Posted workers and youth unemployment

Ministers of the EU’s Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met in Luxembourg on 15 October 2013 to discuss the free movement of workers between Member States and the right of Member States’ workers and businesses to provide services across the EU. Also on the agenda was Europe’s high youth unemployment, the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union. The 2013 European Semester process was also evaluated.

Wide-ranging agenda

The European Union’s Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) is composed of Member States’ ministers for employment, social protection, consumer protection, health and equal opportunities. They meet around four times a year.

EPSCO’s autumn meeting, held in Luxembourg on 15 October 2013, dealt with a wide range of issues including:

  • posted workers;
  • the rights of young workers and Europe’s high levels of youth unemployment;
  • the social dimension of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU);
  • the European Semester process.

Directive on posted workers

There has been widespread discussion in recent years about how to reconcile the freedom of EU citizens and companies to provide cross-border services, enshrined in Article 56 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, with the employment rights of workers temporarily posted abroad.

In response, in March 2012, the European Commission (EC) issued a proposal for a Directive on the enforcement of Directive 96/71/EC concerning the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services (240KB PDF) (EU1204011I). Although ministers have debated it, no agreement has yet been reached.

EPSCO ministers noted that, as posted workers are not fully integrated into the industrial relations of the host Member State, they are not in practice covered by the mechanisms of supervision and control of working conditions in that Member State. Neither are they covered by the control mechanisms in their Member State of origin. This creates an unregulated group of workers who may be drawn into irregular or undeclared work.

The key issues still to be resolved are national control measures (covered in Article 9 of the proposed directive) and subcontractors’ liability (covered in Article 12). It was reported that some national delegations considered these two issues to be a package deal.

Despite the lack of agreement on the directive, all ministers did agree that measures had to be put in place as soon as possible to address a large number of fraud and abuse cases in several Member States, to protect the rights of posted workers and create greater transparency of national rules for service providers.

Young workers’ rights

Ministers also discussed young workers, the high youth unemployment rates in the EU and the economic crisis. Ministers reported on progress made nationally in implementing EU-level measures for young people, in particular the Youth Guarantee (EU1212011I). Ministers also noted that there was a need for:

  • quality education to develop key skills to meet labour market needs;
  • support for youth entrepreneurship;
  • prevention of young people becoming ‘NEET’ (not in employment, education or training) through measures such as coaching, counselling and guidance;
  • recognition that apprenticeships and traineeships are an important tool to integrate young people into the labour market.

Ministers adopted a declaration supporting the European Alliance for Apprenticeships (92.7KB PDF), launched in July 2013 in Leipzig, Germany. The Alliance promotes the importance of apprenticeships and seeks to build a common understanding of them in Member States by bringing together stakeholders from national authorities, the social partners, vocational education and training researchers, practitioners and youth representatives.

Social dimension of the EMU

The social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and the recent EC communication on this issue (EU1310011I) were discussed.

Ministers stressed that the social dimension of the EMU should be reinforced and that there should be respect for the role of the social partners at national and EU level. To achieve this, they concluded that the social partners should be more closely involved in the Europe 2020 strategy and that the role of the tripartite social summit should be strengthened. Work in this area will continue in preparation for the EPSCO meeting planned for December 2013.

European Semester process

Finally, ministers discussed the Council’s evaluation of the 2013 European Semester, having been asked to do so by a presidency steering note.

The European Semester is a yearly cycle of EU economic policy guidance and country-specific surveillance. Each year the European Commission undertakes a detailed analysis of EU Member States’ programmes of economic and structural reforms and provides them with recommendations for the next 12–18 months.

EPSCO’s discussion drew lessons from the 2013 European Semester process to assess how the process might be further improved and streamlined.

Commentary

The Council meeting devoted time to youth unemployment, one of the most pressing social policy issues of our time. Now that the EU’s Youth Guarantee is in place, the spotlight is on how it is being implemented in Member States at the national level.

The other main issue on the agenda was the protection of workers sent out of their home countries to work in other Member States. Although no agreement on the EU enforcement directive that is intended to revise the posted workers’ directive, it is clear that this is an important text. It will, when finalised, go some way towards resolving the conflict uncovered by the European Court of Justice in recent years between the freedom to provide services and workers’ rights.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

 

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