Exploring the fraudulent contracting of work in the European Union

07 December 2017
21 November 2016

Key findings

  • Domestic fraud still prevails: While non-compliance situations from foreign actors have been made particularly visible in recent public discussions and even regulatory debates (such as discussions around the posting of workers), disregarding regulations remains essentially a domestic/national issue.
  • Identifying fraudulent work situations remains a major challenge: A clear lack of cooperation is evident between the parties involved, as unscrupulous businesses and workers are not keen to disclose the reality of the situation, both betting on potential direct short-term wins mostly to reduce taxes and costs. Furthermore, unclarity of definitions does not help.
  • Complexity of fraudulent situations: Some types of employment relationships are regularly misused, such as fixed-term contracts, apprenticeships, posting of workers, self-employment, sham construction and temporary agency work. Abuses often play on combining different ways of contracting work, such as using subcontracting and temporary agency work, and some of them also present foreign features.
  • Fragmentation of monitoring is a significant obstacle to help prevent, control and sanction abuses. Control bodies often do not have enough human resources to proceed to systematic controls, while others do not have full competences to act in these situations.
  • Underused and underdeveloped role of social dialogue and social partners: Only in few sectors do the social partners act jointly to support workers’ rights and protection and to favour fair competition and a level playing field.


The fraudulent contracting of work is an important issue in many European countries today. EU and national policymakers have turned their attention to violations of the basic protection provided by employment law and collective bargaining that are linked to the fraudulent use of certain employment or commercial contracts. This report looks at these practices across the EU and examines measures initiated by national authorities, including labour inspectorates and the social partners, to identify, prevent and combat such practices. While governments and public bodies focus largely on improving regulation – reducing loopholes in legislation and strengthening detection and inspection – the social partners endeavour to achieve compliance, particularly through organising information and awareness-raising initiatives. Based on 29 national reports, covering the EU28 and Norway, the research finds that the potential of collective bargaining to respond to the challenges of fraudulent use of contracting work is largely underexploited. It points to the contribution that EU actors could make, given the crucial role of cross-border cooperation in detecting and sanctioning fraudulent practices involving a transnational dimension.

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