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Photograph: HINA

European workers whose employers send them to other EU member states should be granted the same pay and labour conditions as local employees, the European Commission said Tuesday, in a proposal aimed at preventing unfair labour market competition.

Employee organizations have long expressed concern about the so-called practice of social dumping in the EU, in which people are brought in from member states with lower wages and social benefits to perform jobs that may otherwise have gone to higher-paid local staff.

The commission proposal aims to update EU laws introduced in 1996 on the temporary posting of workers to other member states - a practice that EU Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen described as a "cornerstone" of the EU's free market.

Under the new rules, the same rules on pay and working conditions would apply to local workers and those whose employer is based in another member state. If a posting lasts for more than 24 months, the worker would be equated with a local employee.

Labour rules covering issues such as health and safety precautions, the protection of pregnant women or equality between men and women already apply to anyone working in any given host country, the commission said.

Under the proposal, the social security rules of the host country would apply to posted workers after two years.

Employer association BusinessEurope argued there was no need to update the rules.

"Changing legislation would bring new uncertainty for business in Europe," said the group's director, Markus Beyrer. "It also spurs the danger of opening yet another divisive debate among EU member states at a time where restoring trust and unity is the priority."

The cross-border posting of workers is particularly common in sectors such as construction and manufacturing, as well as in services such as the healthcare, education or financial services industry.

The practice varies from country to country, with Germany, France and Belgium receiving the highest share of workers posted from abroad, while Poland sends the biggest number of workers to other member states, according to the European Union's executive.

The proposal comes amid a debate on labour migration within the EU, which has been a key issue in Britain ahead of a referendum set for June 23 on the country's continued membership of the bloc.

Britain received close to 51,000 posted EU workers in 2014, the commission found, compared to an overall workforce of around 31 million people.

Across the EU, an overall 1.9 million people were posted to other member states in 2014, the commission said, noting that this was an increase of almost 45 per cent from 2010.

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