Workers who are transferred on a temporary basis from one EU state to another, or from outside the EU into an EU country, are known as 'posted workers'.
The EU 1996 Posting of Workers Directive applies to posted workers within the EU and aimed to provide them with the same minimum terms and conditions that apply to workers in the host country, protecting them and preventing unfair competition whilst removing barriers to the free movement of labour and services within the EU Internal Market.
However, the European Court of Justice's restrictive interpretation of the Directive in a series of cases (Laval, Ruffert, Luxembourg) has highlighted its deficiencies. As a result of these cases, what was meant to be a floor of basic rights has now become the ceiling. The judgements also called into question the balance between business' right to free movement within the EU and workers' collective rights. Persistent exploitation and abuse of posted workers illustrates that only a robust and full revision of the Directive will ensure posted workers are given the protections it originally set out to do.
GMB was dismayed therefore when in 2012 the European Commission refused a full revision and instead proposed only an Enforcement Directive, which fell far short of necessary improvements needed to close the numerous loopholes in the legislation.
Posting Directive Revisited
The European Commission proposals for an Enforcement Directive were put to the vote in the European Parliament in April 2014. Despite the best efforts of Labour MEPs, their attempts to improve the wording were blocked and trade unions were forced to call for rejection of the unacceptable proposals. All Labour MEPs voted against the damaging agreement but were outnumbered by the Tories, Lib Dems and Greens.
On 13 May 2014, EU Member States officially adopted these new enforcement rules, which they will need to apply at the national level within a little over two years.
GMB believes this is a missed opportunity and that Member States have failed in their responsibility to protect vulnerable workers from abuse and exploitation by rogue employers. Posted workers must have equal pay for equal work in the same place to prevent their exploitation and stop under-cutting of industry standards and collectively agreed terms and conditions.
A Targeted Review
During the confirmation of the new European Commissioners in the autumn of 2014, new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was forced to give a commitment to remedying the issue through a 'targeted review' of the Directive.
The European Commission put forward proposals for a revision on 8 March 2016. For further details, see the article by Sam Hägglund, General Secretary of the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers, in the additional resources below.
Together with our European trade union colleagues, GMB continues to campaign for a full revision of the Posting of Workers Directive. We also support the ETUC's call for a Social Progress Protocol (see link below) which would amend the EU treaties and ensure that their internal market provisions are interpreted in a way that respects, rather than undermines, fundamental social rights. In the event of conflict between free movement principles and fundamental rights, the latter should prevail.
GMB has welcomed the June 2015 letter sent by the Ministers of 7 EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden) to EU Commissioner Thyssen, raising their concerns about exploitation of posted workers and undercutting of terms and conditions of host country workers. The ministers call for a strengthening of the current EU rules on posting of workers to tackle this abuse and ensure equal pay for equal work in the same place. A copy of their letter is available in the Additional Resources below.
In November 2014, Irish television channel RTE screened a documentary on the transnational social dumping practices of the company ATLANCO RIMEC.
GMB and our EU Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) co-operated with this documentary exposing exploitative practices of subcontractors and agencies that are becoming common not just in this industry but in other sectors too. The documentary also exposes widespread blacklisting of workers by employment agencies, and threats made to them not to join trade unions.
Watch the documentary here: http://www.rte.ie/news/player/2014/1106/20677365-the-treatment-of-foreign-workers-by-irish-firms/?
ETUI briefing: 'Viking - Laval – Rüffert: Consequences and policy perspectives'
EU Commission President Juncker has declared that the principle of “equal pay for equal work in the same place” should be the guiding principle in Europe for cross-border work. Since equal treatment for posted workers is long overdue, the European trade union movement awaited the announced proposal for a revision of the Posting of Workers Directive (PWD) with great expectations.
Letter from 7 EU Member States ministers to EU Employment Commissioner on the exploitation of posted workers
GMB response to BIS call for evidence on EU proposals for a Posting of Workers Enforcement Directive