From the TUC

Unions cry foul as European proposals to tackle exploitation of migrants face yellow card

23 May 2016, by in International

I’ve written before about how the European Union provides the best opportunity to prevent the exploitation of workers who are temporarily posted to other EU countries (and thus the undercutting of the existing workforce.) The best avenue for such action would be revising the EU’s Posted Workers’ Directive, so we were very pleased when the European Commission proposed such a revision. Earlier this month, though, that proposal ran into an obstacle when national parliaments from eleven countries waved a ‘yellow card’ to the European Commission’s proposal.

The yellow card is a mechanism that was introduced in the last revision of the EU treaties in 2009 to give national parliaments a greater say in EU law making. This scrutiny process allows nine or more countries to raise objections to a given proposal within eight weeks from its publication. The procedure requires the Commission to maintain, amend or withdraw the proposal, giving reasons for that decision.

This procedure so far has only been used twice, and on one occasion trade unions across Europe supported it as it prevented a potentially harmful proposal from coming into force that would have further restricted the right to take industrial action in cross-border situations.

This time though trade unions are less pleased with the objections raised, which in fact hide entirely different motives depending on the country concerned. Denmark for instance genuinely sought to protect the prerogative of trade unions and employers at national level to negotiate wages, rather than a given level of pay being set at European level.

Other countries – mostly from Eastern and Central Europe – sought to block the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ thereby neglecting their own workers and choosing instead to protect their competitive advantage and promote the interest of companies providing services abroad through cheaper labour.

Responding to the yellow card procedure, the ETUC has called on the Commission to maintain its proposal and reject the complaint raised by national parliaments. It has argued in a letter to the Commission that the proposal should not be dropped, because in cross-border provision of services..

“…only the EU can put in place fair rules of the game for the mobility of workers in the single market.”

Only the EU can guarantee that workers are treated fairly and equally regardless of their country of origin – this should be the aim of a single labour market – and we are more likely to get a system that protects both posted and resident workers by negotiating at European level. Unions from the countries of Eastern and Central Europe whose national parliaments have objected to the proposal are united with us in supporting a revised Directive: they are concerned that their members are being exploited, and want to see them treated equally with workers in West and Northern Europe.

This is not the end of the process, the Commission still has to act on the complaint and might indeed decide to proceed regardless. If that turns out to be the case the ordinary legislative process will be the terrain where the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers (representing governments) will fight it out.

Trade unions will engage in that process and indeed are already working on draft amendments to the proposal, because in our view it does not yet go far enough to treat workers fairly. And the TUC is in conversation with government officials to inform their views on the proposal, since to date the UK government is still analysing the proposal and has reserved its judgement on it – significantly, the British Parliament did not join the yellow card brigade.