Brussels: Cut Foreign Worker Red Tape

The European Commission's report on the "posting of workers" criticizes EU countries for unnecessary regulations

The European Commission is set next week to present a report criticising member states for unnecessary red tape against firms based in other EU countries that temporarily send their employees abroad.

The report on the so-called "posting of workers" was originally planned to be published this week but later delayed due to disagreement in the commission about its general tone and because President Jose Manuel Barroso will be absent from the Wednesday (6 June) meeting.

The paper - seen by EUobserver - suggests that some host countries, such as Germany and Austria, use "heavy" control measures towards foreign-service providers which make access to their labour market more difficult.

Among the measures - defended by the countries that apply them as a way to counter illegal employment and undeclared work - the report mentions the obligation for foreign firms to have an office and representative in the host country, as required by nine EU states, like Germany, Austria and Sweden.

Another of the host countries' extra requirements is for foreign workers to always carry various social documents – this is applied in 20 countries, including Germany, Greece, Belgium, Austria and Sweden.

Brussels argues that both measures are "unjustified and disproportionate" as the same information could be obtained via the employer or the authorities in the home country of the service providers.

"Even if a measure appears to be acceptable in itself, such as the use of a declaration by the time the work starts, indicating how many workers will be posted, where and for how long, additional formalities may be attached to it which may make its use so costly or difficult as to hamper unnecessarily the provision of services," states the document.

In some cases, the specific rules targeting the foreign companies "apply in an automatic and unconditional manner, on the basis of a general presumption of fraud or abuse by a person or company" while the firms are in reality exercising their fundamental freedom of movement across the bloc, Brussels points out.

On the other hand, some countries "apparently can do without" such rules and with allowing foreign companies even to send the basic information to the relevant authorities only upon their request.

"This also leads to problems as the basic exchange of information as required by the posting of workers directive should make sure that workers are protected. And in some countries, like the UK, trade unions complain that due to ineffective monitoring, workers are sent by foreign companies under unacceptable conditions," a high commission official said.

There are several court cases pending against the member states in breach of the EU's law on the posting of workers and 27 others are currently being prepared by Brussels.

According to the commission's figures, in 2005 there were just under one million posted workers in the EU, representing about 0.4 percent of the EU working age population, with the highest numbers present in Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Poland.

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