European Law Monitor

Make your voice heard!

Free Movement of Workers

This is another fundamental and long standing principle of EU law. Basically, the Treaty lays down that any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States, in relation to employment, pay, and other conditions of work and employment is prohibited. In practice this means that a worker in a Member State has the right to

  • Accept offers of employment in another Member State
  • To move freely within the EU
  • To stay in a Member State for work purposes
  • To remain in the territory of another Member State after having been employed there.
  • Under Regulation 1612/68, directly discriminatory national laws, regulations, administrative actions or practices are prohibited.
  • A directly discriminatory measure limits, for example
  • Applications for employment
  • Offers of employment
  • The right of other EU nationals to take up employment
    by subjecting them to conditions which do not apply to host nationals.
  • Indirectly discriminatory national laws, regulations, administrative actions or practices are also prohibited under EU law.

Indirectly discriminatory measures operate irrespective of the nationality of the worker, but have as their exclusive or principal aim the exclusion of non nationals. One of the contentious areas in this field, is whether a linguistic requirement is a indirectly discriminatory requirement. It has the potential to be so because in general, more non nationals will be unable to speak the required national language than nationals. The rough rule of thumb that appears to have come out of the case law is that language requirements can´t go beyond what is necessary to meet the requirements of the job.

So if you are applying to be an Irish teacher then you obviously need to be able to speak Irish, but if you are applying to be a dentist then trying to impose a language requirement becomes less justifiable, particularly if you are moving to an area in which a number of nationals from your country actually live.

Prior to the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 countries, there was concern in the existing member states over the need to impose quotas on workers from the new member States to limit social, economic and employment disruption caused by a feared flood of economic migrants from the new member states into the old.

As this is a sensitive issue, the EU negotiated transitional arrangements of a flexible nature with the Central and East European Countries to allow the existing member states to limit movements of workers from the new member states for a period of up to seven years after enlargement.

However, once that transitional period is up, then the ordinary free movement of workers rules will apply to the new member states. Under Article 4 of Regulation 1612/68, it is prohibited to impose quotas on other workers from other EU countries in the way that you would on non EU workers.

National rules that limit the proportion of positions that other EU nationals may take up are prohibited under EU law. So once the transitional arrangements have finished, then this principle will apply, subject to the ordinary limitations justified on the grounds of public policy, public security or public health.