From Labour Migration to Labour Mobility? the Spectre of the Multinational Worker in Europe

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
TW2.2.04 (Tower Two)
Rutvica Andrijasevic, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
Devi Sacchetto, UniversitÓ degli Studi di Padova, Padova, Italy
With its 28 member states, the European Union (EU) can now be considered a large labour market. Intra-EU labour mobility, enhanced by the posted workers directive and the activities of temporary work agencies, is a pivotal point around which EU citizenship is organised and one of the key drivers of economic integration, in particular of the new Eastern European member states into the EU. The freedom to move within the EU is overwhelmingly spoken about in terms of ‘East’ to ‘West’ labour mobility and subsequent social dumping due to workers’ willingness to work for low wages and in poor working conditions. Additionally, the debates focus on the question whether or not this is a form of welfare rather than labour migration.

In this paper we criticize social dumping (and welfare migration) as the main analytical framework though which labour mobility is currently tackled. We maintain that first, such a framework reduces EU labour migration to that from ‘East’ to ‘West’ Europe and therefore conceals other forms of mobility.

Based on the interviews with migrant EU workers we conducted at Foxconn’s electronic assembly plants in the Czech Republic, our argument in this paper is that the liberalization of movement in the EU is producing a workforce more aware of the European dimension of the labour market, of how to move from one country to another and of the ways in which to obtain work in different EU states. Differently from the idea of a resurgence of the state-centred guest-worker model in Europe, our data shows that labour mobility is driven by migrants’ themselves and that migrant workers opt for various work opportunities in different EU countries by comparing working conditions, wages and the costs of reproduction. We adopt the term ‘multinational’ workers in order to highlight these workers’ ability to exercise the freedom to move and take up work within the enlarged EU labor market. ‘Eastern’ European migrant workers appear then as a mobile workforce quite adaptable to flexible working regimes which in turn is, as we will show, modifying the way to stay in the workplace whereby the idea of an upward career has considerably weakened.

While very sensitive to the wage levels, this workforce does not seem to posses the ability to build collective protest and prefers individual exit strategies. Moreover, it also has a negative perception of the trade unions. While EU migrant workers are interested in earning good wages during the brief time they spend in a job, trade union’s priorities are geared towards building long-term relationships with employers and employees. These different positions result in conflicts as well as indifferences between EU migrant workers and trade unions and consequently, as we show, weaken the labour power of both local and migrant workers. Finally, the emerging figure of the ‘multinational’ worker, enabled and created by internal-EU mobility, challenges the strategies and attitudes of the trade unions, operating within the boundaries of a nation state and committed to representation of nationals rather than migrant workers.