Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010

Germany chided for limit on Poles

Polish workers sorting asparagus in Germany (file pic)
Many Poles - such as these - are hired for seasonal work in Germany

The EU's highest court has told Germany to ease a restriction on Polish workers, calling it "discriminatory".

The EU's Court of Justice objects to a rule which says that only German firms or foreign firms with a branch in Germany can hire Polish workers.

The case against Germany was brought by Poland and the European Commission.

The court however upheld Germany's right to maintain limits on the number of hired workers from ex-communist states. The limits run until May 2011.

Germany's Federal Employment Agency says workers from those states - which joined the EU in 2004 - must not be hired in districts where the average unemployment rate for the previous six months was at least 30% higher than Germany's national unemployment rate.

The Luxembourg court's rulings are binding on member states, and if they do not comply it can impose fines on them.

The court found that Germany "creates direct discrimination, contrary to the EC Treaty, against service providers established in [EU] member states other than Germany which wish to enter into a works contract with a Polish undertaking".

Germany and Austria are the only EU member states that have maintained restrictions on workers from the eight former communist bloc countries that joined the EU in 2004.

Workers from those countries - and from Bulgaria and Romania, which joined in 2007 - have to apply for work permits. Germany issued 500,000 of the permits between 2004 and 2006.

The Czech Republic and the European Commission are among critics of the restrictions maintained by Germany and Austria.

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