International Work

Workers without Borders

The rights of workers from the Balkans in the EU

Over the past decade, European Union enlargement, visa liberalisation and specific governmental programs have opened up European economies to greater numbers of mobile workers coming from Southeast Europe. The implications of this shift for the countries of origin as well as for individual workers are ambiguous. While individual workers who make the move often report higher rates of pay and sometimes a better quality of life, they are often forced to accept working and living conditions, rates of pay, and contractual relations that are inferior to what is required by law. The newest, poorest members of the European Union and their neighbouring accession countries in the Western Balkans are not only experiencing a demographic decline, youth exodus and a ‘brain drain’, but also effectively subsidising the economic growth and lifestyle of richer European countries. They invest in education and training of workers who leave their countries of origin, and experience subsequent loss of social security contributions.

The report Workers Without Borders? The rights of workers from the Balkans in the EU, published by European Alternativesand the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung shows that mobile workers from these countries have come to form a distinct group with common characteristics and employment problems, despite having different legal statuses. The report pays particular attention to the situation of mobile workers from the region in Germany, given its economic size and recent visa liberalisation, but also brings in examples from throughout the EU. Based on interviews with mobile workers themselves and a wider literature review, we argue


  1. that the European Union, national governments, and trade unions need to better enforce existing legislation and

  2. prevent exploitation,

  3. empower workers to understand, access and advance their rights,

  4. and ultimately rethink a new economic relationship between the EU and the Southeast Europe region based on more balanced, more sustainable, and more socially just development.


What is the situation of workers who move from the Western Balkans to work in the EU?

About the project:

European Alternatives and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Southeast Dialogue published a report on the legal challenges and struggles of workers from the Western Balkans. The report “Workers without borders?” shows that the controversial "Western Balkans regulation" systematically contributes to Germany's dependency on and exploitation of non-EU labor migrants by employers. The overall picture is a self-reinforcing system: people move from poorer countries, not always in a regular way, to gain what is often poor-quality but better-paid employment in European countries. Not only workers from the Western Balkans but also other migrants, mobile and marginalized from inside and outside the EU, are on the frontlines of struggles of our critical times – for a just economy, fair work, and a decent life beyond the borders of the nation-state. The pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of migrant workers in many sectors.


To address these structural problems, together we provide a dialogue for improved cooperation, advocacy, and policy reforms in favor of migrant workers. On On November 3rd, policymakers, trade union representatives, journalists, researchers, and especially workers themselves will meet at the Migrant Workers' Advocacy Roundtable at Fes headquarters to discuss problems, best and worst practices and policy solutions.


The results of the report and the discussion group will be presented and discussed in various podcasts, articles and videos.

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