New influx of workers: challenge or opportunity?

1 January 2014 saw the lifting of labour restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian workers in nine of the European member state countries. This included Germany, France and Britain. The background facts were that when Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007 and initially some temporary measures were put into place by nine member states for the first seven years of membership in relation to the right to work and to benefit from social and medical programmes. This was a result of a concern that there would be a sudden influx of a new workforce who could potentially increase welfare benefits costs.

In France there has been an element of unease over the lifting of restrictions with the far right National Front warning that Roma could flood into the country and cause social unrest. The development takes place at a time when President Hollande’s government is increasingly under scrutiny to try and tackle long term structural unemployment and stimulate the economy. Commentators in France are split. One side takes the view of the National Front and the other views the new workers as potential net contributors in meeting skills shortages and boosting demand.

Clearly, it is too difficult to give an opinion as to what the ramifications will be but suffice to state that some economists have argued that Britain has a very good record of absorbing migrant labour from around the world and that issues such as:- skills gaps and jobs that indigenous workers are less than willing to perform, will be addressed. Therefore there could be a net positive contribution to economic development both in the short and long term.

Interestingly, the Head of University College London, Migration Research Unit, Professor John Salt, is quoted in the International Herald Tribune as saying that data from Bulgaria shows that advance bookings for Bulgaria Air, the main carrier from Bulgaria to Britain, decreased by more than 3% for travel in the first three months of 2014, compared with the previous year. This does not suggest that we are going to see an influx of workers from Romania or Bulgaria.

Employers will need to ensure that they are aware of the fact that workers coming into the UK have the same level of protection as those who are currently working in the UK and should be particularly careful in relation to potential discrimination claims should they be deemed to be treating such workers less favourably on the grounds of their nationality. National minimum wage requirements and working time requirements must also be adhered to.

The European Commission sees the development as a positive step in increasing worker mobility and freedom of movement of the EU workforce across the free market zone; therefore entrenching one of the cornerstones of the European Union.

For further information regading this article, or other areas of employment law affecting your haulage business, contact David Gibson, Employment Partner, on 0191 233 9762 / david.gibson@dwf.co.uk or contact DWF’s Head of Transport, Matthew Yates, on 0333 320 3105 / matthew.yates@dwf.co.uk.

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