French leader presses labor rules in central Europe tour

By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER Markets Associated Press

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday pushed for tighter European Union rules to protect workers in France and other prosperous countries in Western Europe from cheaper labor stemming from the continent's eastern nations, so-called "posted workers."

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Macron said after meeting Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern in Salzburg that France and Austria "have the exact same views on this issue."

He said he considered the current rules as a "betrayal of the European spirit", insisting the European free market isn't supposed to benefit countries that have less protective workers' rights.

While abroad, posted workers continue to pay into the tax and social security systems of their home countries, allowing employers to hire them for less than in Western countries where welfare costs are higher. The largest number work in construction, but many also work as welders, electricians or caring for the elderly.

Macron wants to require companies to pay posted and local workers the same salaries and limit postings abroad to up to one year.

"I have good hope that we will be able to keep pushing forward on that issue", he said.

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Kern stressed that Europe needs to tackle the issue together. "We don't want Europe to get split up into old and new."

Although posted workers account for only a small fraction of the EU's total workforce, they are perceived as pricing out local workers in Western Europe, putting downward pressure on wages and exacerbating inequalities in wealth.

Last year, the European Commission proposed new rules to regulate the issue, requiring companies to pay posted and local workers the same. But the proposals haven't won the support many formerly communist member states in central and eastern Europe.

Macron and Kern were set to meet with the Czech and Slovak prime ministers later in the day.

Macron is on a three-day tour of central and eastern Europe, which is also aimed at reinvigorating European Union unity after Britain's decision to leave.

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Sylvie Corbet contributed from Paris.