EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Frontier worker

A frontier worker is defined by Regulation (EC) No. 883/2004, Article 1(f) as: ‘any person pursuing an activity as an employed or self-employed person in a Member State and who resides in another Member State to which he returns as a rule daily or at least once a week’.   In this way, frontier workers are different from migrant workers, who leave their country of origin completely in order to live and work in a different country. The frontier worker, by contrast, has a dual national allegiance, stemming from their place of residence and their place of work. It should, however, be stressed that the definition of a cross-border worker may vary from one field to another (for example, in the case of tax law, right of residence or welfare entitlements). While there is an acknowledged lack of reliable statistics, data from the European Parliament estimates that there were around 380,000 frontier workers in the EU on average over the period from 1990 to 1995. Five countries  France, Italy, Belgium, Germany and Austria – are the most important sources of cross-border labour; conversely, five countries  Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany, Monaco and the Netherlands  are the main beneficiaries. Switzerland provides work for almost half of all the cross- border workers in Europe (around 151, 000 in 1995), followed by Germany, which provides work for nearly 78,000 cross-border workers from neighbouring countries, mainly from France and, to a less extent, the Netherlands and Austria. As a result of its geographical situation, Luxembourg is the third-largest importer of cross-border labour in Europe, employing 54,000 cross-border workers from France, Belgium and Germany in 1995. Belgian cross-border workers work mainly in Luxembourg and the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent in France and Germany. The Principality of Monaco is also a significant host country.

The Commission considers that it is not advisable to establish a specific status for frontier workers: they are generally not treated any differently from other workers, having the right to the free movement of workers who are EU nationals working in another Member State. Legislative provisions and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) have consistently affirmed that frontier workers are EU workers and can therefore be accorded the safeguards and rights encompassed in Article 45 TFEU relating to the free movement of workers. In addition, frontier workers are entitled to call on the equal treatment provisions enshrined in Regulation 492/2011 on the freedom of movement for workers within the Union when engaging in employment in a Member State other than the Member State of residence, in conjunction with Directive 2014/54/EU on measures facilitating the exercise of rights conferred to workers in the context of freedom of movement for workers and the above-mentioned Regulation (EC) No. 883/2004 on the coordination of social security systems.

However, according to a 2015 European Commission report on frontier workers, there are a number of factors that hamper frontier workers’ right to free movement. These include healthcare and social security issues, and also certain social advantages such as special education for children. The report notes that some Member States have resisted providing the same social advantages to frontier workers who are not resident in the Member State as are provided to ‘normal’ resident migrant workers.

See also: free movement and social security; mobility of workers; occupational mobility; professional qualifications; social protection.

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