On June 15th, the 28 EU labor ministers met in Luxembourg and have been unable to reach agreement on the revision of the directive on seconded work. The draft presented by the Commission was criticized by France and Germany for its lack of ambition. The Eastern countries regretted the “intransigence” of the Franco-German couple. On this very sensitive issue, the Commission is hoping for an agreement at a next EU Council of Ministers of Labor scheduled for October 23.
What about French intransigence? For many member states which participated in the last EU council of labor ministers, France is responsible for the failure of the negotiations on the revision of the EU directive on seconded work. Since spring 2016, the Commission has been trying to find a compromise on the revision of this text dating from 1996. As we informed you in previous publications, the directive is being sharply criticized for encouraging social dumping in the main source countries for seconded workers (Germany, France, Belgium).
The Commission’s proposal includes, among others, aligning the remuneration of seconded workers with the one of the local workforce. And the social security contributions would remain paid in the country of origin of the workers. Very reluctant to this reshaping of the text, the countries from central and eastern Europe had used a procedure called “yellow card” last year to compel the European executive to review its work.
Without jeopardizing the principle of equal work / equal pay, the EU executive has therefore submitted a text, corrected at the margins, to the European Council of Ministers of Labor. This text is not ambitious enough for France, supported by Germany, which, has made proposals for more rigorous controls on fraud, a limitation on the duration of secondment to one year instead of 24 months, and a stronger fight against letterbox companies. The criticisms of the Eastern countries were particularly concerned with the French desire to assimilate their drivers to seconded workers. Supported by Spain and Portugal, the Visegrad countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovak Republic) judged that France “went too far”.
The French proposals also caused the Commission’s embarrassment. Its Social Affairs Commissioner, Marianne Thyssen said that “the best is the enemy of the good” and stressed the urgency of finding a compromise. The Belgian Minister of Labor, Kris Peeters, said that the French requirements could lead to “an explosive situation” with the eastern countries.
The chances of reaching a compromise in October prove to be small unless France revises its position, particularly by compromising on the duration of the secondment. More offensive than under Francois Hollande’s mandate, the French position is partly explained by the disastrous perception of the posted work in the French opinion. Subject to regular debate during the latest presidential elections, the posting of workers is one of the factors that explain the bad image of the EU among French citizens.