Landing a job at the European Commission or EU institutions in Luxembourg is no longer the lucrative career path it once was if you are a contract worker.
Currently, around 1,000 “Agents Contractuals” (ACs) are employed in Luxembourg in education, IT or services, around a third of which earn below the national minimum wage for qualified staff of 2,300 euros.
Yet, despite the low salaries, the Commission, which employs 550 ACs, the EU Parliament (250 ACs) and Court of Justice and Accounts (200 ACs), manage to fill the roles, mainly by recruiting from abroad.
Pierre*, a contract worker from the Greater Region, said that people from eastern Europe tended to accept roles because compared to their home countries, the salaries are better. “When they arrive and see the cost of living, they may stay six or seven months before leaving.”
Getting paid less for the same work as your colleagues
Meanwhile, about 60 percent of ACs at the bottom of the wage scale are cross-border workers like Pierre. They commute to Luxembourg, where they will work alongside people with civil servant status, who are paid considerably more, receive subsidised healthcare and the thirteenth month bonus.
“ACs do the same work and get paid less. It creates a lot of frustration,” said Pierre, adding: “We’ve the right to find another job but in any case, compared to our country of origin, we’re still better paid (in Luxembourg). The institutions play on that, if you like.”
The status of contractual worker was created in 2004 to offer support for short-term projects. It is rapidly becoming the norm, according to “Union Syndicale Luxembourg” (USL) president Miguel Vicente Nunez, who says ACs now account for almost a tenth of all staff employed at the Commission and EU institutions.
The USL has deplored the practice of social dumping, organising a number of strikes. Measures have been taken in recent years to introduce a kind of allowance to supplement AC earnings, “but this is not taken into account in the pension”, Pierre explained.
“The advantages do not outweigh the disadvantages”
ACs are also entitled to a small discount on canteen purchases with a special card. Pierre, however, suggests this exacerbates the problem. “It’s worse because then it stigmatises people. It suggests they don’t have enough to pay for their food.”
Despite the wage differences, Pierre says he cannot fault his working conditions, which he says are “uncomparable”. But “the advantages do not outweigh the disadvantages”.
The union has launched a legal case to have the national minimum wage applied to AC earnings, the outcome of which is pending. It has also met with Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and a number of MEPs to find a solution. It has not ruled out further strikes in future if the matter is not resolved.