His hostility to a draft directive on workers posted to another European country, and a French presidency memorandum aimed at stamping out child and slave labour in developing countries, drew strong criticism from the Opposition yesterday.
Harriet Harman, Labour's spokesperson for Employment, said: "This proposal is about making sure that people at work can count on certain minimum standards wherever they work in Europe." She added: "We need a floor under wages to protect all workers."
The Employment Secretary will make his opposition to the two measures at the first Social Affairs Council of the French presidency. He argues that while neither poses a direct short-term threat to British jobs, both are "protectionist and anti-competitive in purpose".
The Posted Workers' directive would require companies operating in countries other than their own to pay no less than the going rate in the host country. Its chief proponents are France and Germany.
Mr Portillo insists that the measure is directed at preventing employees, such as people from low-income Mediterranean countries from finding work in northern Europe, "contrary to the principles of free movement of labour and open competition for business throughout the Community".
The minister says the proposed directive is "likely to lead to confusion and absurdities".
The French memorandum on "The Social Dimension in International Trade" seeks to deny developing countries access to EU markets if they fail to comply with ILO conventions on child and slave labour, and on trade unions and collective bargaining.
The Government takes the view that countries still struggling to meet their basic needs do not yet have the resources to provide the social standards taken for granted in Europe.
Trade sanctions would serve to prolong the existence of the evils that the EU wants to end.Reuse content