Regulation of labour market intermediaries and the role of social partners in preventing trafficking of labour / Foundation Focus, December 2015

Mobility and migration in the EU contribute to well-functioning labour markets and therefore to increased levels of productivity, competitiveness and growth. Labour market intermediaries (LMIs), such as temporary work agencies, facilitate mobility through matching workers with companies’ needs. They provide information and expertise that contributes to the better functioning of labour markets in Europe. An upcoming report by Eurofound looks at how these LMIs are regulated to avoid unlawful recruitment and exploitative working conditions. The report also looks at the role the social partners play in helping to prevent trafficking of workers.

Trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation

In some cases, LMIs use their role to unlawfully recruit or transfer workers. They deceive workers about the nature of the job, the employer, the location or other conditions related to the work, and these workers end up working under exploitative conditions. This process is known as trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation.

To prevent and fight this criminal activity, in 2011 the EU adopted the Anti-Trafficking Directive (2011/36/EU). The directive emphasises that trafficking is a serious crime and a gross violation of fundamental rights. Tackling trafficking is a priority for the EU and its Member States, which is why minimum rules have been established that all Member States need to adhere to. The EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012–2016 (COM(2012) 286 final) complements the legal rules with targeted actions. It focuses on prevention, protection, prosecution and partnerships and also on ways to increase knowledge on emerging concerns related to trafficking in human beings. The strategy identifies recruitment as one area of concern.

LMIs that do not abide by the rules and exploit the vulnerable position of workers distort labour markets and their functioning. Monitoring LMIs’ compliance with rules and regulations helps to prevent exploitation. Employer organisations representing LMIs and trade unions representing workers can also contribute to preventing and tackling the trafficking of labour. Greater cooperation leads to better exchange of information and coherent activities.

Eurofound research

Greater knowledge of how LMIs are regulated in the different Member States and on what social partners do to prevent and tackle trafficking is required to facilitate targeted activities, especially by public authorities such as the police, labour inspectorates, employment services or local administrations.

Eurofound is currently drafting a report containing information that will be used to compile a guide for public authorities on how to better address the issue of trafficking for labour exploitation.

One way of limiting the risk that LMIs will engage in trafficking is by monitoring their compliance with national rules and regulations. Regulating the operation of LMIs can take a variety of forms in the 28 EU Member States and Norway (which also participated in the study). Registration or licensing schemes are common across Europe to monitor who is operating an LMI and to ensure compliance with minimum standards in running the business.

Another approach to tackling trafficking is to engage in greater cooperation with social partners. Member States and public authorities in particular can benefit from social partners’ expertise on working and business conditions. Activities that contribute to eradicating trafficking include targeted initiatives by trade unions to inform, support and protect vulnerable workers and interventions of employers and their organisations to reinforce the importance of complying with minimum standards. These activities often take the form of awareness-raising campaigns, establishing complaint mechanisms, developing codes of conduct, distributing educational material and engaging in cross-border cooperation with other trade unions or employer organisations.

Tackling trafficking for labour exploitation is an important way to facilitate fair mobility and migration within the EU. It is also an essential tool to ensure the effective functioning of EU labour markets for both workers and companies. Above all, however, it is the commitment of the EU, as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights (2012/C 326/02), to protect people’s basic human rights against violations to create an area of freedom, security and justice.

The report will be published in early 2016.

Andrea Fromm

Full publication with references available here

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