EU Talent Pool Proposal gives green light to more Grafenhausen-like cases

7 Jun 2024

The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) wants to expose the fundamental threat posed by the European Commission’s “Talent Pool” proposal to the integrity of transport sectors and the rights of workers. As the Council of Ministers inches closer to a potential agreement under the Belgian Presidency as early as 10 June, the ETF mobilises in a bid to halt this progression without listening to Unions.

Talent Pool Proposal

In November 2023, the European Commission, through its Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs, introduced the Talent Pool proposal. Framed as a benign solution to address labour shortages, the proposal aims to create an EU IT platform, connecting job seekers from non-EU countries with employers in participating member states. However, beneath its facade of benevolence lies a dangerous precedent that threatens to unleash more exploitation across the transport sectors.
While the European Parliament deferred action on the proposal until after the elections, the Council of Ministers is on the brink of reaching a detrimental agreement under the Belgian Presidency. This impending decision, slated for as early as June 10th, offers no substantial improvements to the flawed proposal.

Threats of the Proposal

The Talent Pool proposal creates more toxic subcontracting chains by fitting more labour recruitment intermediaries in, instead of regulating them. Further, according to the proposal, “any natural person, any legal entity, private employment agencies, temporary work agencies and labour market intermediaries”’ can recruit migrant workers for the EU labour market. There is no pre-condition for recruiters’ good repute, no pre-screening procedures and no exclusion from the Pool in case of misconduct. Moreover, even though the participation of the member states is voluntary, any participating EU country can open the door for an influx of unprotected migrant workers into non-participating countries. Moreover, participating member states can decide to add occupations onto the worker shortages list without adhering to any set criteria. Additionally, a mutual recognition of qualifications is not addressed properly, further underlining the substantial disadvantages for the employment of EU citizens, as well as posing a threat to safety. Therefore, the current proposal represents a wholesale abandonment and reversing of basic labour standards and creates a breeding ground for exploitation and abuse.

Specifics for Road

For road transport, the Talent Pool proposal undermines key achievements of the Mobility Package,  to start with, because it weakens the direct employment connection between road freight operators and third country drivers, thus weakening the direct liability companies have towards the drivers they employ, and their working conditions. Currently, EU-based road freight operator must obtain nominal driver attestations for each  third-country national they employ. Each operator is registered in a National Register for Transport Undertakings, proving compliance with EU regulations and obligations. The line of the European Commission, that the Talent Pool will only be ‘applicable’ to member states participating in it, is an illusion for road. It’s enough that Poland and Lithuania – currently the main entry gate of third country drivers in the EU – to join the Talent Pool platform. This will allow any natural person, any legal entity, private employment agencies, temporary work agencies and labour market intermediaries registered in the two member states to recruit Central Asian drivers for instance, who will then be falsely posted to carry on transport operations in any member state, whether participating or not in the Talent Pool. For all the above reasons and more, the EC Talent Pool proposal risks to lead to the proliferation of cases such as Grafenhausen. We remind that the Grafenhausen case revealed the exploitation practices third country drivers are currently subject to. An overwhelming majority had paid their recruiters to get a job, they were employed on conditions that were not clear, they were subject to untransparent payment calculations and wage deductions, they lived for months in isolation, in their trucks although this is illegal. The Talent Pool gives no guarantee that these practices will be abolished! On the contrary.

Specifics for Aviation and Rail

For sectors such as aviation and rail, similar challenges arise. If Lithuania or Malta list train drivers, pilots, or cabin crew as shortage occupations, agencies in these countries could recruit personnel and deploy them across the EU, regardless of other member states’ participation in the platform. This poses the risk that essential EU and national training and certification requirements are not adequately fulfilled, particularly if these countries utilise the accelerated immigration procedure.

The ETF Demands

The Talent Pool proposal is premature. To guarantee fair, quality and non-discriminatory jobs for migrant workers, first and foremost the EU needs to, at least:

  • Ensure that the EU legislation applicable to transport sectors, such as the Mobility Package for road, are fully and effectively enforced in practice, in what concerns third country nationals
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of its labour migration laws in terms of the level of protection they offers to migrant workers, and close the gaps.
  • Ensure all workers, independently on their immigration status, can report violations of their labour rights without risking retaliation or deportation.
  • Develop a common framework of migrant workers’ rights. Such a framework should set, amongst others, direct employment as a standard, limit subcontracting, regulate the role of labour intermediaries, facilitate access to trade unions, and bolster the number of labour inspections.
  • Extend ELA’s mandate to give it full competence on migrant workforce, as a key effective way to tackle for instance bogus posting, for instance.
  • Pay attention to the brain-drain consequences in migrants-origin countries not least in public health and social care in line with ILO ethical recruitment principles and guidelines.

Call to Action

The ETF calls upon policymakers to take stock of the current situation of third country nationals working in the EU, and make the above demands a priority for the new term of office. Urgent action is needed to halt the progression of the Talent Pool proposal and protect the integrity, rights conditions under which third country nationals should access the EU labour market.