Seminar report: "Regulating EU labour migration" (1 November 2017)


Seminar: regulating EU labour migration

1 November, 2017, De Burcht, Amsterdam

How can labour migration within the EU best be regulated to avoid exploitation and unfair competition? 

The Dutch system of labour regulation seems to be under increasing pressure as a consequence of the inflow of labour migrants from Middle and Eastern European countries (A10 countries). The working conditions of these labour migrants are often far below the Dutch standard. A couple of years ago, the Dutch minister of labour therefore declared a ‘code orange’. During this seminar we look into which regulation is needed to avoid unfair competition, downward pressure on working conditions and potential exploitation of labour migrants while at the same time the positive sides of the free movement principles are secured.


In this seminar organized by the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS) and the Dutch Labour Relations Society (NVA), several experts present their research on the effects of labour migration within the EU. In addition, trade unions present their vision on the consequences of labour migration for specific sectors in the economy. 


From the first presentation by Anita Strockmeijer, we can conclude that regulation of the employment conditions of EU labour migrants is necessary: they tend to earn lower salaries (whether this is a consequence of labour market segregation or underpayment is hard to tell), stay on these low salaries for a long period and a higher proportion than expected turn out to be staying in the Netherlands for a long period. In the presentation of Wike Been, a comparison was made between the regulation of the temporary work agencies in the Netherlands and the UK. An important difference is that, in the Netherlands, abuse and exploitation of migrant workers is considered to be a labour market issue while in the UK it is considered to be a criminal issue. Unfortunately, we do not know which approach is more effective in promoting compliance with the official rules.

From the presentation by Jan Cremers, we learn that displacement of incumbent workers by migrant workers, although not very significant at the macro level, is very real at the micro level. At the same time, he points out that entire segments of the labour market nowadays depend on EU labour migrants to get the work done, especially those that rely on cheap labour. In these sectors labour migrants are especially vulnerable for exploitation.

The FNV and CNV illustrate this with examples of exploitation in these sectors. Together, these observations lead to the conclusion that there is a necessity for regulation of employment conditions. The biggest difficulty observed is, however, how inspectorate organizations can ensure compliance with regulation, especially when foreign entities are involved. Moreover, it can be concluded  that the regulation of the temporary agency sector in the Netherlands is relatively extensive compared to the UK. However, from all relevant actors in the sector that receive some policy attention (temporary work agencies, labour migrants and hiring companies), the hiring companies have yet received the least and the least effective attention. There should be more focus on increasing the awareness about good behaviour among this group of actors. This calls for more normative regulation: on a sectoral, national and European level.