Newsletter from U4U : October 2017 (2) – n°58
European Parliament: put an end to arbitrary decisions!
On 13 October 2017, the General Assembly of the European Parliament presented to staff the problems encountered in some jobs and denounced Parliament’s refusal to conduct a social dialogue.
The methods employed at the European Parliament are unworthy of this body which, when it comes to its own administration, does not respect the social dialogue, its internal regulations, the Staff Regulations or the European Directives.
Although these practices, against the tide of the laws passed by the same Parliament to protect workers in Europe, only concern three occupations for the moment: interpreters, translators and security officers, as well as one category, the session agents at Strasbourg, it is likely that Parliament will not stop there.
All the jobs will be screened to satisfy ambitions that are neither motivated by savings (as the EP has already done what it said it would and takes no account of the cost of the reforms it imposes), nor by a desire to improve service (threatened by the reforms), nor by satisfaction at work, which improves workers’ productivity.
In fact, it is extremely difficult to understand what is behind the contempt shown towards a professional workforce hand-picked for key posts in the work of Parliament.
Parliament should unite its professionals in defining the conditions for performing their jobs, as suggested by the principles of good governance advocated by Parliament when it deals with these same subjects in the Member States.
What affects these three occupations today is just around the corner for all Parliament staff. If the administration continues to impose practices without a consensus, it will contribute to the dismantling of all that is best about its services to the detriment of the needs of its members and citizens and, at the end of the day, of the European project as a whole.
You will find later in this issue an article dedicated to the negotiations with the Interpreters’ delegation, unilaterally broken off by the Secretary General of the EP, another article about violations of the internal regulations for security officers and an article on the failure to comply with court rulings on the reclassification and continuity of contracts for session agents at Strasbourg.
U4U will support Parliament staff in any action that they undertake to stand up for dignified working conditions, taking the needs of the services into consideration and respecting individuals.
When meeting the trade unions and, more recently, addressing staff, Commissioner OETTINGER reiterated his analysis of the next EU budget and the financial outlook. In his opinion, the periods of job and expenditure cuts are over, as going beyond what has already been done would put the very operation of the civil service at risk. He went on to say that when spending is legitimate, it must go ahead. A statement is no more than that, but the Commissioner ensured adequate follow-up by making a significant reduction in the waiting list for after-school child care centres. If it is possible for the child care centres, it should also be possible in other areas.
To this valuable information, he added more with regard to Brexit. The possible reduction in the EU budget after the departure of the UK will not lead to job cuts. With the European Union tasking the Commission with extra work, the impact of Brexit would mean a slower increase in the workforce, rather than a reduction in the number of staff. This is good news for our British colleagues, but also for others who were concerned about possible staff cuts and deteriorating working conditions.
U4U is conscious of the fact that, although the worst case scenario is far from certain, it nevertheless remains possible. We prefer, however, to work towards achieving the most optimistic scenario, which is why we are fully supporting our commissioner.
There is no true social dialogue within the European Parliament. At a Staff Committee meeting in December 2016, the Director General of the DG SAFE recognised that the internalisation of security officers was a challenge and that there was scope for improvement, particularly concerning the internal rules of the DG SAFE.
If Parliament had involved the security professionals in the development of these internal regulations, they would be better suited to the numerous and diverse security needs at all sites and for all stakeholders. They would better take into account the need to reconcile the work and family life of these officers, key to guaranteeing the best possible working conditions and an optimal quality of service.
It should not be forgotten that the working hours of surveillance and prevention officers are not “normal” hours. The security tasks at the European Parliament are carried out 24/7. On Bank holidays and closing days as well. This means ensuring that the rules take account of the special and strenuous nature of the job to establish provisions guaranteeing the best possible service for the Institution and job satisfaction of the staff concerned. For staff who are not taken into consideration and are exhausted will not perform as well as a contented workforce, and when it comes to security, this is a matter of some concern.
Some specific examples of the way in which the current regulations are wrongly applied by the administration of the DG SAFE in regard to special leave:
First of all, the staff demand that the current internal rules are complied with and that practices that always result in a wage cut with no legal basis are terminated.
The staff also demand that the pressures exerted on agents from certain quarters, pressures that are similar to a form of job-related blackmail, are terminated.
Finally, the staff want to be consulted about the necessary improvements to these regulations in their capacity as responsible partners and experts.
Social dialogue should be the priority for a body that intends to represent the citizens and guarantee their right to social dialogue. Let the European Parliament apply the laws it has passed to itself.
Consequently, U4U demands the opening of a social dialogue on the revision of the internal regulations of the DG SAFE.
U4U creates a U4U Tube channel
U4U has decided to supplement its information mechanism by creating a new U4Utube platform in addition to its newsletters and websites. Video constitutes a modern, attractive and flexible resource that enables us to react more quickly. It provides a platform for the call for reflection and action. It makes the face of the union more real.
U4U has already produced two editions of U4Utube. If you would like to know more, please go to our websiteU4Unity.eu, rubrique vidéo.
What is a negotiation? It is a process by which the stakeholders concerned can discuss a given subject to reach an agreement. A good negotiation is a process whose outcome satisfies all parties involved. This presupposes that everyone has achieved what they wanted.
When one of the parties in a negotiation remains deaf to the other, it cannot be called a negotiation. And when it unilaterally imposes its roadmap, the ‘negotiation’ can frankly be called a mockery.
Parliament wants to save two million Euros on interpreting. Okay. Let’s negotiate.
Squaring the circle, it is necessary to provide MEPs with an increasing number of services, to be more and more flexible to adapt to their needs, and to provide interpreting that guarantees the quality of Parliament’s work, all at a lower cost.
Who is better placed to understand the nature of the needs and demands of the job than those who do it? Expecting interpreters to suggest concrete solutions was not only legitimate, it was good sense.
The interpreters therefore produced a series of proposals, and the least that can be said about them is that they meet the requirements of a diversity of services, of flexibility, of availability, and of quality of the service provided, while conforming to the conditions of practice of the profession of interpreter, a sine qua non for a high-quality performance that meets the expectations of MEPs.
However, the Secretary General rejected these proposals altogether. He prefers his solution - contrary to the principles of the instruments passed by Parliament on the balance between work and family life - which the public and private national employers must observe. He refused to assess the proposals presented by the interpreters. He also refused to put a cost on his own so that they could be compared, in economic terms alone, to use but one criterion.
Tired of those who refused to approve his solutions without discussion, he blithely violated art. 55 of the Staff Regulations, which states that, when drawing up work schedules for certain groups doing particular jobs, the Appointing Authority (the AIPN) must consult the Staff Committee, which was not done.
We should point out that the Secretary General appears to be persecuting a profession whose excellence is essential to the quality of parliamentary debate. He has already imposed extremely restrictive leave conditions that only concern interpreters and that also violate the Staff Regulations. So, is he, a servant of democracy, above these laws?
The balance between the needs of the Institution and the satisfaction of the staff in doing their jobs should be the desired goal of any head of administration, all the more so when its internal communication, defined by its administration with its approval, repeatedly emphasises the need to reconcile work and family life.
U4U supports the actions decided by our interpreter colleagues to claim worthy and efficient conditions for the exercise of their profession, presented to EP staff at the recent General Assembly of 13 October. And if it proves necessary to go further to gain respect, U4U will be at their side.
Social dialogue should be the priority for a body that intends to guarantee the right of citizens to be heard by those who govern them. Let the European Parliament apply what it stands for to itself, in accordance with the law.
The income of JSIS, which is interinstitutional, is comprised of our contributions. This scheme is run by a Management Committee on which the staff of all the institutions are represented, as is the administration.
The scheme’s fund therefore has income – the subscription, and expenditure - the reimbursement of our medical expenses. In general, the fund contains surplus income, and therefore a reserve, other than during a brief period in which there was a deficit. U4U has been instrumental in preventing an increase in contributions and a reduction in services. We believe that the deficit was not structural. The facts have proved us right, as for 3 years JSIS has produced an annual surplus that increases the reserve of the health fund.
The question that has to be answered today is: what do we do with this very substantial financial reserve? U4U consulted staff in the spring of 2015 to find out how they wanted the scheme to improve. As a result, we put certain proposals to the Management Committee approved by those colleagues which were heard, like the reimbursement of a screening test for foetal abnormalities (the NIP test) for women over 35 or the full reimbursement of follow-up examinations after a serious illness, even when the progress of the serious illness has been halted and the person has recovered.
In U4U’s opinion, two questions now arise:
As always, there are those who don’t want to spend anything and talk about nothing but savings, and priorities differ among those who want to spend more on better cover. The debate has begun, which is a start. We must all be involved in it.
The situation of the session contract agents at Strasbourg is a very old and unpleasant story. To summarise a situation that became complicated over the course of legal actions, this relates to non-permanent contracts for local staff for services rendered during sessions, after they were internalised.
These agents live on successive short-term contracts, although they work for Parliament, some of them for decades. Whatever their functions, skills and experience, they were all recruited at the lowest grade, and their gross salary is €389 per month.
A few weeks before the expiry of a contract, they do not always know if they will be rehired. Uncertainty and humiliation are their lot. But what are they paying the price for? Parliament shows them little consideration: they are far from the centre of gravity, as they are based in Strasbourg, which is always a problem. These agents took legal action to have their rights recognised, and the Court ruled in their favour. Parliament lodged an appeal and lost. Since then, the agents have been waiting for Parliament to comply with the Court’s decisions.
It should also be remembered that there is only a handful of these agents, which is an advantage in terms of resolving a situation, but a disadvantage as their problems never feature prominently on the agenda of a very busy administration.
Stalling is a strategy, but in this case it is a disgrace. How can Parliament advocate insecurity, injustice and now contempt for the decisions of the court, which have become a means of human resource management? For that is exactly what this amounts to. We are talking about human beings, equal under the law, whom the court believes to have been dispossessed by the working conditions imposed on them.
The resistance of Parliament is incomprehensible and remains unexplained to the social partners and other interested parties.
U4U is asking the Secretary General to resolve the situation of these agents discriminated against by shameful working conditions. This is a matter of urgency, especially as some contracts are due to expire at the end of the year.
In June 2017, EUROSTAT produced a report1 that sets out the characteristics of the pension schemes for the staff of the central administrations of EU Member States. The aim of this exercise is to determine if the pension scheme for EU staff is in line with most Member State schemes.
The first observation is that all the pension schemes for officials were subject to legislative modifications between 2006 and 2017, except for Spain. As regards the EU, the legal framework for pensions was substantially modified in 2004 and then in 2013.
We can first address the other aspects of our scheme by comparing it with the rules prevalent in the central administrations of the 28.
1- Definition of the type of pension scheme
A large majority of pension systems for the officials of central administrations are based on defined benefits and formulae, not dependent on returns on investments, with a certain level of payment guaranteed at the time of retirement. That is also the case with the pension scheme for EU staff.
Likewise, most national systems do not use a pension fund system to which the contributions are transferred. The EU scheme is a budgeted virtual fund.
2- The contributions of officials and agents
In 22 of the Member States, the agent pays between 0% and 33% of the overall contribution to the scheme, and the administration pays between 66% and 100%. In 4 Member States, the agents pay no contribution (100% of the contribution is paid by the administration) and in 5 Member States, they pay between 0.1% and 20% of the overall contribution. Consequently, the agents of the EU are among those who contribute the most to their pension scheme, with 1/3 of the pension contributions payable by them.
Furthermore, in 22 States, the rate of pension contribution deducted from the salary of agents is under 10%; the withholding rate for EU agents is 9.8% of the basic salary. Thus, the rate of contribution of EU staff is one of the highest of the 28.
3- Pensionable age
The legal pensionable age is fixed between 55 and 66 years for officials of the central administrations of 26 Member States, and in three of these it varies between 55 and 60. Only two Member States have a legal pensionable age of over 66. As a result, the last revision of the Staff Regulations, which revised the pensionable age to 66, places EU staff in one of the toughest situations compared to the national administrations of the 28.
It should also be noted that, in 70% of the Member States, the legal pensionable age is updated to take account of the change in life expectancy; this is also one of the parameters used by the legislators responsible for the Staff Regulations to set the pensionable age of EU staff (cf. the last two reforms of the Staff Regulations).
The legislation of 20 Member States defines the maximum pensionable age. In only three Member States is it over or equal to 70 years, as in the Staff Regulations for EU officials. It should be noted that in Malta, an official cannot proceed beyond the age of 62.
In the very large majority of Member States, a bonus is paid to national officials who work past the legal pensionable age, similar to that which exists in the European institutions.
It should also be noted that, in 18 EU Member States, the agents of the central administrations have the option to take early retirement, with penalties (2/3 of cases) or without (1/3 of cases). In two Member States, officials can take their pension between the ages of 50 and 54! In 11 Member States, it is possible to leave between the ages of 55 and 60. The possibility of an early retirement without penalty has been cancelled by the Statute as revised on 22/10/2013; however, art 9 of Annex VIII SR leaves open an early retirement from the age 58, with penalty.
4- Annual accumulation rate for agents
In 10 Member States, this rate varies between 0.9%/yr and 1.7%/yr. In 6 Member States, it varies between 1.8%/yr and 2.5%/yr. We can see that with a rate set at 1.8%/yr, EU staff are about average.
In addition, the maximum accumulation rate of the basic salary taken into consideration varies significantly. Of nine Members States that provided these data, the rate varies between 50% (1 Member State) and more than 80% (3 Member States). Six States of the 9 studied defined a maximum accumulation rate of 70% and over. For the record, the maximum accumulation set out in the Staff Regulations for EU officials is fixed at 70%.
5- Calculation base of the pension
In 10 Member States, the calculation base is constituted by the whole career, or at least 16 years of service. Only 2 Member States use the pay of the final year of service as a parameter. The other 16 States use different parameters from the basic salary to calculate the pension.
6- Indexation of pensions
The indexation of pensions of agents in the central administrations is one of the characteristics of all the national schemes. In 12 Member States, the update is based on price and salary changes. In 6 Member States, the reference used is price or salary changes. Finally, in 5 other Member States, these are political decisions. It should here be recalled that, since the adoption of the revised Staff Regulations of 2013, the adjustment of salaries and pensions is effectively done on an annual basis. It is based on changes in salaries and prices, as in the case of 12 Member States.
7- Survivor’s pension
23 Member States provide a minimum pension, similar to that which exists in the Staff Regulations for EU agents.
We can conclude that our scheme is generally in line with the average of the Member States. It shares numerous characteristics with the national schemes. The parameters of this scheme are often among the most drastic and severe compared to those used by the 28. Consequently, this study makes it possible, on the basis of this alignment, to dismiss the criticisms from the Member States and the media on the inconsistency of conditions imposed on EU staff with regard to pensions. The intention is to update this study annually to check that the consistency with the Member States remains.
1 Doc. 20170627 ART83_08, 27 June 2107.
The Graspe review was created in 2000 by a group of officials, most of whom formed the structure of U4U. This group decided to reflect on the meaning of its professions and, more broadly, on the meaning of the European construction. The group acts in an environment of open mindedness, free examination of opinions, and independence.
We want to consider the role and actions of the European Civil Service and serve the general interest by questioning a European construction that must be at the service of its citizens, in accordance with its fundamental values.
The release before the summer of a substantial issue 31 dedicated to the European debate and the functioning of the European Civil Service will be followed by the release of issue 32 before December 2017.
Among the articles in this issue, you will find one by Fréderic Krenc, lecturer at the Catholic University of Louvain on "the fundamental rights of the officials of the Union and discipline". Another article asks the question: Can an employer monitor and consult emails sent and received by workers from their workplace email account?
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.
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éditeur responsable: Georges Vlandas
équipe de rédaction : Bertrand Soret, Victor Juan Linares, Fabrice Andreone, Sylvie Vlandas, Kim Slama, Christian Tritten, Gérard Hanney, Sazan Pakalin, Agim Islamaj, Yves Dumont, Stéphane André, Ivan Cusi Leal, Georges Divaris, J.-P. Soyer