Posted workers reform between trade union concerns and symbolic EU politics

Jens Arnholtz, FAOS, University of Copenhagen

Posted workers have been high on the EU´s political agenda for more than a decade. Since early 2008, trade union have called for a revision of the Posting of Workers directive, and in 2018 such a revision was adopted. This article argues that the process leading to this revision reveals a fundamental dilemma for European trade unions. On the one hand, the revision can be seen as a major victory for trade unions, because they have been the ones consistently putting this on the agenda. Therefore, the fact that a revision has come about, despite fierce opposition from employers, many member states and parts of the EU institutions, testifies to the ability of trade unions to set the agenda for EU social policy if they invest enough resources in it. Drawing on interviews, news reports and official documents, the paper traces the ten-year process to show how trade unions have struggled to make the revision become reality. On the other hand, the revision is also a partial failure for trade unions, because it does not change much about the problem they actually encounter. Drawing on interviews with trade union representatives in several member states, the paper shows that they are quite dissatisfied with the reform they have mobilized for so long. The paper argues that case illustrates a fundamental problem for European trade unions in the EU policy sphere – namely that in order to mobilize political support for controversial reforms they have to play a game of symbolic EU politics in which central trade union concerns are sidelined.