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Europe — Freedom of movement causes problems for staffing agencies

18 March 2010

The free movement of workers and respect for their employment rights are the focus of a European Union (EU) conference, which is taking place in Spain today.

The aim of this event is to discuss the balance between the freedom of movement of workers, the freedom of establishment and provision of services and the respect for employment rights, both at collective and individual level.

Spain's Employment Minister Celestino Corbacho said, "the freedom of establishment and provision of services is of fundamental importance to the development of the single market and consolidation of Europe", while also stressing another "fundamental rights, such as the safeguarding of social and labour rights".

He said various legal precedents made it clear there is a "serious problem", because any company can set itself up in another EU country, but if it brings its workers with it, they come with the salaries and labour agreements in force in the company's country of origin, which "is seriously detrimental" to their labour rights.

Corbacho said "We need to find an appropriate response to the issue of the boundaries between two rights, and find a way of ensuring the compatibility needed between the two". In relation to this, he said the European Court of Justice has given precedence to the freedom of establishment to the detriment of social rights.

European Commissioner Laszlo Andor said that temporary movements of workers within the EU were of "crucial" importance to sectors such as construction, agriculture and transport, but that it was essential "to guarantee that the rules are the same for everyone".

Announcing that he will be proposing an overhaul of the current directive on the movement of workers next year, he said he did not feel it was necessary to carry out an in-depth review of this regulation now, and that it must be applied in a "uniform" way across all the member states.

"Each year, 1.5 million workers move across the EU to work temporarily in another country", said Andor, who believes such movements will increase in future.

In the staffing industry in particular, there is concern in Western European countries that temporary staffing agencies from low-wage Eastern European countries will be able to provide staff at much lower rates from 2011 onwards.



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