ETUC in favour of open labour markets with better social protection

Before 1 May 2006 the Council will have to review the functioning of the transitional measures on the basis of a Commission report issued today. At its last Executive Committee (December 2005), the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) adopted by a large majority a resolution demanding that Member States should justify why they want to continue the application of transitional measures. The ETUC calls on Member States and the European institutions urgently to invest in measures that provide for proper management of national and European labour markets, based on the principle of equal treatment. This would be a better way of addressing the worries and fears of European citizens. 

There are many good arguments for ending the transitional measures applying to the free movement of workers from new EU Member States as soon as possible,” declared John Monks, ETUC General Secretary. “Instead, Member States and the EU should focus on specific measures, both at national and European level, to protect their workers, labour markets and social systems.” In many countries, transitional measures have a counterproductive effect: they create and maintain a situation of second and third-class citizenship for workers from the new Member States. This stimulates unfair competition on wages and working conditions, an increase in undeclared work and false self-employment which disturbs local and sectoral labour markets, as well as exploitation and discriminatory treatment of workers from these countries.

The ETUC supports an open labour market based on four key conditions: equal pay and working conditions for work of equal value on the same territory; respect for national collective bargaining and industrial relations systems; equal access for all workers to social benefits; and proper mechanisms, involving the social partners, for monitoring and enforcement.

This is the reason why there is an urgent need to develop at national as well as EU level a framework of firm and fair rules to accompany a genuine internal market for goods, capital, services and workers. This would help create confidence that opening borders and increasing mobility is not necessarily a threat, and pave the way for no longer relying on transitional measures.

In the resolution, the elements for such a framework are listed. However, the key element is the principle of equal treatment in wages and working conditions in the place where the work is done, irrespective of nationality.

For the ETUC, much is at stake. If workers from the new Member States can be made into ‘merchandise’ that can be moved around and exploited at the cheapest price, without respecting national legislation nor collective bargaining systems, this will not only increase xenophobia and anti-European sentiment, it will also start a spiral downwards instead of providing the workers and their home countries with a sustainable perspective on employment and economic growth. But more importantly, it will deny workers from the new Member States the right to equality and dignity.

The ETUC welcomes the Commission emphasis in today’s report on the need for Member States to strengthen the monitoring and enforcement of social regulation, but regrets that it has not taken up ETUC demands to reinforce social protection at national and EU level.

 Resolution: German version

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Last Modification :February 9 2006.

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