an explainer

Background

The European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) agreed on its position regarding the revision of the 1996 Posting of Workers Directive.

The Parliament is soon expected to enter into negotiations with Council, co-legislator, to agree on a final text for the revised Directive.

This Q & A explains why the outcome of this debate is important for all European workers and why the struggle on the details of the legislation matter.

Who are posted workers?

A "posted worker" is an employee who is sent by his employer to carry out a service in another EU Member State on a temporary basis.

Contrary to EU mobile workers, posted workers are not integrated into the labour market of the host country.

How are they currently regulated?

The 1996 Posting of Workers Directive helps regulate the temporary status of posted workers and work conditions in respect to:

  • minimum pay
  • maximum working time
  • minimum rest periods and holidays
  • health, safety and hygiene standards

However the 1996 Directive has many loopholes and has led to discrimination in the workplace and accusations of social dumping, in particular abuse of eastern European workers in EU countries with stronger economies.

Greedy employers have relied on a business model that relies on cheap labour sent to other EU countries as “posted workers” fuelling a race to the bottom when it comes to wages and work conditions.

What is the goal of the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive?

The revision aims to ensure that posted workers enjoy equal treatment in host countries in particular when it comes to pay, under the principle of “equal pay for equal work in the same workplace.”

Currently posted workers, while guaranteed minimum pay, are often paid well below their peers and lack social protections in the host country.

In 2016 the Commission submitted a proposal for a revision of the Posting of Workers Directive to Parliament and to Council (co-legislators). The Parliament has agreed on changes to the proposal and will soon enter into negotiations with the Council on the final text of a revision to the Directive.

What are the main sticking points in this debate?

Big businesses that have profited from paying low wages to posted workers, particularly workers from Eastern Europe, are opposed to the legislation. Their backers in the Parliament, the right-wing, have tried to dilute the revision to continue favour businesses at the expense of workers.

In particular, they have tried to exclude transport workers from the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive, while they make a big chunk of posted workers.

There are also disagreements in Council that are likely to affect the final outcome of the negotiations. In particular, eastern European governments would like to keep what they call as their “national competitive advantage” on cheap labour and have expressed disagreement about the revision.

Key sticking points are duration of long-term posting, the date of application of the new rules and the transition period; or the treatment of the transport sector.

What does GUE/NGL stand for?

We believe that all workers deserve fair wages, dignified working conditions and equality in the workplace. Our shadow* for the file, Danish MEP Rina Ronja Kari, as well as other MEPs that are members of the EMPL committee fought hard to make sure that the Parliament’s position reflected the demands of workers. For this we have worked closely with key trade union representatives.

While other groups see the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive as a tool to address inconsistencies in the single market, such as the issue of social dumping, we want the revision to become an added tool for worker social protection.

As a result, we fought hard - and succeeded - to include in the proposal recognition of collective agreements in host countries and their application to posted workers. We also stood for the obligation to give equal treatment to posted and local temporary agency workers.

We also proposed the introduction of 'remuneration' instead of 'minimum rates of pay', which means posted workers will be paid according to the national legislation of the host country rather than any abstract concept that allows for loopholes.

Key Quote:

MEP Rina Ronja Kari: "We want this Directive to become an instrument of social protection and social convergence and not an instrument of exploitation for big businesses and the free market. It is therefore important that the revised Directive recognises collective bargaining agreements and adequately addresses equal rights for sub-contracted workers.

“To the east European workers I say: we want you to be able to travel to other European countries and work, while having the same conditions as your local colleagues.”

* A “shadow” or “shadow rapporteur” is appointed by political groups in the European Parliament to follow the progress of a report and defend the group’s political priorities during its development.

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