Workers’ rights and employment conditions: only as strong as their enforcement. Towards a new European Labour Authority for fair, simple and effective enforcement of European rules on labour mobility

From January 30 to February 1, 2020, a seminar was held in Porto (Portugal) on the subject of “Workers’ rights and employment conditions: only as strong as their enforcement. Towards a new European Labour Authority for fair, simple and effective enforcement of European rules on labour mobility”. It was organised by FIDESTRA (Associação para a Formação, Investigação e Desenvolvimento Social dos Trabalhadores), with the support of EZA and the European Union. 40 representatives of workers' organisuations from different European countries took part in the seminar.

Importance of the seminar - general aspects

The proper and effective functioning of the internal market has numerous and important benefits for businesses, workers, citizens and the economy in general. This market has also contributed to improving the competitiveness of companies and strengthening their position in the world market.

The development and growth of companies and the strengthening of their competitive position on the world market have led to a significant increase in the level of employment in Europe.

On the other hand, the creation of the European Union made it possible for workers to work freely in other Member States, and at the same time the protection of workers at the level of the European Union was increased through directives. A number of fundamental rights have been adopted on numerous topics and apply to all workers in all EU Member States.

The development and deepening of this internal market requires the removal of all obstacles to the freedom of establishment of service providers and the free movement of services between the Member States.

Cross-border labour mobility has increased significantly in recent years. In 2017, 17 million Europeans lived or worked in a Member State other than the one in which they were born.

1.4 million EU citizens cross a border every day to work in another Member State. In the road transport sector, more than 2 million workers across the EU cross the border every day to transport goods or passengers.

It is therefore important to ensure good cooperation between the national authorities involved and easy access to information and also that the implementing measures do not create an excessive administrative burden for businesses or workers.

The authorities should be able to act on suspected violations of working conditions, health and safety and also on the employment of illegally working third-country nationals.

Opening session

At the opening session, Fernando Moura e Silva, President of Fidestra, thanked the participants and welcomed the institutions in Porto. He referred to the social problems of our time, the labour movement and the different national laws. He stressed the need to strengthen the harmonisation of rights and the obligations of workers and, above all, called for harmonisation of working conditions, regardless of the Member State in which they work.

He spoke about the expectations citizens have of the new labour authority and the importance it could have for the future of professions, methods, general conditions and labour laws across the Union. He mentioned the differences in the remuneration of work and the working hours that every citizen makes available to employers.

He also presented the participants with some challenges, particularly in the development of the issues to be discussed in the seminar, and expressed hope that the reflections and discussions would produce concrete and effective proposals that would add value, and can be adopted by the Commission and the European Employment Agency to create better conditions for labour development.

Sigrid Schraml, Secretary General of EZA, spoke about the prospects and expectations of the European Employment Agency and emphasised the importance of the organisation in relation to all workers in general and to some in particular, namely workers who have been displaced from their countries of birth. According to her understanding, the Authority strengthens and reviews social rights as they are laid down and function in the basic democratic values and in the social dimension of the EU.

Also she raised issues related to the creation/harmonisation of minimum wages across Europe, with mobility and fair wages particularly posing a guarantee for young people in the South.


Opening theme: Importance of the European Employment Agency (ELA) for the world of work

José Paulo Carvalho: ELA will try to respond to a new problem in the EU. Peace is a social requirement for our development. Worker and business organisations are moving towards new needs and realities such as social mobility. The market must be as homogeneous as possible, with fair competition in the different regions and with different rules. The ELA could be very relevant or of no use. It depends on what the Member States expect from it.

The EU consists of countries with a democratic tradition. However, there are countries that have recently been freed from dictatorships and are still preparing for new realities.

John Paul II said that the foundation of work in itself is not always the same work, but is important to the person who does it. There is a basic matrix of rights in which the worker is primarily human.

The finances are not the same and not all Member States have the same working conditions. The subordinate labour factor is a source of social and political struggles.


The ELA can be very important in the equilibrium logic in order to reach the optimal point in the differences.

Work is also relevant to development that people present their work as a mechanism of social satisfaction. It is an old tradition. Paul said that "if you don't want to work, you shouldn't eat". Everyone must earn more than he inherited, leave more than he received. That is social development.

The Labour Code establishes a relationship rule in good faith and in mutual cooperation between everyone.

Harmonising procedures and laws will be difficult, but we all hope that ELA will achieve this.

Supporting workers will be the key to creating perfect mobility. Portugal has the ACT, which coordinates the national control bodies.

Discriminatory differences between different Member States in companies and institutions are realities that are difficult to solve, but we hope that ELA will enable better coexistence between male and female workers in the future, regardless of their origin.

Reiner Meier thanks Fidestra for the invitation and first asks the participants what ELA wants to implement in Europe. How can you make decisions in detail when the laws are different?

ELA was founded in 2015 to be fully functional by 2024. The agency was created to promote social peace and labour peace. The interests of workers are a very important issue for the whole of Europe.

What role does the authority play and what does it mean?

Legislation is different in each country and leads to competition between countries. It is important that there is harmonisation and that it is an effective labour law.

There are too many differences in the member states and companies move to countries where it is most convenient for them.

There are cross-border difficulties, there have been developments at the political level, and the creation of an agency like ELA to review labour is very important so that you can take the necessary steps to harmonise work. ELA will use synergies and technical knowledge to promote the defense of workers with regard to health, safety and economy in every Member State.

Harmonization of labour law as a factor of economic competitiveness in Europe


Bartho Pronk stressed the absolute importance of the process of harmonising labour law, both as a factor in social justice and as an instrument for the approximation and equality of all citizens and an even greater transparency of the competitiveness of the economy, throughout the European Union.

Javier Morillas developed his topic on business competitiveness and comparative advantages that can make it more efficient, creating an international specialisation.

Businesses engage in the same market and one has a competitive advantage over the other when it delivers superior benefits.

And he said there are two main sources of competitive advantage: innovation and the ability to adapt to change.

Risk assessment on cross-border labour mobility issues - Effective measures against undeclared work. Joseph Thouvenel described the situation in France, where wage earners are an important issue in agriculture and often do not behave peacefully, as in the case of seasonal work.

In the financial area, there are also wage differences among employees. Transport gives important social subsidies with bilateral agreements that can distort competition.

Industrial competitiveness - multinational companies have their own laws and are important to the country's economy. Small businesses have a very different structure that is usually well known.

Globalisation and wage conditions for foreigners differ from the domestic conditions. This creates problems in adaptation and education in areas where foreigners take refuge, and thus creates social divisions.

Several examples were given of Maghreb workers who have precarious and seasonal jobs that do not allow them to integrate in French society.

Manuel Ferreira Ramos is rather sceptical about the harmonisation of labour laws. He refers to changes in the business system, the problem of illegal situations and what ELA can do to remove existing obstacles to work.

Undeclared work is still a scourge to which everyone contributes through silence.

Difficulties exist in cross-border jobs without security and without an adequate health system.

Lawrence Cappelle initially said that undeclared work is a big problem.

Various examples from Belgium have been presented, where inspections are getting stricter and focus on undeclared work.

One of the main problems is whether ELA is able to discipline the informal labour market and reduce undeclared work on the ground, which causes major problems due to the lack of social security.


How the European Labour Agency will improve cooperation in the area of labour mobility.

According to Diogo Feio, the EU started with an economic matrix, then with a political pillar and is now moving towards the social pillar. The EU intends to combat any discrimination because of the nationality of workers.

The ELA will try to harmonise work across Europe. If the Union is to be more economically perfect, it must also be socially perfect. The ELA should be an institution that facilitates the development of our social pillar. It is important that the labour legislation is adapted to reality and the respective circumstances when it is passed.

Piergiorgio Sciacqua described the situation in Italy. Italy has a border with several countries, for example San Marino, a border that thousands of people cross every day. The creation of the ELA raises some doubts as it is highly bureaucratic. Nevertheless, he believes it is a very important institution and hopes that its work will benefit the European citizens, as the solidarity and commitment of all, build up for the European project, which is permanently and continuously consolidated.

It was agreed that the ELA must play a fundamental role in industrial relations. The more one moves towards harmonisation, the greater its effectiveness will be.

The fact that Europe is made up of a large number of democratic states, but which must give up power in cooperation with all those involved, will simplify and facilitate harmonisation.

Closing session: ELA and Brexit: How to monitor work outside the EU

Rafael Ponga initially referred to the role of the International Platform for Cooperation and Migration (IPCM) and reflected on the UK's exit from the European Union on the very day that this seminar ended.

He highlighted the political, economic and demographic importance that the United Kingdom has in the EU, therefore Britain's exit from the European Union will necessarily make it poorer.

He also mentioned that one of the reasons for Brexit was the migration problem, a global phenomenon that occurs for several reasons: be it natural causes, climate changes such as droughts, floods, fires and others, or those that cause conflict through the armed forces. These provoke large migration movements.

Rafael Ponga believed that a common European policy on refugees and other migratory flows is necessary for Europe to accept the migrants they need and properly integrate them into different societies.

Orlando Coutinho said that social inequalities are currently increasing, partly due to inequalities in the world of work. Work-family relationships need to be improved, job insecurity is a serious problem, the existence of illegal work is a drama, and job security has not yet reached the desired level.

He also added that Christian democracy defends work and family, two important pillars in human life. It is therefore important to defend work with dignity and fair wages so that societies become more balanced and ensure that poverty is reduced and that there is more justice in the distribution of wealth.

He noted that 17 million mobile workers are employed in the another country of the European Union.

As far as ELA is concerned, it will have to face the important challenge of finding common solutions for adapting industrial relations. We know how the ELA will work and which financial package is planned for its tasks. The most important thing is that it will be successful.