The news that unemployment in the UK remains at a high level and looks set to stay high for the foreseeable future has sent a shiver down the spines of many currently looking for work. The situation is even more acute in the 16-24-year old age group, where one in five is currently out of work.
Amidst the bleak economic outlook UK citizens are increasingly looking abroad for opportunities to work and gain experience. The UK’s legal status with the EU means that UK citizens are free to move to any EU member state to work and live, something that more and more seem to be attracted towards.
Understanding EU employment law
European member states enjoy considerable diversity when it comes to employment law, with each country entitled to implement its own spin on workers rights.
That said, there are some employment laws and rights that have been created by the EU and therefore apply across all member states. Important examples of employment law areas where EU law applies to all member states include:
- Rights not to be discriminated against at work on the grounds of race, religion, gender, age, disability status or sexual orientation
- Rights for women and men to be treated equally when accessing employment and training and in working conditions and pay
- Rights to a maximum number of hours in a working week
- Rights to an employment contract within two months of starting work
- Rights to maintain your employment terms and conditions if your employer is taken over by another business
- Rights to maternity and paternity leave
- Rights to have your personal and private data protected
However it is worth noting that each EU member state has autonomy over the way EU law is implemented within their territory and therefore you will find variations in the way these rights are enforced from state to state.
A good example of this is the implementation of equality law in Germany, where freelancers and consultants are not entitled to benefit from anti-discrimination law, and where discrimination on the basis of age is lawful in some circumstances. As a result of these national variations, it is important for anyone considering working abroad to take legal advice on the employment law in whichever state they intend to work in.
Outside of the standard EU laws each member state is free to determine the level of employment law protection afforded to its workforce. The national variations can be quite subtle but no less important. For example in Spain, employment roles are categorised, with each category subjected to a different set of laws known as the ‘convenio colectivo’. Pay is divided into 14 payments, one per month plus two extra, one in July and one in December. Employees are entitled in Spain to time off for marriage, the birth of a child or the death of a family member.
Rights to a national minimum wage are not set EU-wide, and you will therefore find considerable variation between member states. For example Germany, Italy and Sweden have no national minimum wage law. Many EU countries do offer a minimum wage, but there is also variation with the amount, with Spain offering just €4.26 whilst Luxembourg offers employees €10.41.