It has never been easier to live and work in another European country. Emma Bird provides the lowdown on your rights as a migrant worker.
Most people are aware of their basic rights such as the right to work and retire in whichever European Union (EU) country you want, the right to be treated as an equal as the nationals of that country and the right to apply for any job advertised in the EU providing you meet the criteria. Right? But throw in an unexpected turn of events and you may be left wondering what those rights are after all. When I was unexpectedly made redundant in Milan, I had no idea how to find out whether or not I could claim unemployment benefit. That was back in 2001 when the EU had 'only' 15 members.
Thankfully, things have moved on since then and a rapidly-expanding EU means the powers-that-be have had no option but to get to grips with migrant workers and ensure that their employment rights are protected no matter what member state they are based in. As a result, procedures have been streamlined throughout the EU and protocol standardised. Currently citizens of the original 15 EU countries plus Malta and Cyprus have full mobility rights in Europe. The other eight accession countries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia still have restricted rights to work in other countries which will not be lifted in full until 2011. Citizens of the newest countries Bulgaria and Romania, which joined in January of this year, will not have full EU rights until 2014.
Right to settle
You can move freely within the EU for up to three months. However, if you are planning to stay for a longer period you will need to prove that you are either working or studying in the host country or have sufficient resources for you and any family members moving with you to cover your stay in the host country. You no longer need to apply for a work permit. However, you will still need to register with the police in your host country, no later than three months after your arrival, in order to request a residence permit for a national of an EU member state. It is valid for five years and automatically renewable.
If you are unemployed, you have the right to live in an EU country for a 'reasonable period' in order to look for a job. This is normally a six month period but each country is different. In some situations, this period may be extended. Where you have been receiving unemployment benefit in your home country before leaving for your new country, you are entitled to receive this benefit for a further three months while you look for a job. To do so, you must have been registered as seeking employment for four weeks before leaving, and you must notify your local office at least two weeks beforehand so that the necessary formalities may be completed. Seven days after arriving in the host member state, you must also register with the local employment agency. Whether or not you can claim unemployment benefit in the host country depends on the terms and conditions of your employment. Some countries do not provide unemployment benefit and others do.
The qualifications in the following professions are automatically recognised in another EU country: architect, midwife, pharmacist, doctor, nurse, dentist and veterinary surgeon. For other qualifications, professional experience acquired in different member states should be treated as having the same status as a qualification gained in the host member state. Nevertheless, just because you are qualified in your home country, this does not mean that you will automatically find work in the new country. Southern European countries, for example, are multi-active which means that they are low-trust societies. You may find it difficult to find work unless you are an active networker and have built up a good level of contacts no matter how well you speak the language.
Social security and welfare
Current EU regulations stipulate that you are entitled to the same social security and welfare benefits as nationals of the host country. These rights cover sickness and maternity benefits, disability, benefits payable for accidents at work, occupational illness, death and unemployment, as well as family allowances. To qualify, you must pay the same contributions as nationals of the host country.
Conditions of employment
You are subject to the same working conditions as nationals of the country you are working in. Whether you are a man or a woman, you should be treated equally and have the same rights and opportunities in the workplace.
Maternity leave varies from one country to the next. However, all women are entitled to the following before and after pregnancy:
- - no obligation to work at night during the pregnancy - a continuous period of maternity leave of at least 14 weeks, which must include the two weeks before and/or after the birth - time off for antenatal examinations if they are carried out during work hours and protection from dismissal during pregnancy.
Employers cannot insist on employing a native speaker as long as you speak the host language to the level necessary in order to fulfil the obligations of your position. Serving hamburgers, for instance, invariably requires a much lower level of the language than working in corporate marketing. When applying for work in a new country, don't expect potential employers to necessarily be aware of this legislation. As Nannette Ripmeester, expert in employment in Europe and managing director of Expertise in Labour Mobility, points out: "In your covering letter, make the company aware that you do not need a work permit because you are an EU passport holder and therefore the hiring procedure does not change. If they do not know, it is up to you to diplomatically tell them."
Emma Bird is an employment expert for Italy and the author of Starting a Business in Italy. She has a first degree in European Studies, French and Italian and is the managing director of www.howtoitaly.com.