BRUSSELS (AP) — Most European Union nations on Tuesday welcomed a breakthrough on so-called posted workers who are often cheap labor from Eastern Europe working temporarily in richer EU countries.
The practice has been blamed by critics for pulling down labor standards in western European nations and pushing up unemployment among local workers squeezed out by foreigners. Many say it has contributed to a rise in anti-EU and populist feelings in western member states.
In a move to contain the practice often referred to as social dumping, the deal seeks to enshrine equal pay for equal work in the same workplace. The tentative agreement provides for the long-term posting of people for 12 months, with a six-month extension under special circumstances.
"Europe is moving forward. I welcome the ambitious agreement," said French President Emmanuel Macron. "More protection, less fraud." France had been the driving force behind the plan since Macron became president early this year.
His comments were echoed by many western EU member states. Some eastern nations, including the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and some Baltic member states, objected to the new rules since they would affect many of their workers.
"There are entries which we were able to add that improve the proposals made by France but, of course, not everything is satisfactory," said Poland's Prime Minister Beata Szydlo.
The deal ensures that the workers will be paid in line with the host country's laws and practices. Now posted workers from nations like Romania and Poland must earn at least the minimum wage of the host country, but that still often is less than the wages guaranteed by collective agreements between unions and firms.
Critics of the current regulations, which took effect in 1996, years before a large chunk of the former communist bloc joined the EU, say it gives Eastern European service providers an unfair advantage over Western companies because their wage and social security costs are lower.
The majority of posted workers are in construction, but many work as welders, electricians or carers for the elderly.
The deal was approved by a weighed majority of votes among member states following negotiations which went into Monday night. The parliament still has to approve it, but officials said the key breakthrough they needed was the vote of member states.
Associated Press writers Sam Petrequin in Paris and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed.