EU toughens up pay and condition rules for workers posted overseas

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The European Parliament green lit rules earlier this week which will require EU employers to give workers sent temporarily to other member states similar conditions to native staff.

The amendments to the already existing laws on ‘posted workers’, which were approved on Tuesday, will entitle temporary overseas workers to the same minimum pay as those in the host country. Posted workers will also be able to reap the benefits of any large regional or sector-specific collective agreements in force.

Employers will also need to pay for travel, board and accommodation, rather than deducting these costs from wages, and make sure accommodation meets local standards. Postings will be limited to 12 months, with the possibility of a six-month extension.

Keith Williams, partner in the employment law team at Greenwoods GRM, told People Management the rule change was “good news, as it levels the playing field for international competition by closing a loophole which was enabling the exploitation of potentially vulnerable workers”.

However, Williams noted UK employers would likely see little change with regards to pay, as the country already had one of the higher minimum wages in the bloc.

Barry Ross, director of Crossland Employment Solicitors, added the amendments were “a giant step in the right direction to ensuring that we get parity”.

Member states have two years to enforce the rules. As the deadline falls during the UK’s Brexit transition period, which is set to run until December 2020, Ross said it was not clear how the country would approach the laws.

However, he added: “Given that’s what the rest of Europe is doing and that we’re fairly stringent for most issues, we might see the UK choose to implement some rules of their own within national legislation anyway, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Meanwhile, trade union GMB has called on the UK government to implement the changes as soon as possible, stating it knew of incidences in the construction industry where posted workers were paid as much as £5 per hour less than their UK peers.

“Any delay in introducing this, would be a monumental betrayal of UK workers and be proof the government is not interested in protecting rights at work through the Brexit process,” said Tim Roache, GMB general secretary.

The issue of posted workers sparked ire during the course of Brexit campaigning, with complaints that the EU’s freedom of movement rules allowed people from countries where labour was cheaper to undercut UK workers. Theoretically, a worker temporarily transferred to the UK from an employer in eastern Europe could – under the current regulations – be paid a lower, local minimum wage rather than the UK minimum.

According to the European Parliament, there were 2.6m posted workers in the EU in 2016.

Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, a French MEP and rapporteur for the proposals, said the vote reflected the “social, economic and political reality” of the EU.

Agnes Jongerius, a Dutch MEP and co-rapporteur, added: “Colleagues can be colleagues again, rather than competitors. This is an important step towards creating a social Europe that protects workers and stops companies from engaging in a race to the bottom.”

Meanwhile, over the weekend, The Observer revealed that UK fruit pickers were struggling to fill summer jobs, as workers they would have usually hired from overseas were now flush with job offers. Employers blamed a combination of the Brexit vote, rapid falling unemployment in other countries and the 2013 scrapping of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.

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