László Andor, the European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, was scheduled to present to his fellow commissioners yesterday (8 February) legislative proposals on the right to collective action and the enforcement of rules on the posting of workers.
The proposal on enforcement ran into opposition from various Commission departments and was removed from the agenda of this week's Commission meeting. EU sources say there were objections from a “high political level” within the Commission. One said that José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, had objected to the draft, while another said that Catherine Day, the Commission's secretary-general, had asked for changes.
Andor's spokeswoman denied that Barroso had objected to the draft, but said that the president had wanted to be involved in the proposal because he had made promises about it to MEPs in 2009 when he was seeking reappointment as Commission president. She said that Andor met Barroso yesterday to discuss the proposal which was “still being finalised”. The commissioner now hoped it would be presented in early March.
The posting of workers directive, which was agreed in 1996, is supposed to combat social dumping by ensuring that staff sent to work in another member state receive minimum levels of social protection – conditions of work and employment such as working time, holidays, pay, and health and safety.
But trade unions criticised the directive as inadequate, complaining that companies were sending workers from eastern Europe to work in western Europe on less favourable terms.
In one infamous case, Swedish trade unions picketed building sites where a Latvian company, Laval Un Partneri, had won contracts to work on schools in Stockholm. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in 2007 that the right to provide services under EU law should take precedence over the right to strike action, but by then Laval's subsidiary in Sweden had gone bankrupt.
The ruling and its consequences were highly controversial, obliging Barroso to pledge to Parliament that he would take action on the posting of workers directive.
Andor is seeking to balance a reaffirmation of the right to strike with tighter enforcement of the law on posting of workers. Andor's spokeswoman said he wanted to prevent such abuses as so-called ‘letterbox' companies, set up to provide a false address for a business to employ workers. She said that the proposal would involve more cross-border co-operation between administrations to improve transparency.
It formed part of the relaunch of the European single market to support growth and jobs while “strengthening the social dimension”, she said.
Danish trade unions have been vociferous in their criticism of the posting of workers rules and Denmark's socialist-led government had made their revision one of the priorities of its presidency of the EU's Council of Ministers in the first half of this year.
But the delay to the Commission's proposal means that Denmark has been obliged to take the subject off the agenda of a meeting of the EU's ministers for employment and social affairs on 16 February. Ministers will not discuss the proposal until their next meeting on 21-22 June, just before the end of the presidency.
Stephen Hughes, a UK Socialist MEP and member of the Parliament's employment and social-affairs committee, said an implementing regulation to accompany the posting of workers directive was “one of the very few promises that Barroso made when he came looking for the S&D group vote to return him as Commission president”, after “a stream of anti-trade-union ECJ decisions”.
Hughes said that two proposals had circulated in recent months – a draft implementing directive which was “not too bad” and a draft regulation which was totally unacceptable – but they now “appear to have been taken out of the hands of László Andor and taken over by Barroso and Catherine Day”.
He added: “The worry has to be that he's trying to back out of his promise or at the very least putting it on hold until after the Danish presidency, which really wanted to tackle this matter.”