Parliaments Force Rethink of Workers Directive Reform

Ten Central European nations plus Denmark resist changes that could make their workers less competitive.

Seat of the Estonian parliament in Toompea Castle, Tallinn, February 1, 2015
Seat of the Estonian parliament in Toompea Castle, Tallinn, February 1, 2015 (Guillaume Speurt)

Ten Central and Eastern European countries plus Denmark have forced the European Commission to reconsider reforms that would raise wages for workers from those nations if they are employed abroad.

The three Baltic states, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia all object to changes in the so-called Posted Workers Directive that would make their workers less competitive.

With the support of Denmark, they meet the eleven-country threshold needed to trigger a “yellow card” procedure. This was introduced in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty to give national parliaments the power to delay European legislation.

The commission is under no obligation to withdraw its proposal, however, which enjoy broad support.

Valentin Kreilinger, a research fellow at the Jacques Delors Institut in Berlin, tells EurActiv that a “yellow card” has only been invoked twice before. Once the commission withdrew its proposal; the other time it stayed the course.


The social democrats in the European Parliament, the second-largest bloc, have urged the commission to maintain its proposal this time as well.

“The revision of the Posting of Workers Directive is fundamental in order to protect posted workers, to safeguard fair competition and ensure equal pay for equal work at the same place,” the group’s president, Gianni Pittella, said.

Dutch social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher, who has labored for years to stop what he sees as unfair competition, similarly called on the commission to “show backbone” and push the reforms through.

Asscher is due to speak with counterparts in Vienna next week at an informal summit. His country holds the rotating presidency of the EU.


The Posted Workers Directive has been controversial since it was adopted in 1996.

It enables companies, including employment agencies, to employ workers in another EU member state against the salary and working conditions they would enjoy in their home state.

Low-wage countries in Central and Eastern Europe, which joined the bloc between 2004 and 2007, have benefited enormously from this rule.

But the European Court of Justice threw up a roadblock in 2007, when it ruled that while workers can be paid below the prevailing rate in a given state, they must still be paid whatever is the minimum wage there.

This compelled the European Commission to draft reforms.

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