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French President Francois Hollande attends a meeting for the signing of the first contracts of generations partnership between the State and the company Solvay in Aubervilliers near Paris, November 28, 2013. REUTERS/Etienne Laurent/Pool French President Francois Hollande attends a meeting for the signing of the first contracts of generations partnership between the State and the company Solvay in Aubervilliers near Paris, November 28, 2013. REUTERS/Etienne Laurent/Pool  

France launches a continent-wide crackdown on cheap labor

The French government has launched a new offensive against cheap labor ahead of next year’s European Union parliamentary elections, pushing for more stringent labor laws and a continent-wide minimum wage.

French officials argue that foreign companies are able to benefit from EU rules that give them cost advantages for sending workers into other member states.

The French government is concerned about the alleged abuse of temporary “posted workers” who present increased competition to French workers. Posted workers have to pay fewer taxes and social contributions than their French counterparts, making them more competitive. This unfair competition amounts to “social dumping,” according to French officials.

“It’s not only an economic and social problem, it’s becoming a political problem that has to do with how we conceive Europe. Some political forces will use that issue at the elections,” Thierry Repentin, French Minister in charge of EU affairs, told EurActiv.

“We’re talking about less than 0.5% of workers, but it’s the psychological impact that’s important,” Repentin added.

Posted workers are sent by companies from their home country into other EU member states to work on a temporary basis. EurActiv reports that these workers have to comply with the labor laws of the country they are in, but their employer pays social contributions in the country of origin, creating a “gap in labour costs and boost[ing] the benefits of foreign companies.”

France is looking to garner support from the rest of the European community on this issue. Germany is already implementing its own nationwide minimum wage overhaul, but that may not be completed before 2017.

The UK, on the other hand, has come out against the French effort. Prime Minister David Cameron said he does not want to saddle businesses with more regulations.

The French are also pushing for the adoption of a continent-wide minimum wage that would be set to the needs of each individual country. Repentin argues that setting minimum salaries would stop “social dumping” in key sectors of the economy, like agriculture and the meat industry.

According to France’s meat producers’ union, “social dumping” creates huge labor distortions between French and German workers — the cost of labor is three times higher in France than in Germany.

“The use of posted workers via European interim agencies or construction companies too often means very low wages, breach of the working time and security rules, social contributions paid in a different country,” laments Dider Ridoret, president of France’s construction sector lobby.

This move by France comes before the EU parliamentary elections and the country’s far-right party, the Front National, is leading in the polls — a threat to the Socialist Party that now controls France.

“Strengthening co-operation between labour inspection authorities is also necessary and has yet to be built. Besides, introducing a minimum wage in each member state would be a way to fight against unfair social competition,” the French government said.

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