End of the Worker Registration Scheme?

About 10 months ago I wrote a post on the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS), speculating on it’s planned demise come May 1st 2009.

As May Day approaches, that old post has been getting more and more hits;  presumably people are searching the web trying to find out if the WRS really is about to end. Is it worth paying £90 to register your employment for a couple of months?  That was the question a settled Polish worker asked of me the other day, in regard to his recently arrived son (adding that many people don’t bother registering these days anyway).

No one seems to know for sure if the WRS will end on May 1st. You can vote on what you think will happen in our wee poll at the end of this message, but first…

To recap…

One of the pillars of the European Union is the freedom of movement of workers. But when new countries join the EU, the existing members are allowed to derogate from this, and temporarily restrict access to their labour market for nationals of the new member states. <Click here for a European Commission background summary (pdf)>

When ten countries joined the EU in 2004, the UK was one of three “old EU” members states to place no restrictions on access to the domestic labour market (the other two were Ireland and Sweden). Most of the other old EU states have now removed their restrictions too – only Denmark, Belgium, Austria and Germany retain barriers.

Instead of restrictions, the UK government introduced a mandatory “light touch” registration scheme to monitor numbers of workers from eight of the ten new states – the Worker Registration Scheme for the A8 accession state nationals. Until you have worked for 12 months without a break, you will only qualify as a worker (which confers the “right to reside” and thus the right to state support like public housing and welfare benefits) while registered on the WRS. After the 12 months, you have equal rights with other European residents (although you may have trouble persuading a housing authority or benefits assessor)

As far as I can see, the WRS legislation only covers the defined accession period, which ends at midnight on 30 April 2009. Which would mean that from 1 May,  A8 nationals will no longer need to register in order to qualify as a worker under EU law. (in fact, as the requirement is to register within 28 days, you could set the date at 3 April). After this time, like other European nationals, to have worker status (and access to state support should you need it) you just need to be a worker (or in some cases have been a worker).

Member states can apply to the European Commission to extend their restrictions for up to 2 more years if they can demonstrate a “serious disturbance of it’s labour market or a threat of such a disturbance”.  But the UK has never introduced any restrictions, and the European Commission has found no evidence of any such disturbances in Europe caused by movement of A8 workers.

I suppose it could be argued that as the WRS is not a transitional restriction, then it can be retained without applying to the EC. But at the end of the this transitional phase, could it really be argued to be necessary? Or could it be seen as discriminatory?

Remember, although described as merely a monitoring mechanism, the WRS does present a barrier to employment (you have to pay £90 for your job to be legal) and to state support (no council housing, homeless assistance or unemployment benefits if you lose your job before 12 uninterrupted months of registered employment).

But the the EC treaty states:

Free movement of workers precludes Member States from directly or indirectly discriminating against EU workers and their families on the basis of nationality in employment related matters. It also ensures equal treatment as regards public housing, tax advantages and social advantages.

So what will happen for migrant workers’ rights on May Day?

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