Despite voicing its support for the Commission's initiative to help solve the problems confronting cross-border mobility, the EESC gives a number of suggestions and recommendations and asks for clarifications
The European Commission's proposal to set up the European Labour Authority (ELA) – in the form of a decentralised EU agency which would seek to improve the free movement of workers and services in Europe – was discussed by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) at its plenary session in September.
The EESC welcomed the Commission's proposal to set up the new Authority, if implemented properly, as a "step in the right direction" towards alleviating the difficulties facing the rapidly growing sector of cross-border labour mobility. But the new body must comply with national and European competences and in turn, Member States must show support and cooperation, the EESC stressed.
Problems listed as beleaguering the cross-border labour markets included unfair competition, social dumping, illegal activities and various types of fraud relating to tax and social security, lack of information for businesses and workers, poor cooperation between the Member States and the generally scant capacity of labour inspectorates.
"The committee supports the Commission in its efforts to set up a new Authority. Its proposal is trying to meet the challenges of having an increasingly European labour market which should be a fair one," said the rapporteur for the opinion, Carlos Manuel Trindade. "A fair market, without illegal practices and fraud, would bring benefits to everyone, including society as a whole, and would help combat anti-European feeling and growing protectionism as well."
In its opinion on the ELA, which was adopted at the plenary session following a heated discussion in which some opposing amendments received more than a quarter of the votes cast, the EESC put forward several suggestions and recommendations for improvement.
Above all, the Committee asked for the social partners to be more involved in the Authority, as it felt that the current proposal had presented this involvement in a way that was "clearly inadequate".
The EESC therefore proposed that the Authority's stakeholder group become an advisory board or "consultative committee" which would primarily be composed of members from the European social partners and which would be able to give its opinion on the Authority's activities.
"The cooperation of the social partners is vital for ensuring that we have new impetus in this area," said Mr Trindade.
He stressed that it was fundamental for the new Authority to build on and harness the experience of the existing bodies which it would be replacing, including the European Platform on tackling undeclared work or the Committee of Experts on Posting of Workers.
The EESC also warned about the ELA's possible shortage of resources which could compromise its effectiveness and asked that these be managed properly. It also proposed that the new Authority could suggest that Member States carry out joint inspections if it detected cross-border fraud or abuse, or that it should carry out these inspections jointly with national authorities and in accordance with national legislation. It suggested that although such inspections should remain voluntary, any failure to participate would have to be explained.
The EESC also suggested that the Authority's role in mediating disputes between national authorities should be clarified, as well as its interaction with other relevant EU agencies or the obligation of Member States to cooperate with it.
The Commission's proposal for a regulation asks for the new Authority to be tasked with supporting cooperation between national authorities to ensure cross-border compliance with EU law, with a view to preventing fraud and abuse. It should also make access to services and information on rights and obligations easier for both employers and workers and have a mediation role in the event of disputes between national authorities or cross-border problems affecting the labour market.
The proposal comes at a time of rising cross-mobility of workers, with 17 million Europeans working in a Member State of which they are not nationals – twice the number of people just eight years ago. The number of posted workers rose by 68% from 2010, reaching 2.3 million in 2016. Some 2 million workers employed in the road transport sector cross borders inside the EU on a daily basis.
At the same time, poverty affects 23.5% of the EU's population. It is felt that efficient cross-border job markets could create more employment opportunities for these and other people.