Equal pay for equal work is top priority for EU, says Asscher

Ensuring equal pay for equal work for workers in the same country will be one of the most important tasks facing the next European Commission. Tackling the adverse consequences of free movement must be a top priority for Brussels, because combating exploitation and ensuring decent work are in everyone’s interests in Europe.

This was the message delivered by Lodewijk Asscher, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, in a letter to the Financial Times and De Volkskrant on Friday.

Mr Asscher expects Brussels to adopt an ambitious agenda and puts forward a number of proposals in his letter. He argues that employers should not only give their foreign workers equal pay for equal work but also extend this to other terms of employment. As he sees it, the more closely the employment terms of foreign workers resemble those of the rest of the workforce, the fairer the competition in the labour market. He is also calling for a European coordination centre for joint controls by inspectorates.

Mr Asscher would also like Brussels to put a stop to the practices of ‘letterbox companies’ as soon as possible. These are companies that move abroad on paper but continue their activities in their own country, only paying lower wages.

In August last year, writing jointly with the British commentator David Goodhart in De Volkskrant, Mr Asscher sounded a warning about the downsides of the free movement of workers. He said that if the European Union did too little to counter unfair competition and displacement, this would have disastrous consequences for the social protection of all workers in the EU.

The minister says that his warning has been heeded. For example, the EU has agreed new measures to combat fraud, while legislation will be introduced in the Netherlands to tackle sham employment arrangements. But Mr Asscher stresses that a lot more needs to be done to create a fair European labour market.