This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 320294

EU

What is work?

As is well known, the notion of free movement across the EU is based upon the idea of an ‘economic market’ and the worker citizen.  Indeed, the aim of the free movement directive was to enable workers from states with high unemployment levels to move to those with high labour needs, thus regulating supply and demand within EU labour markets.

Nonetheless, in spite of, or perhaps because of the interactions of national and EU legislation and case law reinforcing the model of the worker citizen, what counts as work is somewhat vague. There is no autonomous definition of worker in EU law, rather its interpretation rests on EU case law and the definition has developed in a somewhat ad hoc and ill-defined manner. To attain worker status, work has to be deemed to be ‘genuine and effective’ and not on such a small scale as to be ‘marginal and ancillary’.

Given the importance of worker status for exercising treaty rights, some member states – most notably the UK – have tightened up considerably on the definition of ‘worker’ in an effort limit EU nationals’ access to welfare benefits, thereby constraining the space for exercising European citizenship rights. In the UK, EU nationals have been found not eligible for social assistance on the basis that they do not have a ‘right to reside’ but also because they were not previously ‘workers’. Among other things, a new Minimum Earnings Threshold of £150 a week (equivalent to working 24 hours a week at National Minimum Wage) has been introduced, as a measure of whether work is ‘genuine and effective’. Potentially, then EU nationals in particularly precarious, low waged work may discover that, for the purposes of claiming welfare benefits, their work no longer counts as ‘work’ at all.

Exploring constructions of insiders and outsiders for the purposes of WP10 has highlighted both how such constructions are constantly shifting, and the boundaries overlapping, and that hierarchies of in/exclusion reveal the linkages between citizenship and the labour market that have been present across time and place.