Sunday, 22 May, 2022

Social dumping: there will be pork!

Destabilized by the exploitation in Germany of underpaid eastern workers, the French pork industry fears for its future. Hollande and PS deputies take up the subject.

It had haunted the 2005 referendum on the European Constitution. This is what risks animating, in the midst of a recession, the campaign for the European elections in May 2014. The Bolkestein directive on services, and its big sister of 1996, on “posted workers”, are back, accused of favoring social dumping between EU countries. Especially in the food industry. The French slaughterhouses, in very great difficulty, attribute their misfortunes to the social dumping of their German competitors, who abuse the directive to underpay workers from the East.

Thursday, François Hollande was moved. In his opening speech at the social conference, the Head of State explained that he could not “not accept that there may be, in the name of this directive, distorted competition which destroys employment in France”. Nor that we can “utilize […] the misfortune of a certain number of countries to bring in European workers by paying them at levels which are not reasonable”. He promised to bring minimum wage issues and “the organization of tax harmonization in Europe”, Thursday and Friday, in the European Council. A first step. For several months, parliamentarians have been alarmed. After the “myth of the Polish plumber”, writes the senator (PCF) Eric Bocquet in a parliamentary report, it is “the specter of the Portuguese mason or the Romanian agricultural worker” which hovers. “This directive was progress: before 1996, it was absolute jungle, explains the chosen one. But since the crisis and the race to reduce costs, it has been circumvented constantly.

Germanophobia. In their ridings, some elected officials hear expressions that we thought had disappeared: “schleus”,“boches”, Where “Colorado beetle”, all on the germanophobia range. “I don’t give six to nine months for us to have a German flag burned in Brittany during a demonstration. A whole very Europhile region is turning around, worries Gwénégan Bui, MP (PS) for Finistère, a department affected by the closure of slaughterhouses (read opposite). We can always make beautiful speeches on Franco-German friendship, if we do not settle these questions we will destroy Europe.

Why Germany? Because in the absence of a minimum wage there, very large slaughterhouses pay workers from Eastern Europe less than 10 euros an hour (read page 5). An abuse of European law, because the employment contract of a posted worker must comply with the law of the host country. Only social contributions are paid in the country of origin. Problem : “The absence of a truly effective control device [a créé] a formidable tool of unfair competition, particularly in the construction and agri-food sectors”, insist the deputies (PS) Gilles Savary and Chantal Guittet as well as Michel Piron (UDI), in a report published at the end of May.

But it is not just across the Rhine that posted workers are called upon. In France, the number of these low-cost employees is estimated at 300,000 (1.5 million within the EU, according to the Commission). This makes France the second host country behind Germany. Sometimes for good reasons (labour shortage), sometimes for bad ones (cost reduction). In the construction industry alone, their number has tripled in three years, to reach 64,000 in 2011. When they are declared… These employees sometimes pass through “letterbox” companies, without physical existence in the country of origin, allowing the company to be exempt from social security contributions. “I saw a pay slip for a Portuguese employee on a Clermont-Ferrand site: 2.89 euros per hour”,illustrates Bocquet.

“Poison”. With unemployment at its highest, “we see the National Front seizing on this question to make an anti-European rant of it”, alert Guillaume Garot, the Minister Delegate for Agrifood. Deputy Gilles Savary abounds: “This situation installs a violent, insidious poison in public opinion.” The parliamentarian puts forward solutions: mobile work agency at EU level, European vital card, reference minimum wage, blacklist of companies. At the Ministry of Agriculture, we admit to being satisfied to see Germany and the countries of the East taken little by little in a vice by media criticism and complaints from European countries.. Without, however, trumpeting it too loudly.

What to scare Merkel? Not really… During her visit to Paris at the end of May, the Chancellor spoke of simple “misunderstandings”, and unblinkingly assumed the policy of low wages. And Brussels? The Commission is committed to strengthening the means of combating abuse. And, at the dawn of the 2014 campaign, the European Parliament could also get started. To his great surprise, MP Gwénégan Bui received a positive response from the President of Parliament, the German Martin Schulz. In his letter, the Social Democrat denounces “the massive hiring of seconded workers at low cost” who “directly undermines the foundations of our social model”. Enough to encourage poor French deputies, such as Jean-Luc Drapeau, elected (PS) from Deux-Sèvres, the agricultural territory concerned in the first place: “How do you want farmers to accept environmental or health measures when they only see in Europe constraints and unfair competition?”

Pictures Isabelle Rimbert