International cooperation required to effectively combat undeclared work
Source: AVI / Occupational Safety and Health 17 January 2022
The phenomena related to the shadow economy and financial crime are becoming increasingly international which means that their effective prevention also requires international cross-border cooperation. One such phenomenon is undeclared work and the abuse of workers strongly associated with it. The challenges – and, unfortunately, the parties related to the phenomenon – are usually familiar to the authorities of different countries. Therefore, it is of vital importance to find the opportunities for collaboration particularly in geographical areas that form a unified labour market.
Joint project of the Nordics and the Baltic region to combat undeclared work
Fortunately, in the past few years, the EU has granted project funding for cooperation development, which has enabled addressing the subject in a more long-term scale. In 2017 and 2018, a Nordic project aimed at enhancing the existing cooperation with cross-border inspections and by sharing the best practices established in the inspections. The project increased our understanding on the importance of cooperation between the destination countries receiving workers and the countries from and through which workers are posted in Nordic countries. The project was used as the foundation for another project combatting undeclared work carried out in 2019–2021, in which the Baltic countries, excluding Lithuania, were included in addition to the labour protection authorities of the Nordics.
This project had four key themes, and their implementation was enabled by assigning each theme to a working group that was tasked with coordinating it. One of the working groups focused on inspections and inspector exchange and particularly examined the transport sector and new forms of work. The practical aspects of inspections were an important part of the working group’s tasks. Another working group was tasked with developing preventative measures, communications and information flow. Related to this, a large joint public awareness campaign was implemented simultaneously in all participating countries. The third working group focused on the impact of information and analysis of information. The key goal of this working group was to develop tools to increase the impact of operations and for risk assessment. The last and one of the most important working groups examined the cooperation between different authorities and included other stakeholders in the work as well. The work of this group was vital during the project and particularly after it. The importance of stakeholder participation is highlighted as the work to prevent undeclared work is included in the activities of companies. Prevention of undeclared work is everyone’s responsibility; the authorities can only address a part of the observed issues due to limited resources.
Project successfully increased cooperation between countries
The project was negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic at its most critical stage, but overall, the project was a success. A total of 250 specialists from the seven participating countries took part in the project. In addition, the project collaboration included working with other EU countries and the European Labour Authority (ELA) and the European platform against undeclared work took part in organising events. ELA organised a training on cross-border inspections that we took part in as trainers. The project’s public awareness campaigns reached more than one million people. Several seminars and webinars were organised during the course of the project, the most important of which were related to the transport sector and new forms of work. In addition, some one hundred inspections in seven sectors were carried out and these reached at least twice the number of companies.
The participating countries are making use of the results achieved, and cooperation between different countries will continue. Although it did not take part in the project, Lithuania has also committed to take part in the cooperation. The fight against undeclared work continues and cross-border cooperation is required. Together we are stronger.
Report from Nordic Baltic undeclared work project 2019–2021 (PDF 1,29 MB)
The Food Fraud Network report for 2019 has been published – more information about suspected cross-border food fraud violations was exchanged than in the previous year
Source: Finnish Food Authority, 24 August 2020
The EU Food Fraud Network publishes an annual report on network cooperation and information exchange on suspected crime in the food chain. According to the 2019 report, cooperation increased again at the EU level from the previous year. A total of 292 cases were reported to the information exchange system.
As in previous years, the most valuable product categories were, yet again, highly represented in the statistics, although their mutual order changed: most reports concerned greases and oils (44 reports), followed by fishing products (42) and meat products (28). Most often, the suspected violations of food law concerned packaging labels (47%). They were followed by the replacement of an ingredient by another and cases where an ingredient was diluted, added or removed (20%).
The number of reported cases does not represent the actual total number of suspected cross-border violations or cases in the food chain in the EU, as the use of the information exchange system was still voluntary in 2019. However, the number of requests for action and information distributed has so far risen each year: 157 in 2016, 178 in 2017, 234 in 2018, and 292 in 2019.
The report includes a more detailed description of a saffron case, in which the Spanish authorities found, during their operation Sativus, a laboratory at which fake saffron had been produced. A total of 87 kg of saffron were seized with an estimated market value of EUR 783,000.
The report also includes a detailed description of a series of criminal activities related to illegal trading in European eels and gives an account of OPSON projects coordinated by Europol and Interpol. In 2019, these focused on organic fraud, fake coffee and life-threatening DNP used as a weight loss product.
The full report is available on the European Commission’s website: The EU Food Fraud Networkand the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation System (PDF 7,22 MB). In Finland, the Finnish Food Authority participates in the work of the EU Food Fraud Network. Finnish Customs leads OPSON cooperation.
Watch the video of the Fraud Network published at the website of the European Commission:
The Food Fraud Network report for 2018 has been published – more cases of cross-border food fraud investigated than in the previous year
Source: Finnish Food Authority, 23 April 2019
The EU’s Food Fraud Network publishes an annual report on network cooperation and information exchange on suspected food fraud. The report for 2018 was published on 12 April 2019. It indicates that the Member States and Norway made 234 requests to the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation System. The European Commission created 33 requests.
As in previous years, the most valuable food groups were most heavily represented in the statistics: the majority of requests made last year concerned fish and fish products (45). Meat and meat products ranked second (41) and fats and oils third (29). Suspected violations of food legislation most often concerned mislabelling (41.89%), falsified or missing documentation (20.19%), and replacement of an ingredient or the dilution/addition/removal of an ingredient (19.25%).
The number of requests does not represent the actual number of cases of food fraud or suspicions of food fraud in the EU, as the use of the system is voluntary and may only be used in cross-border cases. However, the number of requests for assistance and cooperation has risen each year: 157 in 2016, 178 in 2017 and 234 in 2018.
In addition to statistics, the report provides a more detailed description of two example cases that were assessed with the aid of the EU Food Fraud Network. One case concerns olive oil and the other tuna. The entire report is available on the European Commission website: The EU Food Fraud Network and the System for Administrative Assistance – Food Fraud [.ﬁ]›. In Finland, the Finnish Food Authority participates in the work of the EU Food Fraud Network
European Labour Authority to strengthen the fairness of the Internal Market
Source: Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment 16.11.2018
The European Commission presented a Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European Labour Authority (ELA) on 13 March 2018. The proposal plays a role in strengthening fairness and social rights as a whole. The ELA contributes to the roll out of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Establishing the ELA will also enable the Commission to enforce EU legislation more effectively.
Both parties to the legislative process, the European Parliament and the European Council, are currently processing the Proposal.
The ELA should be up and running in 2019 in Brussels and reach its full operational capacity by 2023.
Role of the new labour authority
The ELA will promote fair labour mobility in the Internal Market. Three special tasks:
- Facilitate access for individuals and employers to information on their rights and obligations, as well as to relevant services
- Support cooperation between EU countries in the cross-border enforcement of relevant Union law, including facilitating joint inspections
- Mediate and facilitate a solution in cases of cross-border disputes between national authorities or labour market disruptions, and quickly and efficiently resolve any cross-border disputes.
The ELA will help to secure workers' and citizens' rights to equal treatment. Access to employment opportunities and social protection will be guaranteed in cross-border situations. The ELA will provide transparency for businesses on local labour standards throughout the Internal Market. It will also support cooperation between national authorities to ensure that workers' and citizens' social rights are respected, and to prevent fraud and abuse.
The functions of the ELA
The ELA will provide operational and technical support for Member States in the enforcement of EU legislation concerning cross-border labour mobility and the coordination of social security. In practice, the ELA would be tasked with the following:
- providing information and services to individuals and employers, and
- supporting Member States in cooperation, information exchange, simultaneous or joint inspections, risk assessment, the development of capabilities, mediation, and cooperation relating to cross-border labour market disruptions.
What is Finland's opinion on the ELA?
Finland has supported cross-border cooperation to facilitate mobility. Finland's priorities also include the prevention of undeclared work and abuse. In general, Finland agrees with the role and tasks assigned to the European Labour Authority.
However, the assistance provided by the ELA must bring added value and may not reduce the powers of national authorities or the role of labour market organisations in the supervision of compliance with collective agreements or the enforcement of social security legislation.
The ELA shall support the operations of national authorities and fit into the existing governance structure on labour mobility and social security coordination. Finland presents this opinion with reservations and will modify it as needed as the processing of the Proposal for a Regulation progresses.
European Commission Proposal for a Regulation establishing a European Labour Authority (PDF 1,07 MB)
European Commission press release of 13 March 2018 [.ﬁ]›
Government Communication on the Proposal for a Regulation establishing a European Labour Authority issued on 24 May 2018 in Finnish [.ﬁ]›
Further information: Lippe Koivuneva, Senior Government Adviser, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment email@example.com
EU platform provides new tools and good practices for the prevention of undeclared work
Source: The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment
The Commission supports the prevention of undeclared work with the help of a EU-level platform. In March 2016, the Commission set up a European platform against undeclared work, given how challenging it is for the authorities of Member States to address undeclared work in cross-border situations. The platform’s work focuses on:
- the promotion of cross-border cooperation of authorities,
- increasing knowledge bases and competence, and
- learning from the best practices of other countries
The prevention of undeclared work is the task of several authorities. Key operators include tax, industrial safety and social security authorities as well as the Police, border guards and employers’ organisations and trade unions.
The measures to prevent undeclared work aim to improve the working conditions and equal treatment of employees, engagement in working life and the equal competitive conditions of companies. These can only be ensured by complying with a common set of ground rules. Undeclared work also has a negative impact on the entire society in the form of a lower amount of collected taxes.
What does undeclared work mean and how is it apparent?
On the level of the EU, undeclared work is defined as legal, paid activity undeclared to the authorities. It allows employers, companies and employees to avoid obligations related to social security, taxes or the employment relationship. The proportion of undeclared work between Member States varies and industry-specific differences are considerable. Reliable statistics are not available. According to latest estimates, undeclared work’s share of the GDP is approximately 1.5–7.5 per cent in Finland, 15.7 per cent in Estonia, 10.8 per cent in France, 12.2 per cent in Germany, 8 per cent in Austria and 13 per cent in Latvia. In some Member States, undeclared work is more common due to cultural reasons alone. The manifestations of undeclared work and the operating methods of the authorities of the EU’s Member States aiming to prevent and investigate undeclared work vary. European Platform tackling undeclared work Member State Factsheets and Synthesis Report (PDF 1,75 MB)
Key manifestations of undeclared work include
- working without a formally binding employment contract,
- “envelope wages”, i.e. under-reporting work to the authorities,
- a failure to report company income to tax authorities, and
- missing trader/entrepreneurship
The underlying reasons for undeclared work include high unemployment rates and taxes, cultural factors and the general attitude. The traditionally problematic sectors include the construction, restaurant, accommodation and transportation sectors as well as agriculture.
How does the platform support Member States in the prevention of undeclared work?
The Commission has held some 30 events within the framework of the platform aiming to increase awareness and learning to prevent undeclared work. The Commission has had research, tools and learning materials (missing trader/entrepreneurship, construction industry, data mining) done for authorities and collected 40 examples of good practices from various Member States. These measures and reports provided through the platform support the learning of the authorities of Member States and their work against undeclared work. Learning from the best practices of other countries requires action on a national level and the willingness of each authority to assess the practices of other countries and the practices’ applicability to the authority’s own prevention measures.
Video: Working together to tackle Undeclared Work (3:48):
National cooperation network supports the work of the EU platform
In August 2016, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment established a national cooperation network comprising authorities to support the efforts of the EU platform. The network strengthens the government’s internal coordination and collaboration, and supports national strategies and programmes. One of the key tasks of the network is to distribute information on the cooperation against undeclared work, monitoring methods, new phenomena and best practices to various operators. Finland is committed to the prevention of undeclared work. The matter has been included in the programme for the prevention of the grey economy and economic crime for 2016–2020. In Finland, the work for the prevention of the grey economy and undeclared work is supported by a political commitment to the cause as well as the good cooperation and exchange of information between the authorities.
Further information on the work of the EU platform:
Päivi Kantanen, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kirsi Kyrkkö, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health: email@example.com
European Platform tackling undeclared work [.ﬁ]›
Tackling undeclared work in the EU is cross-sectoral, comprehensive and based on cross-border cooperation between the authorities
Source: The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment 16.11.2018
The European Commission supports tackling undeclared work through the European Plat-form Tackling Undeclared Work, which was set up in spring 2016. In cross-border situa-tions, the authorities of the Member States find it challenging to intervene in cases of un-declared work. Tackling undeclared work requires political commitment, listening to new ideas with an open mind, and readiness to learn from other countries’ good practices. Tackling undeclared work is one of the Commission’s priorities, and its aim is to promote:
- the realisation of employees’ rights
- fair competition between businesses
- better application and enforcement of EU regulations
The Platform’s Work Programme for 2019-2020
The European Platform Tackling Undeclared Work adopted its Work Programme for 2019–2020 on 19 October 2018. The Work Programme emphasises the importance of using a cross-sectoral and comprehensive approach to tackle undeclared work, which means forming a common government policy for tackling undeclared work at both strategy level and in practical implementation. The aim is to boost cross-border cooperation between Member States. Cooperation and information exchange between the authorities are im-portant means of intervening in cases of undeclared work and preventing abuse. The new Work Programme focuses on cross-border inspections, penalties and developing risk as-sessments by the authorities in support of the more efficient control and enforcement of EU regulations.
The Platform’s work will continue to be centred on increasing the knowledge base and competence of the authorities and stakeholders, and learning from the best practices of other countries. Another aim of the Work Programme is to foster cooperation between the occupational safety authorities and other authorities – social security and tax authorities in particular – and stakeholders. The new Work Programme also supports the Commission Initiative to establish a European labour authority.
- hotel-restaurant-catering sector (HORECA)
Included in the new Work Programme is the EU level communication campaign to pro-mote tackling undeclared work. Everyone’s contribution is needed to ensure the fairness of the labour market. Different Member States have different forms of undeclared work, so different actions and perspectives are needed to tackle it.
The goals set by Finland are realised well in the new Work Programme. The effective ac-tions include:
- the horizontal approach of the Work Programme
- increasing cross-border cooperation between the authorities
- peer learning from other Member States
- the anticipation of future phenomena
The Platform’s work in 2017–2018
The European Platform Tackling Undeclared Work has supported tackling undeclared work and promoting the competence of the authorities by commissioning reports and stud-ies, organising several seminars, producing training and guidance materials, and dissemi-nating the good practices of Member States.
Special themes in 2017:
- data mining
- actions in the construction industry
- cooperation agreements between national authorities and the authorities of the Member States
- “letterbox” companies
Priority areas in 2018:
- the Member States’ actions to tackle abuse in the transport sector
- the risk assessments of the authorities
- new forms of work
- issues related to the digital platform economy
Visits by the authorities and supporting peer learning have been a practical and cost-effec-tive way of learning from the authorities of other Member States. In total, 19 government officials’ exchanges have been organised, with 40 civil servants participating in them. The occupational safety authorities of Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia have utilised peer learning by participating in Mutual Assistance Projects (MAP). The good practices identified by the Member State authorities that participated in the MAPs are also supported by the new Work Programme.
Finland and the other Nordic countries have also actively participated in the work of the European Platform Tackling Undeclared Work, through various programmes and projects. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment has set up a cooperation network to support the work of the European Platform Tackling Undeclared Work. The network’s members have disseminated Finland’s good practices for tackling undeclared work to the other Member States, as well as evaluating examples from other Member States and their applicability in Finland.
Further information on the European Platform Tackling Undeclared Work [.ﬁ]›