EU to outline benefits reforms, delayed by Brexit vote

Measures an attempt to make systems fairer for workers, states
By Alastair Macdonald
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 12/14/2016
The Big Ben bell tower on the Houses of Parliament is visible through a shaped foil balloon as demonstrators protest during a "March for Europe" against the Brexit vote result earlier in the year, in London, Sept. 3. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

BRUSSELS (Reuters) — The European Commission will unveil proposed changes on Tuesday in how governments treat unemployment and other benefits for citizens working in other EU states.

Officials said the package of measures, delayed by nearly a year as Brussels sought to avoid complicating a deal struck with Britain in a vain attempt to avoid a vote for Brexit, was an attempt to make systems fairer for workers and for states.

With Britain about to negotiate its withdrawal after a referendum vote in June that was partly driven by rejection of free immigration of workers from the rest of the EU, new rules will confirm a series of EU court decisions that backed mainly rich northwestern states in rejecting "benefit tourism" by poor Europeans who did not look for, or find, work after arriving.

"The freedom of movement of workers is not a right to reside for everyone," said one EU official, referring to one of four basic freedoms -- along with that of goods, services and capital -- which EU leaders insist Britain must continue to accept if it wants to negotiate continued membership of the single market.

One element on which former prime minister David Cameron had secured a promise of change across the bloc in his bid to avert the Brexit vote that cost him his job is absent. States will continue to have to pay full benefits to children of EU expatriates working in their countries, even if those children live in other countries with lower allowances and living costs.

Cameron had secured a pledge to let states cut benefits for children in poorer countries -- many of the 3 million foreign EU citizens in Britain are from ex-communist Eastern Europe. The deal lapsed, however, when Britons voted to leave the EU anyway.

Among other measures, people will be able to go on claiming unemployment benefit from home for six months, not just three, after they go abroad to seek work. Countries where people living across the border have worked and paid contributions will have to pay them unemployment benefit, not the state where they live.

Taking account of Europe's ageing population, the measures will clarify the responsibilities of states in providing long-term social care, not just medical benefits, for people who have worked and paid into social security systems in other states.

Legal protections will be tightened on social security rules for "posted workers" -- people working on contracts outside their home country. Their general conditions are at the heart of a related piece of legislation which is now being argued over by member states. Rich states say it will let workers from poorer countries undercut wages in their own national economies.

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