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Free movement of workers: taking stock of their rights

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Free movement of workers: taking stock of their rights

This Communication aims to inform European citizens of their rights when they wish to work in another country European Union (EU) country. They must be treated in the same way as national workers with regard to access to employment, working conditions, taxation and social benefits.


Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 13 July 2010 - Reaffirming the free movement of workers: rights and major developments [COM(2010) 373 final - Not published in the Official Journal].


Since the establishment of the principle of the free movement of persons in the European Union (EU), many obstacles to mobility have been abolished. The Commission therefore presents the main legal developments which have improved the rights of European migrant workers. In addition, the promotion of mobility is an objective of the new Europe 2020 Strategy.

Free movement of workers

The principle of the free movement of persons applies to all European citizens whose period of residence does not exceed three months. After that period, the exercise of the freedom of movement is subject to certain conditions. However, migrant workers enjoy better conditions than non-active citizens.

The principle of free movement of workers entitles all European citizens to work in another EU country (Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU - TFEU). Certain countries may impose registration formalities on workers after a period of three months, but no other residence condition.

Self-employed workers (Article 49 of the TFEU) and posted workers in the context of the provision of services are subject to other provisions.

Migrant workers are those who have:

  • an income, including a limited income or benefits in kind. Only voluntary work is excluded from the definition;
  • a relationship of subordination, which characterises gainful employment (i.e. the employer determines the choice of activity, remuneration, working conditions, etc.);
  • genuine and effective work, because the activity must not be marginal or accessory. However, part-time work, traineeships and certain forms of training are recognised;
  • a cross-border link, i.e. the worker must reside or work in an EU country other than his or her country of origin.

Other categories of citizen may benefit from the freedom of movement of workers if their period of residence exceeds three months:

  • members of the migrant worker’s family, irrespective of their nationality. They have access to the social advantages of the host country;
  • people retaining the status of worker, even if they are no longer employed in the host country (in the case of temporary inability to work, involuntary unemployment, etc.);
  • jobseekers, if they can prove that they are actively seeking employment.

Access to employment

Migrant workers must be able to pursue their professional activities under the same conditions as national workers. They may not be discriminated against with regard to:

  • the exercise of a regulated profession, because they can apply for recognition of their professional qualifications or training;
  • language requirements, which must only be reasonable and necessary for the job in question;
  • access to the public sector, except for certain types of job which require participation in the exercise of powers conferred by public law;
  • the free movement of professional and semi-professional sportsmen.

Jobseekers have access to public employment services and financial benefits intended to facilitate access to employment in the labour market of the host Member State.

Equal treatment of workers

Any discrimination with regard to employment, remuneration and working conditions is prohibited.

Migrant workers are treated in the same way as national workers:

  • they are subject to the laws and collective agreements of the host State;
  • they enjoy the same social advantages linked to their status as residents or workers, from the first day of their employment;
  • they may not be discriminated against in the area of tax on the basis of their nationality or their status as migrant workers.

Reinforce the rights of EU citizens

Following the publication of the communication of the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council adopted in April 2014 Directive 2014/54/EU on measures facilitating the exercise of rights conferred on workers in the context of freedom of movement for workers.

Basically, the Directive aims to:

  • guarantee an appropriate legal redress at national scale for workers migrating to the EU when they believe they are victims of discrimination based on the grounds of nationality;
  • offer the associations, organisations and other legal entities the possibility of administrative or legal proceedings on behalf of or in support of workers travelling in the EU whose rights have been infringed;
  • supply better information to workers looking to exercise their right to freedom of movement and public or private employers in this field;
  • encourage dialogue with the non-governmental organisations (NGO).


Directive 2014/54/EU of the European Parliament and the Council of 16 April 2014 on measures facilitating the exercise of rights conferred on workers in the context of freedom of movement for workers.

Last updated: 04.06.2014