Undeclared work puts workers at a multitude of risks, undermines public finances and threatens the financial sustainability of social protection systems. While tackling undeclared work is primarily the responsibility of national authorities, this continuing challenge often has an important cross-border dimension.
17 million citizens lived or worked in a Member State other than that of their nationality in 2017, more than a two-fold increase compared to a decade ago. In order to face the transnational reality of undeclared work, a multi-actor and cross-border cooperative approach is necessary.
Learning and acting together: the European Platform tackling undeclared work
The European Platform tackling undeclared work (the “Platform”) was established in 2016 to enhance cooperation between Member States in tackling undeclared work. It brings together Member States’ enforcement authorities (such as labour inspectorates, tax and social security authorities) and social partners to work together, exchange ideas and learn from each other in tackling undeclared work. The Platform has acted as a catalyst for change in enhancing cross-border cooperation, as highlighted by a recent report from the Commission.
Since its establishment, the Platform has brought together over 1,450 stakeholders to tackle undeclared work through joint activities. Mutual learning and the efficient exchange of information improve the effectiveness of efforts to tackle undeclared work across the EU. More than 50 events (seminars, workshops) and studies have allowed discussing key sectors affected by undeclared work (e.g. agriculture, construction, transport), helped enforcement bodies strengthen their efficiency and cross-border cooperation. The Platform has shared over 120 best practices online from across Europe and hundreds of mutual learning materials are now available in the Platform’s virtual library
Stepping up cooperation and joint actions has been another important priority. Mutual assistance projects have given members the opportunity to be counselled by a team of Platform experts, getting support in solving common problems or undertaking reforms. For example, following a mutual assistance project visit in 2017, the Latvian State Labour Inspectorate revised its strategy on undeclared work. Now, 74% of all identified cases of undeclared work in Latvia are transformed into declared work.
The Platform supports the exchange of good practices among its members by facilitating 30 staff exchanges a year. Exchanges have addressed a number of issues, including labour inspectorates’ organisational structures and the fraudulent posting of workers. With operational support from the Platform, the Spanish Labour Inspectorate invited the Romanian Labour Inspectorate, along with the Spanish and Romanian police, to carry out joint inspections in 2019 during the garlic harvesting season in Albacete.
Joint inspections and other forms of cross-border cooperation
Specific types of cross-border undeclared work, for instance by undeclared mobile EU workers or related to fraudulent posting of workers, require broader and better cross-border cooperation. Beyond activities carried out with the Platform, EU countries have increasingly engaged in bilateral and multi-lateral cross-border cooperation through information exchange, bilateral agreements/memoranda of understanding as well as joint inspections. However, evidence so far suggests that this cooperation takes place primarily between neighbouring countries- and could be stepped up.
Joint inspections (e.g. inspections carried out in a Member State with the participation authorities of one or more other Member States) are an effective deterrent for undeclared work, as they bring together the investigative powers, expertise and resources of multiple partners. The cooperation between the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority and the Lithuanian Labour Inspectorate, underpinned by a specific Bilateral Agreement, illustrates the benefits of structured cooperation. For example, during the period 2017-2018 they performed a joint inspection in Lithuania to tackle unregistered activities in the construction sector. Labour inspectors, migration authorities, police officers and tax inspectors were involved. As a result, both countries learned about the locally applicable legislation and established good working relations. Other good practice examples include the creation of specialised units of labour inspectors and social security inspectors for joint inspections, especially when linked to cross-border employment, in Belgium.
More examples can be found in the Platform’s toolkits on Bilateral Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding and Cross-Border Inspections.
Social partners coming together across borders
Successful examples of problem-solving cooperation among social partners cooperating across the EU include the RAISE UP project, which has brought together eleven trade unions from Italy, Bulgaria, FYROM, Romania and Serbia to learn from each other and tackle undeclared work in agriculture across Europe.
Solidarity agreements were concluded in 2017-2018 between trade unions in Belgium, Bulgaria and Poland. These agreements guarantee workers’ protection by allowing them to benefit from services from other unions when employed abroad, and thus avoid undeclared work. All three organisations support other unions’ members in their country by providing information, advice, legal consultation and assistance concerning employment or other labour-related issues.
Moving up a gear: towards the European Labour Authority
The European Platform tackling undeclared work will soon be integrated as a permanent working group of the recently-established European Labour Authority (ELA), a new EU decentralised agency focusing on fair labour mobility. According to Jordi Curell, Chair of the Platform and ELA Interim Executive Director, ‘the move will allow the Platform to benefit from the ELA’s broader enforcement capacity, and to develop synergies with other tasks such as information provision, capacity building and support for joint inspections. At a time when ensuring fair mobility is more crucial than ever, this will help move up a gear in tackling undeclared work across Europe’.