Newsletter from U4U : April 2017 – n°54
If the signatories of the Treaty of Rome 60 years ago could see the EU today, they would undoubtedly be pleasantly surprised. In many areas, the European construction has kept its promises: peace, democratic consolidation in the South and East, cooperation between States, single market, joint currency, shared freedoms and values, and even solidarity with the poorest regions and development aid.
Looking with a modern eye, we must be realistic without sinking into pessimism. The European Union is experiencing problems: growing inequalities, security issues, energy supply, environmental degradation, sluggish growth.
What is more, one State has just stated its intention to leave, while public opinion casts doubt on an economic policy that is failing to re-establish prosperity and social justice, and one crisis follows another without a credible response.
While the diagnosis of the causes of this deep disappointment is widely shared, there is little agreement on a remedy and even less common will to take remedial action. The recent Rome summit showed the difficulty the States are having in agreeing on even a minimalist text, and it needed the Pope, an external actor, to recall the principles of the EU and show us a pathway to the future. How ironic!
In spite of everything, however, our Europe is still necessary. It is the Europe of cooperation, solidarity, democracy and the rule of law. Let us not forget that, in 1957, only 12 of the current Member States were democracies. This was still the case in the 1970s. In other words, our Union has a future. In our opinion, the defeatists are not fortune tellers and the voluntarists are not dreamers; let us reject this sham.
We must move on. In this anniversary year, we are celebrating the past because it enables us to move forwards. We know what we have to do. We have to be independent in terms of energy, not depend on outside power in a world in turmoil. The environment whose degradation is so worrying has no borders, so we must act together. Our security depends on our cooperation. The inequalities must be fought against, as they are the cement of our enemies. We have to stop sacrificing our youth. Finally, innovation must be a priority, as it is innovation that prepares the way for the future. For all these tasks, the role of a public actor is crucial: our public functions must be defended, improved and reinforced.
On 4 April 2016, the Commission adopted a communication entitled "Synergies and efficiencies at the Commission – New ways of working", which began by noting that "The Commission's staff is shrinking, but the challenges faced by the EU are growing". An announcement had been made concerning the recentralisation of the functions of 1) Human Resources (DG HR), 2) Information and Communication Technologies (DIGIT), 3) Communication (DG COMM) and 4) Logistics (OIB). This plan had been prepared without drawing up a balance sheet for the previous financial year concerning the decentralisation of staff management resources.
The communication of April 2016 proclaimed its objective of "improving effectiveness and efficiency" while at the same time "taking account of the hopes of each individual in regard to their careers". One of the objectives at this time of budget cutbacks was to try to modernise the HR function while reducing and/or reassigning staff: the Commission's HR function has to make a saving of 380 FTE by 2019, either by eliminating posts or redeploying them to more useful functions. To achieve this goal, the Commission therefore decided to reduce the HR functions in the DGs and create a new directorate responsible for HR management in the DGs and services, composed of the "Account Manager Centre" (AMC), together with what remains of the HR function at a local level, the "Business Correspondents" (BC), usually a small team of 3 to 6 people in charge of the HR strategy of each DG or service.
It appears that the DG HR contributed to the success of this reorganisation, in view of its size: almost 500 people are concerned at the Commission. The DG HR is involved in communication, training, profile interviews with the interested candidates, and support. In short, the DG HR has pulled out all the stops, especially to "take account of the hopes of each individual in regard to their careers".
Beyond this internal mobility exercise at the HR function, some questions arise. Here are some of them. We will revisit them in greater detail in the GRASPE review of April 2017.
The semantics used is regrettable. Such references as "Account Management Centre" and "Business Correspondent" in HR results in dehumanising staff. The Commission could not send a worse message to its staff, and the scale of the reactions on the Commission's Intranet on this matter shows to what extent the Commission has taken the wrong path on this subject. The words used have their importance.
The policy of recentralising HR functions is not based on an appraisal of the previous policy of decentralising the HR functions at the Commission. All our legislative decisions must be based on ex-ante impact assessments and include ex-post assessments, but the Commission, internally, seems to believe that it can make savings on these objective information elements in deciding on major changes. This practice does not protect us.
The distribution of functions between AMC and BC is not clear enough, at least in practice. The idea of keeping an HR function at a local level is a good one, though its purpose still needs to be better defined. In the available transparencies, the BCs "advise" their DG, "focusing on the HR strategy" (for example, as in the field of training "determining HR needs", "budgets", "defining (training) courses prior to validation"). We wonder what the "strategy" of the BCs might be when all the procedures and the responsibility for applying the rules remains in the hands of the AMCs? Could it be that the BCs occupy management posts, whereas the rest of the staff would be managed by the AMCs?
Centralisation also has its positive aspects, especially as it makes it possible, on the face of it, to improve the application to all staff, in a concern for equal treatment, of the provisions offered in regard to teleworking, part time and leave. However, the question remains of how the coordination between AMCs will be strengthened to prevent differences in practice between AMCs. The negative aspects concern maintaining the decentralised resources to manage human resources in the services.
Therefore, the main question now is: will this be better for all of the 41,000 Commission staff now referred to as "customers"? On this point the Commission is playing for high stakes. The April Communication emphasised from the outset that "the quality of the HR services must be at least equivalent to that of the existing services". And the official transparencies of the Commission from December 2016 noted as objectives: "1) strengthening the "front lines", 2) strengthening professionalisation, 3) greater consistency and fairness in the application of the rules, 4) more efficiency in HR by avoiding duplications and increasing economies of scale". Such promises cause questions among staff.
Will we have a human resources service that manages staff careers from recruitment to retirement? Will we one day be advised, supported and guided in well thought out career pathways to guarantee our lifelong training and the best possible use of our experience for the benefit of the institution and the missions we are assigned to?
U4U obtained monitoring with staff representation from DG HR. In this context it requested DG HR to establish the tools required for a continuous assessment of the objectives of its services, which will make it possible to improve the system, if appropriate. U4U will act to establish services oriented to "customer satisfaction", that we have become, and which, as we all know, is now king.
The preventive medicine programmes covered by the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme (different from the mandatory annual medical visit) were modified in 2015. Some examinations were cancelled, the frequency of the programmes revised, and access to preventive medicine withdrawn for some beneficiaries.
In 2014, the administration stressed the need within the SIMC to revise these programmes, which sometimes included too many major and expensive examinations that could also involve too many false positive results. The SIMC supported the principle of a review, the goal being to identify the best possible programmes, especially in the light of scientific developments relating to screening.
New screening programmes were therefore introduced in July 2015, also resulting in reduced prevention. However, it is not certain that they were designed with any concern for the optimisation of examinations in line with age, risk and the available techniques.
Given the concern of members over the disappearance of certain key examinations, the SIMC asked the PMO to evaluate these new programmes, about which the PMO had not been consulted and which it had therefore never approved. The results were expected in 2016. However, no evaluation was presented in 2016, and we are still wondering about the suitability of these examinations.
On the other hand, one thing that stands out clearly in the last SIMC annual report is the saving made during 2015 alone on the subject of repayments for the cost of screening examinations: in just six months, preventive medicine expenses fell by 22.6%. We eagerly await the saving made in 2016, the amount of which is not yet known.
U4U notes once again that our scheme is sound and has a positive financial result. Furthermore, its reserve is more than adequate. There is no need to increase this reserve. Seeking to make savings at the expense of our health serves no purpose. The content of the screening tests should definitely be reviewed, but only to guarantee the best possible prevention. It is far from certain that this is the case.
Prevention is an investment, not an expense. U4U supports the request of the staff representatives in the SIMC on 22 and 23 March for an assessment of the quality and pertinence of these screening examinations and their revision in the light of the initial observations. The principle of this revision is established and the administration should very soon make fresh proposals on the content, frequency and beneficiaries of these examinations. U4U will keep you informed of developments in this case.
The NIP test is a screening test for pregnant women, to detect possible anomalies with the foetus. It is a test that is now systematically prescribed (in certain Member States at least) for at-risk pregnancies, i.e. for women over 35 years of age.
Until now, JSIS paid for this test only for women who had had a triple test whose results warranted further investigation.
U4U actively supported staff representatives on the Sickness Insurance Management Committee (SIMC) so that the scheme should take account of medical advances and reimburse women over 35 for this test without making it dependent on the results of the triple test. We should remember that although this test does not rule out the need, in some cases, for an amniocentesis, it has proven extremely reliable in screening for certain anomalies of the foetus and is much less invasive than the amniocentesis. Obtaining a reimbursement for it would therefore constitute significant progress in terms of prevention in cases of at-risk pregnancy.
The Medical Council has just ruled on and offered the reimbursement for the NIP test for colleagues aged over 35, without any obligation to take the triple test first. The SIMC has declared itself in favour of this reimbursement.
For colleagues under 35, the procedure remains unchanged: they will have to take the triple test first, then, depending on the results, the NIP test will be authorised for reimbursement (with prior authorisation).
It should be noted that the fact that the NIP test is not reimbursed if the age or triple test conditions are not met does not in any way prohibit those women who wish to do so from taking the NIP test at their own expense. The current price of the test, in Belgium for example, is € 290 (as a guideline).
U4U is happy with the quality of the dialogue within the SIMC that has made this outcome possible in such a short time, for the more effective prevention of at-risk pregnancies.
The PMO will inform colleagues shortly of the entry into force of this new provision.
The European Parliament should be a model institution for social dialogue. Social dialogue is included in the Treaties and forms an integral part of our democratic model. It contributes to social democracy by making companies and organisations operate in a more consensual way, and therefore more efficiently. It is reasonable to expect the European Parliament to be a shining example in social dialogue.
Unfortunately, social dialogue has become an anachronism at the EP. There are 10 trade unions, but actually they are not entitled to releases from service or to offices at the workplace where they can operate properly, for example.
The human resources assigned by the Administration to the staff committee are also limited, and make it impossible to provide resources to all the lists, while the European Parliament has services at a number of sites, other than those of Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg.
More worrying still, the unions are never approached to discuss the decisions that govern the operation of the services, as happens in other institutions, especially at the European Commission, the Council, the External Service, etc. In these institutions, the subjects on which the unions can negotiate or must be consulted are defined by a framework agreement.
The framework for social dialogue at the European Parliament, developed 25 years ago, does not give any jurisdiction for social dialogue to the social partners. It is notoriously lacking on all questions of organisation of the dialogue and on the resources allocated to ensure that this dialogue functions under the best conditions.
The current practice is that the staff committee is consulted from time to time, but not necessarily on all important draft decisions, and sometimes only the day before a decision is taken. The committee's opinions are not given enough consideration and are not necessarily the subject of discussion between the parties. The exchanges between the administration and the staff committee are based more on administrative procedure than on social dialogue.
The trade unions have recently complained about this. U4U believes that there must be a social dialogue with the European Parliament, in the first place to try to establish it, and to provide it with the resources to make it effective. In the opinion of U4U, the negotiation of new social dialogue rules is the responsibility of the trade unions, who must be allowed to do so.
In these negotiations we wish to see, the Staff Committee, a stakeholder in social dialogue, must assess the way in which the rules have been applied and designate areas in which a social dialogue appears necessary to improve the functioning of the institution.
For its part, U4U has already identified, among the urgent matters to be dealt with through real social dialogue, the situation of session auxiliaries at Strasbourg, the review of the internal regulations DG SAFE after being applied for four years, the career management of the European Parliament, the new working conditions of interpreters, etc.
Together, let us equip the European Parliament with the modern and inclusive social dialogue that its staff want and deserve.
The recent decisions by OIL to raise prices in the Commission's canteens and cafeterias from Monday 5 December 2016, without any social dialogue, have created quite a stir.
Despite some welcome innovative attempts (fruit bars, sushi bars), U4U notes that, apart from some partial and limited progress, the catering situation in the canteens in Luxembourg continues to worsen. All you have to do is visit the EUROFORUM and DROSBACH canteens and cafeterias to observe in no uncertain terms that:
1) The quality of the food and its preparation has fallen. It is not always possible to know what type of meat you have been served; the dishes are poorly presented, side dishes are sad and repetitive; the range of dishes is smaller. Eating is no longer a treat for the eyes or the taste buds, and even less a nutritional boon in a time when feeding oneself constitutes a key issue for public health and the environment.
2) The quantity of available dishes is decreasing. While fighting waste is a concern, the decrease in the quantities supplied goes way beyond a sensible limitation of this waste. Some dishes are offered at the price of the plat du jour, although they come with no side dish (paninis). And the salad bars are often empty after 13.00 because they are no longer refilled after that hour, in contradiction with other recommendations such as the healthy eating guidelines.
3) Prices are rising. Although the quality and quantity are falling, prices are rising in the Commission's canteens and cafeterias in Luxembourg. The text of the OIL communiqué announcing the latest increase of 5.5% describes it as "moderate", although it is significant in itself, and it is applied in a context of reduced portion sizes and quality.
The staff's loss of interest in their increasingly unattractive canteens and cafeterias only supports this view. We have for some time been seeing a growing number of colleagues bringing their meals from home to eat in the canteen or only using a few ancillary services (reheating dishes, cutlery, drinks, etc.), risking the economic viability of the canteen service, which nevertheless remains essential for a number of us. Others have decided to eat elsewhere for the same price or more, but with a good quality/price ratio.
When the Commission's staff have the chance to eat in the canteens of other institutions (Parliament, Court of Justice, Court of Auditors), they are surprised by the difference in treatment. Does the Commission have nothing to learn from the best practices of its sister institutions? No one minds paying a price for one's food as long as it's a fair price.
It is up to the Commission to assume its responsibilities over the long term and in a transparent manner by explaining its policy and its real resources. For a long time, nothing has shown through in relation to this policy, and everything points at this being principally a matter of cutting the canteen budget.
Enabling its staff to sustain themselves properly at the workplace is an important issue, as a basic tool for well-being at work, a good work-health balance, and for the overall satisfaction of staff with their working environment. It is also in the best interests of the institution.
U4U is asking the Commission to clarify its policy for the cafeterias and canteens in Luxembourg and its relationship with its policies for well-being at work. A demand for social dialogue has been made by all the unions at the site.
At the European Parliament, the staff merit assessment for the promotion exercise is conducted using a points system. At is plenary meeting in Strasbourg on Monday 13 March, the Staff Committee asked its members to propose amendments to the rules governing the allocation of merit points and promotion with a view to improving them.
In accordance with the promises made during the recent election campaign for staff representatives to work harder for greater equality, U4U proposed that staff in the lowest grade should be able to use the excess points accumulated over four years instead of the current two years, which makes it possible to speed up one's career.
Indeed, if the excess points accumulated exceed the threshold for promotion, it is only possible to carry over one point to the higher grade, which does not benefit one's career.
U4U's amendment therefore concerns the extension to four years instead of the two years currently provided for as the reference period for taking account of extra merit points.
This proposed amendment was approved by the Staff Committee and will be presented to the administration.
U4U further notes in passing that the proposed amendments are not being discussed within the framework of a social dialogue involving trade union representatives and representatives of the administration, nor are they the fruit of an open debate between the parties. The amendments are proposed by the elected representatives to the SC, which then transmits the results of its deliberations to the administration, which approves or rejects the proposed amendments.
This is not exactly U4U's idea of a social dialogue with equal information and a quality of debate between stakeholders. As the home of democracy, should Parliament not be evolving to a culture of social dialogue that is more participatory and "bottom up"?
The assessment / promotion exercise is subject to joint monitoring (administration / unions), which helps give an understanding of its implementation.
An initial observation: the number of appeals concerning assessments is falling, which is evidence that the system established provides a better appraisal of the professional activity of our colleagues.
Second observation: overall, the budgetary resources allocated by the Staff Regulations to the promotion exercise are being achieved. That is also the case with the collective guarantees guaranteeing an average promotion for most staff.
By the same token, the "cascade" system makes it possible to use, for the lower grades, promotions not used upstream, which tends to reduce somewhat the disparities between careers and to tally more accurately with reality on the ground. The number of cascades will increase without, however, reaching 5% of the total number of promotions.
The comparison of merits is verified jointly by each directorate-general, then during the appeal stage, and finally in the AD and AST working groups. These groups have the equivalent of 5% of the total number of promotions (i.e. almost 250 promotions) to satisfy the needs of colleagues who were not initially put forward for promotion. The overall result is verified by a final meeting of the AD and AST promotion committee.
Every year we see almost 5,000 new promotions from the 12,000 colleagues eligible for promotion.
The points being discussed concern the allocation of quotas by the DGs, which sometimes seem inadequate, although the total number of quotas is correct. Means for improvement are being studied. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.
Brexit : time for clarification
(source: Bulletin, périodique du regroupement intersyndical Near You au SEAE)
The UK Parliament has cleared the way for triggering art. 50. It is now time for our employer to clarify some important issues regarding EEAS Staff and staff in Delegations.
BREXIT – External Action Specific Issues
1. Delegations (to include information offices and other missions)
2. Returning from delegations and missions abroad
U4U asks for the opening of a social dialog on these issues. British colleagues should not be a bargaining chip !
The above text is specific to EU delegations. Let's recall the founding principles that U4U will defend during the social dialogue, for all UK staff in all Institutions and Agencies :
U4U will defend the rights of our British colleagues during the whole withdrawal process and beyond. As a Trade Union, we are committed to maintaining and furthering the rights of all staff, in full solidarity. This applies of course to all colleagues, regardless of their nationality.
We are asking for a transparent social dialogue with the Institutions for securing the principles herebelow :
U4U commits itself to informing regularly all staff about any development on this subject.
Please see here our special page about the likely consequences of Brexit on the British staff. You will also find our negociation position
Training for EPSO competitions from your desktop, in English
3 sessions of 2hrs~2h30, depending on questions asked.
1- General Presentation & Verbal reasoning
For each session :
U4U is an active union, working on behalf of colleagues through its workplace meetings, not only in Brussels, and present in negotiations with the administration. We have an informative and up-to-date website, we publish regular newsletters, systematically translated into English, we defend you individually before the administration and before the Civil Service Tribunal.
All of that comes at a cost. Help us to meet it.
Not yet a member of U4U? Join us as we need your participation.
Already a member? Upgrade from our subscription membership of €15 per year to a support membership of €60 per year.
We need your financial support. Help us to defend you, to propose more acceptable staff management policies and to challenge whatever hits us hard.
To join and/or change to a support membership, use this form on our website or contact us (list of contacts below).
|U4U at your service|
Union for Unity AISBL, 23 rue du Cardinal Bruxelles
éditeur responsable: Georges Vlandas
équipe de rédaction : Bertrand Soret, Olivier Brunet, Philippe Kéraudren, Victor Juan Linares, Fabrice Andreone, Sylvie Vlandas, Kim Slama, Christian Tritten, Gérard Hanney, Sazan Pakalin, Agim Islamaj, Yves Dumont, Stéphane André, J.-P. Soyer