Underpaid, unpaid, undeclared, and overworked. Unfortunately, this is the reality of working conditions under public procurement contracts. The current public procurement directive is not fit for purpose when it comes to ensuring dignity at work.
On 15 November 2022, UNI Europa presented its campaign “No public contract without a collective agreement” to the European Parliament’s trade union intergroup which included Sara Matthieu (Greens, BE), Nikolaj Villumsen (The Left, DK), Daniela Rondinelli (Independent, Italy), Marianne Vind (S&D, DK), Marc Angel (S&D, LU), Ilan De Basso (S&D, SE), Marc Botenga (The Left, BE), Leila Chaibi (The Left, FR), Estrella Dura (S&D, ES), and Milan Brglez (S&D, SI).
A worker experience in working for a public contract
Nordine Amghar, who works as a cleaner in the European Institutions through a public contract, told the MEPs his experience of how public procurement affects both his wage and working conditions.
“With public contracts awarded to the lowest bidding company it is the companies that promise to do the most with the least resources that win the bid,” explained Nordine.
“Companies might get less money, but the cleaning work for us cleaners remain the same. What happens is that ultimately we are the ones who pay for this,” he concluded.
In Belgium, a company taking over a contract needs to keep the same workers and working conditions for at least 6 months. After 6 months, the companies generally reduce the working hours. That means that you need to do the same job, in less hours and thus for less pay. For example, if a company receives a certain budget for 300 m2 cleaning, after 6 months the contractor needs to stretch that same budget to cover a much bigger surface: 1000 m2. It is the workers who pay for this with higher workloads. When employees complain, the companies simply state that if they don’t offer to work at low prices, other companies will, and the reality for the workers stays the same. It is obvious that the system is to blame.
Several MEPs reacted, Nikolaj Villumsen (The Left, DK) and Daniela Rondinelli (Independent, Italy) agreed that there is an important role for the EMPL committee and that we must take the opportunity to push the European Commission:
“Public money should not go to social dumping. We need better working conditions and decent pay. That is why we need to change the rules,” said MEP Nikolaj Villumsen (The Left, DK)
“I support the revision of the directive, underlining how the current legislation, focused only on price, is detrimental for workers’ rights, pay and working conditions. Only by aligning the public procurement directive with other EU legislations, such as the minimum wage directive and ensuring that all workers are covered by the most representative collective agreements, we can ensure that workers are adequately protected and fairly remunerated,” said MEP Daniela Rondinelli (Independent, Italy)
?? Key messages from today’s Trade Union Intergroup of @Europarl_EN:
✅ No public money via public procurement to companies that do not respect workers’ rights.
✅ We defend the Single Market in crisis times, but never give up on fundamental rights, such as the right to strike. pic.twitter.com/0w7VCODhiW
— Marc Angel (@MarcAngel_lu) November 15, 2022
Embed facebook Post from Marianne Vind:
Currently, one in two public tenders is awarded solely on the basis of the lowest price. Contractors are not required to pay a certain salary to their workers in line with collectively agreed levels. This practice gives an advantage to the undercutters and cowboys in the market, which in turn puts a negative pressure on wages and working conditions in other companies. This vicious circle should be transformed into a virtuous one in which public money promotes good employers. For this, public procurement needs to demand contractors to pay collectively agreed wages and look at more than the price for awarding contracts.
UNI Europa’s campaign explains that the problem of underpaid, unpaid, undeclared, and overworked workers working for public money on public contracts can be mitigated by ensuring that all workers, working under a public contract, are covered by the applicable collective agreement. Workers who are represented and covered by a collective agreement are less likely to experience these unfair conditions.
At the meeting, UNI Europa presented solutions to be addressed in the different stages of the public procurement process, including the award criteria, selection criteria and exclusion criteria.
Note on legislative procedure:
The review of the public procurement directive is overdue.
The review report that could propose a legal act to revise the public procurement directive was scheduled for 2019. This was postponed until 2021. In 2021, the European Commission further postponed the process until 2024 in its response that it will take the experts 3 years to prepare the review report of the public procurement directive.