Protect rights of EU workers to move freely to and from the UK, urge Lords

05 September 2013

The House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on the Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment has today written to the Government underlining the importance of protecting workers’ rights to move freely across the EU, particularly in the current economic climate

The letter is in response to a European Commission legislative proposal which aims to strengthen workers’ rights. The committee supports the Government view that the key to improving workers’ rights is through the proper enforcement of current laws, and not through the creation of further EU legislation.

The letter to the Immigration Minister Mark Harper points to the European Commission’s argument that problems such as workers being uncertain of their rights, and authorities and employers not implementing workers’ rights correctly, have contributed to a ‘surprisingly’ low number of people seeking work in other countries – currently standing at around 3% of the EU work force.

The Lords committee also points out that while some countries, including the UK, have written to the European Commission to complain about so-called ‘benefits tourism’ (where migrants claim benefits in other Member States) the Commission says it has not been shown any evidence to demonstrate this is the case.

The Lords committee has asked the Government for information on the scale of social welfare abuse in the UK.

The letter also notes that the economic crisis leads to both ‘brain drain’ and ‘brain gain’ through migration, as skilled workers seek jobs elsewhere, but also bring new skills back.

Chairman of the committee Baroness O’Cathain said:

“The evidence we took over the course of this scrutiny process clearly showed that the rights of EU workers to move freely to and from the UK and elsewhere need to be safeguarded, particularly during this economic climate.

But there is evidence to suggest that a stumbling block to free movement exists in the shape of poor implementation and poor communication of these rights.

We believe that yet more EU legislation is not the answer – the solution lies in more effective enforcement of the laws we already have. The committee also asks the Government to provide proof that so-called ‘social benefit tourism’ actually exists – we would like to see more than the anecdotal evidence that has been put before us so far.”

The full letter is available on the committee’s web page.

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