T2-09: Mobilising workers across borders

6 September 2019, 16:45–18:15

Chair: Søren Kaj Andersen


Cross-border labour markets and the role of trade unions in representing migrant workers’ interests

Adrien Thomas, Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research

New patterns of labour migration are on the rise. Temporary migration, circular migration, short-distance and long-distance migration, and cross-border work are reshaping labour markets and raising new challenges for labour market actors. This contribution will focus on the role and perspectives of trade unions, and critically discuss the extent of migrant workers’ involvement in trade union policy-making, taking as an example the case of Luxembourg.

Due to its multinational labour market, Luxembourg can serve as a laboratory giving valuable insights into larger debates around migrant worker participation and European citizenship. Situated in the heart of Europe, Luxembourg has a highly internationalized labour market. In 2010, 44 per cent of jobs were filled by cross-border workers who reside in a neighbouring country and work in Luxembourg, 27 per cent by resident immigrants and 29 per cent by native residents. Trade unions in Luxembourg have been relatively successful in representing this internationalized labour market. They have set up specific structures to recruit and regroup migrant workers as well as cross-border workers. With some success, since 35 per cent of Portuguese immigrant workers in Luxembourg are trade union members, as well as 27 per cent of Belgian immigrants and 19 per cent of French immigrants.

In the recent period, research on the renewal of trade unions has been interested in the programmatic and organizational revitalization of trade unionism. The creation of specific branches for migrant workers has been discussed as a possible means to favour organizing efforts directed at migrant workers. The example of Luxembourg suggests that the creation of specific migrant workers’ departments (be they cross-border workers or resident immigrants), combined with the weakness of inter-sectoral local union structures, can lead in the long-run to a situation in which unionized migrant workers mainly find themselves in contact with other fellow migrants. The existence of specific organizational structures might thus end up weakening the internal cohesion of trade union which arises among others from social interactions, even if they might be conflictual. The prevalence of servicing relationships between trade unions and members and workers reinforces the effects of this internal segmentation by establishing a relationship to union members that tends to resemble, in some instances, a relationship of social assistance.

The contribution will thus address the role of trade unions in shaping, aggregating and articulating the interests of migrant workers in a cross-border labour market. Beyond its contribution to the field of employment relations, this contribution will contribute to broader debates in the field of European studies and in the literature on the “new regionalism” on the role of non-state actors and civil society actors in the social fabric of cross-border regions. The contribution will provide empirical evidence. The respective data stems from (1) in-depth interviews with trade union representatives in Luxembourg; (2) various secondary data sources, particularly archive material.

Keywords: trade unions, immigration, cross-border work, free movement of labor, Europe

‘Labour on the move’

Logistics work and spatio-legal dynamics in the EU

Andrea Iossa, Lund University

Logistics work is characterised by a broad diversity. Working activities in logistics include a wide set of jobs that ranges from warehouse workers and seafarers to dockworkers, truck drivers and delivery couriers. However, they all share the participation to the processes of circulation of goods and products, i.e. the core of the logistics activity. This feature contributes in creating a close bond between logistics work and space – as also highlighted by studies and research produced in the last decade in critical geography. In this sense, logistics work can be conceptualised as ‘labour on the move’. However, working activities in logistics express different relationships with space. In the case of warehousing, for instance, working activities are spatially bound but they engage with the movement of goods, whereas transport work has an intrinsic mobility that encompasses also the working space, i.e. a truck on a road. In the context of the EU, the relationship of logistics work with space is however challenged by the interplay with the regulatory framework of EU internal market law. The possibility for companies to delocalise and outsource where labour is cheaper and to move goods across national borders under the scope of the EU economic freedoms, produces spatio-legal dynamics that affect working conditions and labour rights of logistics workers. For instance, a warehouse can be re-located in countries where it is more profitable, while transport services can be outsourced to companies established in countries other than those where the services will be performed. Consequently, working and employment conditions of logistics workers undergo a process of determination that challenges the fundamental principle of territoriality in labour law.

In light of the above, this paper explores the relationship between law and space in determining working conditions and labour rights of logistics workers in the EU. By applying a legal geographic perspective, the paper aims at disclosing how working conditions and labour rights of European logistics workers are determined by the interaction between law (including labour law and EU internal market law) and space in the EU internal market. This context is characterised by a mismatch between a uniform regulatory framework concerning the exercise of cross-border company operations such as delocalisation and outsourcing, and the diversity of labour law regimes. Accordingly, the paper discusses the spatio-legal implications of this interplay for logistics work.  The paper addresses this question by exploring the spatial attributes of logistics work, in particular of warehouse workers and truck drivers, and the spatial foundations of EU internal market law in relation with the application of labour law regulation.

The paper is an attempt to address the issues of logistics and logistics work from a labour law perspective. It is part of a postdoctoral research project that investigates working conditions and labour rights of logistics workers and the related legal strategies of trade unions by exploring the tensions between company cross-border operations of delocalisation and outsourcing and the territorial application of labour rules within the EU internal market. The project is designed to complement the analysis of legal sources with semi-structured interviews with legal advisors of European and national trade unions that organise logistics workers. Eventually, this would fill a gap in labour law scholarship. While logistics and logistics work constitute a well-established topic of research in fields such as critical geography, labour studies, and more recently, industrial relations, it is instead still an unexplored topic in the labour law field. Yet the logistics sector includes all the challenges that labour is facing in the contemporary transformation of global economy: the fragmentation of working conditions due to outsourcing and subcontracting, the vulnerability of migrant workers who constitute a major force in logistics labour, and the automation and digitalisation of production, including the issue related to the so-called gig economy, that increase pressures over workers’ productivity, among others. From being a marginal sector in the economy, logistics is now the paradigm of the post-Fordist world of employment and labour relations. Accordingly, logistics work represents a privileged observation point for understanding the current evolution of labour law regulation and its re-spatialisation. Within the EU, the spatial attributes of the working activities in the logistics sector and the spatial connotation of the regulatory framework of EU internal market law have implications for the working conditions and labour rights of the workers and influence the strategies that European trade unions undertaken.

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.

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