From the TUC

EU acts against exploitation of migrants. Bit late.

24 Jul 2016, by in International

Last month, before the referendum, I took part in a meeting of the Executive Committee of the European Trade Union Confederation in Brussels. The European Commissioner for Social Affairs, Belgian liberal Marianne Thyssen, addressed the meeting and discussed the European Pillar of Social Rights that has been proposed by the Commission to address popular discontent about the frozen social model. I took the opportunity to tell her there was a real danger working people in Britain would vote to leave the EU. I asked her what action she could take to persuade British workers that their concerns that they were being left behind – and especially that migrant workers were being exploited in ways that undermined existing terms and conditions – could be addressed.

She said there was nothing she could do.

But now, after the referendum has been lost, she has decided that there was something she could do. Rejecting the views of national parliaments in Eastern Europe who wanted to stop measures to close loopholes in the Posted Workers Directive, the Commissioner has now bowed to pressure from the French government and made it clear that the loopholes will in fact be closed.

According to euObserver, Thyssen said she wanted to ”build bridges” between EU workers, saying that the Commission had learnt from Britain’s vote to leave the EU that many Europeans ‘fear globalisation and want the EU to provide more social protection in the internal market.’

The Posted Workers Directive was designed to protect workers whose employers took them temporarily to another part of the EU. It’s supposed to make sure they get the rate for the job in the country they’re working in. But in increasingly deregulated labour markets, there is no rate for the job any more: in Britain, the Directive only guarantees the minimum wage. The ETUC – and in particular construction unions who have seen vast numbers of posted workers used to undermine wages – has called for posted workers to get the same rate as the people who do the same jobs in the country where they work.

Eastern European governments have argued that this would prevent their citizens from being employed on posted contracts, which isn’t the view of the unions in those countries. They share our view that exploiting Eastern Europeans is not acceptable, and undermining people in the countries they travel to only causes trouble.

ETUC Confederal Secretary Liina Carr said:

“European posted workers have been exploited long enough. They are not second-class citizens, they deserve a fair salary equal to other workers in host countries.”

The Commission’s move is a step forward, although it’s too late to change the referendum result. But it suggests that the European Commission may have finally got the message that free movement that just results in exploitation and undercutting is not part of the European social model, and only benefits those who want to divide working people for financial or political advantage.