Posted workers become new EU battleground

Photo: Khalil Baalbaki

A protectionist measure or basic justice for workers. Those are the basic dividing lines over European Commission plans to draw up more stringent rules on so-called “posted workers” which are dividing states along old and new member fault lines with the Czech Republic firmly in the latter camp.

Photo: Khalil Baalbaki
Posted workers are those who are temporarily employed in other member state. And the European Commission logic is that such workers who perform the same work at the same place as local workers should be getting the same pay and conditions.

The European Commissioner for labour and social relations Marianne Thyssen last week rejected challenges from 11 countries – including the Czech Republic – that the proposed new rules represent excessive Commission intervention in an area where national parliaments should be making the laws. Brussels vowed to press on.

The fundamental reasoning is that this is a cross border issue – affecting at least the country where the worker is temporarily based and the home country, and therefore the Commission has the right to intervene. And there are the added suspicions that the current weak rules on such posted workers is resulting in so called social dumping, where foreign workers are sent for sustained periods abroad on their local wages and some token top up allowance.

Photo: European Commission
But the Commission intent is eyed with apprehension by Czech companies, which might need to send specialists to other countries to complete contracts, or the Czech subsidiaries of bigger pan-European companies. For them sending workers on temporary posting to high wage cost countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Britain etc, could become very costly indeed.

The Czech government has vowed, along with regional partners from Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, to oppose the planned new rules, complaining that they represent the sort of bureaucratic meddling which the Commission was supposed to be abstaining from.

It’s in the road haulage sector that some of the fears are greatest with the worry that truck drivers regularly moving shipments through high wage cost counties will be bound to pay the minimum local wages there as well as social contributions.

Photo: European Commission
Indeed, Germany’s MiLoG law and its more recent French equivalent, the Loi Macron, which came into effect on July 1, already make those provisions for the payment of minimum wages and social contributions. In the German case the law has for the most part gone unnoticed because it is not widely enforced but the French law is expected to be more strictly enforced.

Minimum wages for French lorry drivers amount to around the equivalent of 50,000 crowns a month. Ironically, the European Commission has started proceedings with regard to both German and French laws as to whether they break its single market rules.

In the case of road haulage, there is little doubt that haulage companies employing “expensive” western drivers are suffering from the competition with their counterparts from Central Europe, the Baltics, Romania, and to a lesser extent Spain and Portugal. Many of the lorries seen on the roads in Germany and France clearly come from the latter countries and figures show that the Polish, Baltic, or Czech driver now rule the autobahn and autoroute when it comes to long distance cargo.