Newsletter from U4U : July-August 2018 – n°65
European Parliament : Open letter to MEPs re Interpreters’ strike
Dear Members of the European Parliament,
The administration of the European Parliament is presently engaged in a new social conflict with your interpreters, after so many others concerning other categories of staff.
These colleagues constitute one of the most specialised occupations in the Institutions, whose work sustains the deliberative democracy of Parliament that enables and supports your work.
Our colleagues have had new rules imposed on them, lengthening their working day and time on duty, while reducing rest time, especially at night.
Although the interpreters are open to dialogue, and accept part of the new workload, the administration has been reluctant to accept any compromise and is refusing quality social dialogue. It completely refuses to engage in dialogue with the trade unions, who constitute the natural representatives in such a situation.
Even more concerningly; when strike notice was given - the last resort when dialogue has come to a standstill - the administration, unilaterally and with no legal basis, imposed staff requisitions, the scale of which amounted to an effective denial of the right to strike.
Will European parliamentarians accept such constraints on labour law, in breach of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and other instruments of the ‘social pillar’?
Will they accept such a deterioration of the working conditions of colleagues, at the risk of calling into question the quality of service and especially the right of MEPs to express themselves in their own language and have access to the debates and supporting documents in their own language?
How will it be possible to work at Parliament without the interpreters, to sustain a democracy that respects languages and cultures?
Some parliamentarians have already shown their solidarity. During this week’s plenary session, will the European Parliament firmly ask the administration to reach a compromise and stop undermining the right to strike?
The framework agreement concluded last century, which governs the relations between the trade unions and the administration, is completely outdated. In any case, it is not being respected by the administration. Will the European Parliament ask the administration to negotiate its modernisation?
Of all European trade unions, U4U is among those most convinced of the need for the European construction. This construction is simply not possible if the social rights of European officials are being held in contempt.
Members of the European Parliament, you have our trust. You are committed to respect social dialogue. Your Institution must set an example in this regard.
Georges Vlandas & Jean-Paul Soyer
President General Secretary
The Directorate-General for Translation for the European Commission in mid-2016 launched a knowledge management project on the radio, intended for the thematic training of translators. But all colleagues can benefit from these presentations on Commission policies, accessible practically everywhere and also available in compact form (30 minutes, in English or French).
http://dgtradio.podomatic.com/ for Radio Ekonomika
http://dgtradiolingvistika.podomatic.com/ for Radio Linguistika
Each week, Radio Ekonomika invites an economist or a specialised journalist to present (in non-technical language) a topical theme important to the work of translators. We also invite colleagues from other departments to present key documents or policies that they manage, the goal being to share knowledge, work programmes and to encourage learning a language that all staff have in common. Every fortnight, Radio Linguistika addresses general linguistic questions, like language presentation, European citizenship, multilingualism or, in a more specific way, the internal processes of the DGT (outsourcing, demand management, machine translation, quality etc.) that the staff would like to understand better.
The radio is an opportunity for our colleagues to present their field of expertise and to briefly and informally discuss subjects like Eurozone reform, taxation or the digital economy, for instance. This contributes to the development of an inter-departmental and interdisciplinary vision of our work environment and institutional framework. We are confident that the radio provides a better understanding of current European affairs, which encourages motivation and makes work easier. Another dimension is a better understanding of the DGT, the different languages texts are translated into, their specifics, needs and difficulties, as well as the work of different horizontal services of the DGT.
The administration of the European Parliament has decided to extend the capacity of WAYENBERG crèche and to provide it with new facilities. This project will allow the crèche to increase its capacity, already at 220 children, to eventually admit 120 more.
A building will be added in front of the current one. 6 new units will be constructed including a bathroom, kitchenette, a playroom, rooms for sleeping as well as an exercise room, an art room and a library. The lunch room and the car park (with 21 spaces) will also be enlarged. It will be a certified energy-efficient building, and the new layout will help traffic in Rue Wayenberg as well as car parking to drop off the children.
Building work will begin mid-August 2018 and should last until mid-August 2020.
The materials chosen (solvents, paints) will adhere to strict standards to avoid harming the children’s health, stricter standards than are usually required in Belgium. The air quality will be regularly evaluated to ensure requirements imposed by the administration are met, and to ensure the children aren’t at risk. However, even though the administration has demanded so many specifications that restrict the project manager during the work, the children seldom go outside and the windows will stay shut to avoid noise and dust in the classes. This situation will certainly be difficult for the first few months of work, but as soon as the foundations are in place, the situation will become more normal. Nevertheless, it is far from ideal; two years is a long time, but it is the price that must be paid in order to admit more children, and to fulfil the staff’s expectations.
The admission criteria will remain unchanged: the crèche is only open to children whose parents work in the European Parliament. U4U is very displeased that only the children of officials and members of European Parliament have access to this crèche. In fact, inter-institutional crèches managed by the Office for Infrastructure and Logistics in Brussels (OIB) are open to all children, no matter which institutions their parents are from. The OIB has a waiting list of 180 children for these crèches. Solidarity and reciprocity would be welcome. All children of officials of the European institutions are born with equal rights, aren’t they?
U4U decided at the end of 2017 to create a video channel: U4Utube.
This ‘channel’ complements our other efforts to inform: periodicals, community meetings, our managers’ visits to your offices. Our videos, more responsive than news, help you get to know the faces of some of our main organisers. These videos, more often in French, have subtitles in English in the majority of cases. Within the next two months, all our videos will be subtitled in English.
Our videos tackle a large number of subjects. For instance, the future of Europe, U4U’s identity, the joint health insurance scheme, air quality in Brussels, contract staff, the situation in the executive agencies and at the European parliament, European schools, social dialogue, challenges we will address in 2018, etc.
Staff, translators and assistants are reporting the difficult situation they are in and the overwork they are subjected to on a daily basis. Instead of a smooth program over a period of several months, the conditions (within 3 months) for producing the considerable volume of budgetary planning documents (multi-annual financial framework or MFF) and the European semester (400 pages) are unprecedented - on top of normal work. The translators were refused any time off in May and June and were asked to stay available during weekends until mid-June.
Everyone knows the importance of these documents for the European Union but we must ask ourselves how sustainable such an overstretched program is. The continuous increase in productivity is not new and capacities are already exhausted at the best of times. But is this stress sustainable in the long term?
Only a permanent civil service can cope with this overwork. At the same time, the staffing table attached to the financial plan shows a reduction of 12%. And the promises made by our Commissioner for resources in March 2017 are forgotten. They aim to outsource 40% of production. Many other problems are appearing, with the relocation of translation services exiled to Evere, near Brussels, split up into three places in the city of Luxembourg. Restriction of the right to linguistic training (except English), removal of the Translation Centre, fervent promotion of machine translation, etc.
It is high time we reviewed the situation together. The trade unions must act together. U4U will take the initiative with this in mind to allow the holding of a joint general meeting of DGT staff when we reconvene.
Since the first of June, the spouses of candidates for retirement are no longer welcome at the retirement preparation seminars organised by DG HR B3….. Whereas DG HR encouraged spouses and partners to participate in these seminars over the years, emphasising the importance of starting this new stage of life in the best conditions and avoiding, among other things, post working-life conflicts. This participation (often limited because spouses still working aren’t always available) is supported in training evaluations, and always referred to as very useful by retirees active in Retirees’ Associations such as AIACE.
The DG HR D1 Unit, responsible for the follow-up of retirees, is also in favour of this participation. So are we coming up with a solution to avoid divorces during retirement?!
The Commission has decided to name Mr Ville ITÄLÄ, a member of the European Court of Auditors and former MEP, for the post of Director General at OLAF
U4U applauds this nomination. Ville ITÄLÄ is known for his actions in favour of good working conditions for his staff, at the Court as well as the European Parliament and at The Ministry of the Interior in Finland, which he was responsible for. U4U has no doubt that he will be an excellent partner in social dialogue.
Work is currently underway at OLAF to create an afterschool child-care service in the building, develop career path opportunities for indefinite-term temporary staff, improve workplace satisfaction as well as enhance the quality of the IT system for the daily work of investigators and, in particular, the teleworking structure for investigators, which will be made possible by a new IT system, a 360 degree appraisal of senior officials, the resolution of some individual cases such as the promotion or appointment of AST9, AST10 and AD13 staff, etc.
U4U reiterates its wish to collaborate with the upper management for fruitful exchanges aimed at improving staff working conditions.
* Mr Itälä, a Finnish national, is a lawyer by training and has been a Member of the European Court of Auditors since 2013 and before that a Member of the European Parliament (from 2004 to 2012) and Minister of Interior in Finland (from 2000 to 2003). He also has experience as an acting police commissioner and prosecutor in Finland.
On 28th June 2018, U4U was invited by the staff committee of the Railway Agency to introduce themselves, along with other OSPs.
On this occasion, our organisation presented the major European issues for staff: budget, geographical balance, etc. We then discussed the role of trade unions in social dialogue at the heart of agencies in order to negotiate rules, in addition to the work of the Staff Committee.
The staff showed great interest in the presence of the OSPs, notably on the topics of the reorganisation and future of the agency. U4U proposed establishing a dialogue with the directors of the ERA agency and to finalise a framework agreement to regulate talks between trade unions and the ERA agency’s directors, like Alicante or Cologne. On this subject, U4U had the opportunity to recall its role in the finalising of the Cologne framework agreement, talks in Barcelona and the political agreement that it signed with the president of EUIPO.
We also presented our program for agency staff and notably our proposals on instability, careers, contractors, the JSIS (Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme) or social dialogue. See U4U’s for the agency programme. We will keep you informed of developments in our actions with the ERA.
The EEAS had offered staff the choice, by referendum, of how to organise staff committee elections. Two options were on the table:
We and our partners called for people to vote for the second option. The staff followed our advice.
U4U, USHU and FFPE thank all the staff who took part in the referendum. Thanks to you, we now have a more equitable system that will allow us to elect a more representative Staff Committee.
Trade union action must not exclude inter-union dialogue on the substance. We have undergone two reforms in ten years. Our daily business is constantly in flux. The dialogue at the heart of the institution still needs to be honed. The Commission requires renewed efforts from us to face the negative situation prevalent today in the Union. In this context, staff unity should be even more necessary. For this to become a reality, there is a need for quality dialogue. U4U believes that staff can only be defended in a unified way. In dividing staff, some continue to defend avenues whose results have already disadvantaged all the staff in concrete terms. Others compensate for their inability to act with demagogic and dangerous proposals.
First, some facts
The staff as a whole is a victim of the two last reforms of the Statute, which it has fought and endured. The increase in inequalities and instabilities was intended by the Member States and by certain directors of the Commission. To claim that the existing staff were complicit with it is an act of bad faith, and disinformation.
If the cost of this reform has been largely borne by the staff hired afterwards, all staff have been significantly affected (e.g. substantial increase in the crisis levy, retirement conditions worsening, removal of bonuses and facilities, etc.)
Long- and short-term contractors have multiplied, increasing inequalities. Instability is the first of the inequalities. The second is the professional downgrading process which affects all categories of staff, whether officials or contractors. Downgrading comes about by hiring staff with professional experience at a lower grade, who have higher degrees and qualifications than the jobs offered.
The last reform of 2014 has profoundly affected the existing staff and has created new inequalities for staff hired since the first of January 2014. The political and economic context, the Commission’s weakness and the ambivalent attitude of the EP have allowed the determined opposition of the staff to be bypassed and social dialogue to be weakened.
A disastrous political line, dangerous behaviour for the European Civil Service
The propaganda of some clearly has the objective of dividing staff, with the suggestion of taking from some to give to others, indeed, to favour certain categories to the detriment of others. Consistent with this line, while the Member States and the administration discuss the outline and contents of the reform, certain trade union directors campaign to Permanent Representations and their member states to limit the career of ASTs and ADs. Their goal was to produce a budget allowing the growth of ADs’ income at the beginning and in the middle of their career. These directors have not understood that these new measures were going to seriously limit the careers of the officials recruited after the 1st May 2004 much more than those hired prior to that date. Naturally, the Council has pocketed the budgetary savings obtained without allowing staff to benefit from them at the beginning of their career.
Likewise, some continue to attack the European Civil Service’s retirement system by maintaining, against all the evidence, that it has problems. The goal sought is also to make a financial transfer from current or impending pensioners in favour of the new generations of officials. The result of this is unfortunately well-known. The Member States have certainly attacked pensioners, but those of younger generations, who from now on have to work five more years to be eligible for the same percentage of retirement. These retirements are generally based on the lowest salaries, owing to the restriction of access to the career goals they worked towards. The policy driven by some has clearly done a disservice to the young generations it claimed to defend.
We defend the civil service in all its diversity but also in its unity
Some of these trade unions recommend industrial action favouring a particular work space or a single category of staff, or even a subsection of this category, without taking the consequences of their actions for the majority of staff into consideration. This approach is particularly detrimental to mobilisation. The lack of a unified approach encourages a selfish attitude that lead to indifference, the rejection of solidarity and, as if often observed unfortunately, even conflict between them. Of course, the administration is delighted to see its policy of ‘divide and conquer’ validated, which ends with the weakening of the civil service.
On the contrary, U4U believes that it is possible and vital to fight together: officials with contractors for example, to reduce instability, this poison of the civil service; the ADs and the ASTs together for their careers and to put a staff policy in place; new staff and old against inequalities and to stimulate careers from the very beginning of their service.
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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