Immigration is all the news. There isn’t a day when the government doesn’t come up with some new measure or declaration to fight or reduce immigration flows because they allegedly depress wages. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said many times that she wants curbs in the free movement of workers in the EU to protect British workers from job displacement. British jobs for British workers and all that, down with Romanians and Bulgarians, the same familiar tune.
Now there is an important legislative proposal currently being negotiated in the EU that nobody (and especially no newspaper) talks about in Britain. In France, however, Libération and other newspapers give interesting information about it: the revision of the directive on “posted workers”. In a nutshell, posted workers are employed to perform a service (for instance build a school) in a country for a limited amount of time, but are formally employed in another member state. Posted work has taken massive proportions in the EU, particularly in construction.
The whole question about the regulation of posted work (as I analysed here *shamelessplugalert*) has to do with monitoring whether social security contributions are collected, where they are collected, and whether employment conditions conform with minimum standards. Without sufficient controls, there are risks that workers may be paid below minimum wages, companies don’t pay social security contributions, etc. Even if they do but pay them in low-income countries (say Poland) while the service is performed ina high-income country (say Luxembourg), there is a great potential for downward pressures on wages. This is essentially what the Laval and Viking cases were about.
The revision that is being examined essentially aims at giving member states “greater power to check that companies using workers posted from another EU member state are respecting core national social security rules“. The revision was blocked for over a year because of deep divisions between member states, with two sides with blocking minorities. A first group of countries, amongst which France and Germany, advocated a “maximalist” approach where member states would be granted greater powers to inspect companies posting workers. A second group of countries wanted to strongly limit the ability of member states to control companies and check the employment conditions of posted workers. Who are they? Last December, seven countries voted against the proposal: Hungary, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Malta…
…and the United Kingdom. Now that Poland shifted sides, allowing to indeed strengthen labour market control, the UK is opting out. It is interesting to see that while the British government claims to protect British workers from the perils of immigration at home, it seems to systematically fight efforts to do so at the European level, where British voters are not looking.