BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday he is "convinced" European Union member states will reach an agreement by the end of the year on over so-called "posted workers" — cheap labor from Eastern Europe posted temporarily to more prosperous European countries.
Macron, who is in Romania for the second leg of his trip to Central Europe, praised Romania's will to "work together" with France on the issue after talks with Romania's president.
"Posted workers" from Eastern European nations including Romania and Poland continue to pay into the tax and social security systems of their home countries, allowing employers to hire them for less than in Western countries where welfare costs are higher. The majority work in construction, but many also work as welders, electricians or carers for the elderly.
Macron wants to require companies to pay posted and local workers the same salaries and limit postings abroad to up to one year.
"It's not about banning Romanian road transport companies from working everywhere in Europe," Macron said, referring to Romanian truck drivers often hired by Western European companies — one of the most common examples of posted workers. New rules must be drawn up to better protect French workers from unfair competition, he said.
Posted workers account for about 1 percent of the EU's total workforce, but they are perceived as pricing out local workers in Western Europe, putting downward pressure on wages and exacerbating inequalities in wealth.
Last year, the European Commission proposed new rules to regulate pay for posted and local workers, but the proposals were opposed by member states in central and eastern Europe.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said that EU rules needed to be clearer. "Nobody wants to create favorable conditions for some and unfavorable conditions for others," he said.
Iohannis noted close cultural and business ties between his country and France, saying bilateral trade was worth about 8 billion euros ($9.44 billion).
Romania's National Pension House says last year some 50,000 Romanian workers were posted abroad to other EU countries.
Macron also spoke about the 26-country European free-passport zone known as the Schengen zone, which allows citizens to travel without border controls. He said he was not opposed in principle to Romania joining the group, but said border control of the area must be improved first. "The Schengen zone is not working well," he said.
Macron will later travel to Bulgaria which also wants to join the Schengen group.
Sylvie Corbet contributed from Paris.