Recent EU labour migration policy – a cause for concern.

By Kadri Soova,
PICUM Advocacy Officer (from Flyktingbloggen).

In the coming years, the working age population in Europe is faced with an important decline. The demographic urgency mixed with labour shortages in certain sectors call for ambitious policy interventions which unfortunately, due to their utilitarian objectives, could risk undermining the core principles of fundamental rights.

The European Commission has recently put forward a package of legislative initiatives that regulate the entry and stay conditions of third-country nationals. The key directive, the single permit directive, which complements the already existing ”blue card” for highly-skilled migrants, is designed to simplify administrative requirements for third-country nationals by enabling them to obtain work and residence permits through a single procedure and grant a common set of rights to migrants regularly residing and working in the EU. The single permit directive has been approved in the European Parliament on March 24, 2011 and is currently being discussed in the Council.

However, the directive is highly problematic as it fails to uphold the principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination.

The directive:

Excludes certain categories of workers such as refugees, permanent residents, seasonal workers, displaced persons and intra-corporate transferees from its scope.  The entry and stay conditions of these groups of migrants will be covered by separate sectoral directives that foresee a different procedure and a different level of rights and protection measures. This gives way to differentiated treatment regarding fundamental rights, social security and protection between third-country nationals employed in different sectors or having a different legal status.Permits EU Member States to limit the equality of treatment compared to national workers, which is contrary to the principle of equality in the workplace.Does not provide a provision permitting third-country nationals living and working regularly in a Member State to have access to effective remedies and compensation for abuses they may be victims of.It is regrettable that at this stage there is no comprehensive framework directive in place that would regulate residence and work permits and create a common set of rights for all third-country nationals. Additional legislation on labour migration should only be considered for very specific areas of work in order to complement the provisions of the framework directive (single permit) – as in the case of seasonal work – and it should never weaken the rights recognised by the abovementioned comprehensive framework directive.

The EU Commission’s “sectoral approach” in its policies concerning migrant workers means in practice that instead of creating one comprehensive policy instrument regulating the access of all third-country workers to the European labour market, the EU has chosen to fragment the workforce by regulating the rights of low-wage (seasonal workers) and high-wage workers (“blue card” workers and intra-corporate transferees) through different policy tools. This has led to a situation where high-wage workers would be guaranteed a wider set of rights and better social security and protection benefits compared to low-wage workers.

The structural need for migrant workers is likely to expand and Europe should be looking for more sustainable solutions. As a minimum, the EU should establish all the necessary conditions for the effective access of all workers from third countries to the full respect of equal treatment regarding, in particular, fundamental rights, work conditions, social protection and access to legal redress.

In January 2011, PICUM joined together with a number of European civil society organisations to discuss the directive on seasonal workers and to unify our concerns in joint NGO statementputting forward practical proposals for members of the European Parliament to take into consideration when voting on this directive.

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