European transport unions call for European Labour Authority that works for workers

13 Mar 2018

Transport unions across Europe listened carefully as Marianne Thyssen, EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, presented plans for a European Labour Authority (ELA). We hoped this new body would be a concrete step in the delivery of the so-called European Pillar of Social Rights, a long-awaited agency that would help workers get their rights and push back against social dumping. But ultimately the proposals were a letdown. Let’s hope that the Parliament and Council give this paper tiger some teeth before it becomes reality!

Our first take on the proposals? Well, at least the Commission is making an effort. We welcome the generous budget and promise of more than 100 staff. This authority needs the scale and skills to make a difference. The focus on those working outside their home member state is interesting. Transport is a highly mobile sector, where employers often use the vagaries of free movement rules to exploit workers and engage in unfair competition. (Of course, workers in their home state also need ways to enforce their rights and get the fair treatment guaranteed by EU legislation.)

However, the proposed ELA seems like little more than an information desk for employers and a talking shop for national authorities. It lacks hard power, independence, and workers’ representation. This all risks making the ELA a weak enforcer of labour rights – or even a disturbing force in countries or sectors where effective social dialogue is already delivering good conditions.

ETF President Frank Moreels gave our initial verdict: “The European Transport Workers’ Federation has long been asking for a European Labour Authority, and it is good to see that it will also watch over the implementation of EU rules specific to transport workers. However, at the moment the ELA sounds like a paper tiger, lacking the teeth to really improve working life in Europe. Above all, we reject the idea that the ELA can only coordinate investigations by member states, not intervene independently when employers are breaching EU rules. What is the point of an authority that needs member states’ permission whenever it wants to enforce the rules? That is a recipe for cumbersome bureaucracy and unfair treatment.”

He continued: “To improve working conditions in Europe we don’t just need better rules – we need effective enforcement of rules. With labour inspection capacity down 75% at national level, many workers are illegally exploited with no one to turn to. In an ideal world, individual workers or their unions should be able to call on the ELA to investigate breaches of European labour law in the workplace.  But at the very minimum, the ELA should have a mandate to undertake its own inspections to ensure workers are getting the fair treatment enshrined in law.”

Eduardo Chagas, ETF General Secretary, stresses that unions must be fully involved in the set up and management of the new body: “We worry about the ELA’s proposed mandate to support the free movement of services and mediate between states who are in dispute about labour issues. An ELA governed solely by the Commission and Council, meeting behind closed doors, could opt for a liberalising enforcement of free movement rules to entrench social dumping and drive down standards. A first step to address this would be to give unions a formal place in the governance of the ELA, beyond the merely consultative role proposed. Social partners play an active role in employment policy at EU level and in many member states – it would be a backwards step to exclude workers’ representation from the new EU body tasked with protecting them!”

The European Labour Authority is a project with potential and it is worth making an effort to get it right. The ETF, together with its affiliates and other union federations, will fight for an ELA that works for workers. Indeed, many of the ideas in our 2015 Vision Paper (pdf) for the future of European transport are already on the EU policy agenda – including a European social security number and better standards on the posting of workers. We continue to raise our voice through the Fair Transport campaign against social dumping. Demanding an effective ELA will be a key part of our strategy to ensure the transport sector delivers quality jobs.

For more information please contact:

Bryn Watkins
Communications Officer
European Transport Workers’ Federation
Tel: +32 2 285 45 87
Mob: +32 470 93 05 90