LUXEMBOURG – Estonia’s health and labor minister Jevgeni Ossinovski, whose Baltic nation currently occupies the rotating presidency of the council of the European Union, said on Monday he was confident that EU member states were finally within touching distance of finding consensus on a decades-old labor reform proposal.
Arriving at the employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs council in Luxembourg, Ossinovski said that, during its presidency, Estonia had done immense work to bridge the differences within the bloc towards the posting of workers directive – legislation that was initially proposed by the European Commission in 1996 to safeguard the rights of workers temporarily sent by their employer to carry out work in an EU member state other than their own.
“We are confident that there is a possibility today to reach an agreement on this issue that would on the one hand guarantee and secure the free movement of services, but at the same time protect the rights of workers,” Ossinovski said.
The directive, which seeks to implement a set of laws ensuring that posted workers are entitled to minimum wage rates and employment standards similar to those in their home nation but that would also enforce a maximum period of time that a person can be posted abroad – with the Commission proposing a 24-month limit –, has received a mixed reaction from the EU’s member states.
France has been a vociferous supporter of the proposal and has even suggested stricter regulations, such as a posting time of 12 months rather than 24.
Also offering their backing to the bill are the Netherlands, Italy and Germany, but Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria have been more reticent in their approval, with many of the less affluent central and eastern European nations expressing concerns that their companies would fail to keep up with the high wage demands from western nations.
The directive would apply to any worker posted abroad for more than three days, a timeframe that has become an issue of contention for some, including Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has previously described the bill as contradictory to the EU’s spirit of free movement, especially in relation to transport workers.
The so-called Visegrad group (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia) have also criticized the posting of workers directive as stifling competition among EU nations.
Nonetheless, European Commissioner for Employment, Belgian Marianne Thyssen, also expressed her confidence that a deal could be reached at the council meeting on Monday.
“I am very confident that we can have a breakthrough today and I can tell you that I am ready to stay as long as necessary, be it all night,” Thyssen said, insisting that she was all in favor of freedom of movement but so long as it was fair on the internal employment market.