The EU Labour Authority is currently one of Brussels’ hot subject. Last week (6th June 2018) a on-topic workshop was held in the EU Parliament, which chaired two S&D MEPs - Agnes Jongerius (Netherlands) and the shadow rapporteur for the EU Labour Authority, Georgi Pirinski (Bulgaria). An expert of the Chamber of Labour was able to contribute to the discussion.
Two international and stimulating panels discussed the current problems and requirements for a Labour Authority; they also addressed the question to what extent the Labour Authority would be able to contribute to solving the problems with regard to cross-border employment.
In her opening address, Agnes Jongerius shed light on the necessity of creating an EU Labour Authority and demanded re-sharpening for example by following the European Banking Authority. From her point of view, enforcing joint cross-border sanctions should not be based on voluntariness. Sanctions had to be introduced. According to Jongerius, the work of the Belgian labour inspectorates could serve as a model example. The social partners would be closely involved and a business model with social benefit would be developed ("Inspections make money").
Erika Mezger (Eurofound) pointed out that in her opinion the data situation had not been sufficiently organised and that therefore it was not clear enough, which problem the Labour Authority was supposed to solve in the first place. To make her point, she also referred to the current Eurofound Work Programme 2018, which provided for a new analysis posting data within the EU. Due to the fact that there was a frequent lack of social statistics at European level, she regarded it as a duty of the EU Statistical Office, Eurostat, to fill this gap.
Dana Schäfer (SOKA-Bau, Germany) presented the sharply increased number of postings in Germany and the EU as well as concrete case examples of postings, temporary employment agencies and the problematic enforcement of national labour law. It was her experience that in many cases, authorities would not operate across borders. Admittedly, the greater involvement of the social partners within the scope of the Labour Authority would be an important step; however, there was a problem in countries without a strong tradition of social partnership.
Edwin Atema (Netherlands Trade Union Confederation FNV) made a vivid contribution, by showing a short video depicting the problem of letterbox companies and HGV drivers affected. Some drivers were also present in the audience. He warned against defining the problem as an East-West problem. In the Netherlands, it was often West European companies that set up fraudulent letterbox companies. In reality, law enforcement would often end at the border: Atema therefore demanded a “social Interpol" as well as a stronger involvement by trade unionists in the Labour Authority. According to his observations, in the Netherlands the authority would often only take action if put under pressure from trade unions.
Denis Genton (Commission, Free Movement of Workers Unit) presented the Commission proposal (in particular the 7 tasks of the Labour Authority) and reinforced the plan by the Commission to reach agreement by the end of 2018 or early 2019 at the latest. The Labour Authority was supposed to take up its work in Brussels as early as 2019.
Collin Williams (Sheffield University) called the bringing together of a wide range of issues and “unsolved matters” the greatest strength of the Labour Authority. He saw a problem in the current focus on combating misuse. What was needed was a preventive approach. Williams strongly criticised the idea that the new platform to fight illegal work, which was only established in 2016, should be abolished again by the Labour Authority. He also pointed out that the Commission proposal would only concentrate on a very small part of illegal work, which would be carried out across borders (5 %, according to more recent figures only 2.8 %).
Liina Carr (ETUC) welcomed that - after years of trade unions demanding it - one would at last talk about the issue of an EU Labour Authority. However, the level of involvement of social partners was far too low (only 6 social partners at EU level, 3 employers + 3 employees). She announced that ETUC would initiate a separate proposal.
AK expert Walter Gagawczuk said in his concluding address that even though the EU Labour Authority would not be able to solve all problems, if was definitely a step in the right direction. He made a concrete comparison between the range of tasks of the European Labour Authority and that of the European Banking Authority. Whilst the tasks of the Labour Authority only had a supporting role, the Banking Authority had - apart from supporting - also standard setting and supervisory tasks. The Labour Authority was limited to mediation proceedings, whilst the Banking Authority had powers to take decisions in individual cases. Walter Gagawczuk also contributed to the discussion concrete proposals, as to how the role of social partners in the Labour Authority could be strengthened.