European Parliament: electronic voting
In the European Parliament, would U4U be the only one to ask for electronic voting in the Staff Committee elections?
We live in an age where everything is smart and therefore hyper-connected: from smart phones to smart cars, smart TVs and so on. We are now used to doing things online and are demanding more and more digital services. In response to this demand, the EP is modernising itself by digitising its services and, where possible, moving them to the cloud.
The goal of reducing paper consumption has been included in every strategy for more than 20 years. Reducing paper goes hand in hand with reducing the carbon footprint.
The EP is therefore committed to digitising services, reducing paper and achieving CO2 neutrality in the short term. However, there is one area that is resisting against all odds. We are talking about the staff committee elections. It seems that we cannot vote without paper. Is that true? Is there no alternative to a manual process that is lengthy, costly and outdated?
Let’s look at the cost of the current elections:
- Printing paper ballots in advance to cover all potential voters.
- Providing voting tables for 2 weeks, with at least 3 people in each table to register and validate the vote.
- Once closed, collect all the votes and send them to Brussels for counting.
- Validation and counting takes hours.
All of these costs will be drastically reduced if we move to an electronic voting system. Starting with the fact that there is no need to print a ballot paper, through to the fact that there is no need for physical tables with staff waiting endless hours, and reducing any transport costs.
In addition, e-voting has several clear advantages. First of all, people can vote from anywhere: all they need is a device such as a laptop, hybrid or even a smartphone. Facts show that when you switch from paper to electronic voting, voter turnout increases.
Other EU institutions have already had e-voting in place for a long time, with very positive results.
For us, it is therefore time for the EP to introduce electronic voting for the next staff committee elections. U4U is the only union to have this important objective and we will actively work to achieve this in the next term with the hopeful support of other unions.
Results of the professional elections of June 2023
The vote to elect the European Parliament’s Staff Committee has just ended in the second round as more than 50% of staff voted. Our organization, which is still new to the Parliament and which was standing for election once again, saw its number of elected members (3) maintained while its share of the vote increased. This represents a very positive result: one which is encouraging for the future of the organization, at a time when some of the longer-standing organizations in the EP failed to have any representatives elected . We should also highlight the size of the EP’s U4U membership with over 300 members. Finally, it should be noted that several of the Parliament’s staff delegations are led by U4U members.
Following our organisation’s recent progress in the Commission elections in Brussels and Luxembourg, and the very good result obtained in the External Service (20%), this latest EP result shows the robust health of our organisation and marks the end of an electoral cycle that has seen our organisation running election campaigns, almost non-stop, for nearly two years. Such results are all the more remarkable given that they were achieved by an almost entirely new team.
U4U works to improve the functioning of staff representation
We are on the eve of the Staff Committee elections.
Thanks to the trust you have placed in us, in just over 6 years of representation and without a majority, we have already been able to influence burning issues such as the recent situation of our interpreter colleagues, for whom U4U has contributed significantly to good results, and to demonstrate to the administration the added value of effective cooperation with the trade unions.
On the basis of the work we have done, if you, the voters, strengthen our representativeness, we commit ourselves to improving the functioning of the staff representation with
- A genuine social dialogue, which requires the negotiation of a new framework agreement between the unions and the administration.
- Promoting a new, more collaborative practice between the different trade union organisations, whether they are in the majority or in the minority.
For example, all union organisations would work having equal representation on the staff committee, joint committees and delegations. The joint committees and delegations are the places where important issues in working life are discussed, such as: promotions, day-care centres, equal opportunities, health insurance, health and safety at work, the specific professional characteristics of certain trades, etc.
Let’s make sure that at each of these levels of representation we reflect the different realities and preferences of the whole workforce.
That would be a real change. The practice of the current union majority on the staff committee is quite different. It has all the resources granted to unions. This lack of cooperation is also reflected in the lack of distribution of seats on the various joint committees and the unequal distribution of the most politically sensitive areas.
U4U commits itself, with your trust, to :
- Give meaning to the elections by reflecting your choice at all levels of staff representation!
- Immediately work towards proportional and equitable distribution in all joint committees and delegations.
- Report, as a principle of transparency, on the application of the collaborative practice.
We call on all unions present at the Staff Committee elections to commit themselves to this principle or, failing that, to state their positions now on the distribution of seats on joint committees and delegations so that staff can vote in full knowledge of the facts.
Although in principle elected officials and candidates should be asked first to participate in the various committees and delegations, we support the association of colleagues from the services who wish to participate in staff representation.
Unlike the current majority, we believe that better involving the staff who commit themselves will enrich the representation with a variety of motivations.
For a housing allowance in Luxembourg and the creation of a Logistics Office
At the European Parliament : For a housing allowance and the creation of an Office, let’s negotiate the terms of solutions favourable to staff, let’s promote the social dialogue
We see a housing allowance as a favourable option to meet some of the expectations of staff assigned to Luxembourg. Firstly,
U4U defends a housing allowance that would be a fixed amount of around 650 EUR, for all colleagues living in Luxembourg, whether the house is rented or being purchased.
The six foundations behind this proposal:
1. A solid basis
This proposal is based on a study carried out by the Commission itself, which undeniably shows that housing prices in Luxembourg are 50% higher than in Brussels. The need for this allowance is no longer to be demonstrated, but its implementation is to be negotiated.
2. Staff unity again and again
For U4U the unity of the staff is an important goal. To achieve our goals, we must fight together for common demands and not against each other.
3. A solidarity basis
It should be noted that the same amount for all staff represents a different proportion of each person’s salary. Thus, 650 euros may represent up to 35% of an entry-level staff’s salary, whereas the same amount would represent less than 10% of a more senior staff’s salary. It should also be noted that because the tax is proportional, the final amount of the housing allowance will be lower for higher salaries.
4. At the negotiating table
Following the results of the current elections to the staff committee, the U4U representatives will have a strong argument with this proposal. Yes, we can discuss with the Administration the amount, the duration, a periodic adjustment, etc., because we are finally opening the way to a social agreement, here and now. Our elected representatives are committed to doing so!
5. Protection of our acquired rights
With the introduction of a new correction coefficient for Luxembourg being promised by some as the only solution to Luxembourg’s attractiveness, no concrete steps have yet been taken to benefit staff.
The lack of unity among the trade unions has not benefited the staff.
This new correction coefficient requires the opening up of the Staff Regulations, which would be detrimental to the staff in the current context. Even if the Staff Regulations were opened up, would this new correction coefficient be guaranteed? Of course not, and you know it! On the other hand, it would certainly be an opportunity to undermine acquired rights. It is astonishing that this approach is still being promoted.
6. Beyond slogans, let’s dare to think
We all like to read and listen to things that make us feel good right away, reassuringly tailor-made. You will certainly read and hear it. A flat-rate housing allowance for all staff concerned is a step forward, sustainability, credibility, a return to social dialogue, a benefit for all.
A Logistics Office ?
Secondly, U4U defends the creation of a “Logistics Office” in the European Parliament, following the example of the European Commission, in order to correct the low salaries and career prospects of an essential and important part of the staff.
This structure would bring together most of the contract staff – security guards, drivers, technicians, ushers – who would be eligible for permanent contracts at all grades. This would not only make it possible to reclassify certain functions currently performed by CAs in GFI, for example, to GFII, which would be more in line with the service provided to the institution, but would also allow for better career prospects by organising tests to move from Function Group to IV. This request does not require any amendment of the Staff Regulations.
Once again, staff unity is the basis for achieving this objective.
Let’s review the framework agreement between the EP and the OSPs
At the European Parliament: To defend staff, let’s revise a framework agreement that is over 30 years old. The world is changing, so let’s change too!
To defend staff, we need to improve the conditions for social dialogue.
Social dialogue at the European Parliament (EP) is governed by a framework agreement dating back to 1990, which does not encourage this social dialogue with the Trade Union and Professional Organisations (OSP).
Instead of a structured social dialogue comprising several stages (at director level, then at director-general level, then with the EP vice-president responsible for human resources), only the staff committee is consulted, and its opinions are not necessarily taken into account.
In addition, the unions are grouped together in an inter-union body (the COMI) chaired by a majority union, which does not guarantee union pluralism and does not reflect the vote of the electorate. The COMI’s remit is poorly defined and its role is very weak.
In this unconstructive context, we have recently initiated another paradigm of social dialogue, where following a strike call launched by our union with two other organisations in support of the interpreters, a genuine social dialogue has been established between the Administration and these unions, with the support of the interpreters’ delegation and the participation of the Staff Committee as an observer. This social dialogue led to a number of meetings which resulted in a favourable situation for the interpreters and for the smooth running of the institution.
This example illustrates the effectiveness of this type of social dialogue, which is why our organisation is calling for the framework agreement to be updated in order to arrive at a model that is more effective in defending staff.
European Parliament: Good luck to the new Secretary General and first proposals for social dialogue
U4U appreciated the presence of the new Secretary General at the first plenary meeting of the Staff Committee of the year. The Secretary General, Mr Chiocchetti, assured that he will be “the one who takes care of the administration”. He added that he wants to see “a happy staff”. Finally, as he “loves legislative work”, he considers that there is potential for improvement.
Mr Chiocchetti illustrated his point by giving some examples. In particular, he wished to:
- apply the rules on mobility in a more sensible way;
- allow teleworking from abroad under certain conditions;
- discuss with the Luxembourg authorities the cost of living for EP staff in order to improve their purchasing power;
- to allow a staff representative to participate in the meetings of the EP’s Central Administration Bureau, when matters concerning them are discussed…
By his presence and the clarity of his words, the new Secretary General demonstrated his respect for all the colleagues that the Staff Committee represents. For this: THANK YOU!
Among the issues of concern to U4U, four stand out as paramount.
The first concerns the selection of staff at the EP. The fact that certain procedures are only formally respected by the administration causes a lack of transparency and weakens the reputation of the institution. For example, a management position granted to someone who does not have the required skills affects the proper functioning of the services and the credibility of the institution.
Secondly, U4U is also concerned about the many complaints of harassment it receives from statutory staff and parliamentary assistants (PAs). We would like to see a social dialogue to improve the handling of harassment situations.
Thirdly, with regard specifically to Parliamentary Assistants (PAs), they are sometimes subject to arbitrary treatment leading to dismissal without any justification, even during sick leave. For a very long time, PAAs have been treated unfairly and even illegally in the EP. Their lot was improved thanks to pressure from the unions. They now have a status but they continue to be discriminated against. The EP can no longer support practices that are in contradiction with the values it should represent.
Finally, U4U is also concerned about the economic situation of EP staff in Luxembourg, in particular for colleagues recruited in the lowest grades, such as security agents in DG SAFE. The decision to include allowances (family, expatriation, etc.) in the calculation in order to reach the ceiling of the Luxembourg minimum salary means that these colleagues have difficulty making ends meet, also in view of the expensive rents in Luxembourg. For the first time in history, the EP as well as other institutions employ staff paid below the poverty line, which is purely unacceptable. U4U demands :
• a flat rate housing allowance for all staff;
• the abolition of the overcharging of medical costs;
• the obligation to recruit contract staff can only be from function group II;
• to allow for the award of permanent contracts and career progression to higher grades.
U4U advocates the creation of an Office in which those colleagues who currently perform essential permanent helpdesk tasks (such as guards, drivers, technicians, bailiffs, etc.) would work.
Open and respectful social dialogue with the trade unions is the most effective tool for finding constructive solutions, and we are pleased to see that our new Secretary General is convinced of this too.
European Parliament: complaints during the staff committee session on monday 14 november 2022
Heating: U4U denounces the fact that the EP is making savings on the backs of statutory staff. Some colleagues are forced to come to work with blankets, coats and gloves. According to the Belgian Federal Public Service, it is not possible to work 8 hours a day in offices where the “physical workload is very light” at 16 degrees. When the individual is no longer able to regulate his or her internal temperature, the consequences can be dramatic: loss of consciousness, coma, death. If well-being at work is a real priority, the administration must prove it to us.
Harassment: U4U has learned from the Spanish press that an MEP is being investigated for harassment in the European Parliament. Is the MEP still active? What about the Parliamentary Assistants (PAs) who have been harassed? Have they been protected or have their contracts been terminated? U4U denounces the lack of an independent body that can act quickly. It is no longer acceptable that the harassed people, in addition to suffering harassment, are left without a job.
Vacancy DG COM Visitors Unit: We have been informed that in January 2023, a retiring official from the Visitors Centre will be replaced by a person who has been working at the EP for 10 years without being an official or having passed an EPSO or CAST competition. U4U denounces these practices: an official’s post must be filled by another official from the institution, from other institutions or by someone on an EPSO list. The replacement must be impartial, independent and transparent.
Finally, we would like to thank the Director of Logistics of DG INLO, Mr. Armin Machmer, for his intervention in the Staff Committee regarding his concern for the situation of GFI colleagues in his Directorate. Mr. Machmer confirmed that colleagues from the Drivers, Ushers and Movers units will work in the other units on a voluntary basis only. He also stated that he would do his utmost to offer an official post to those colleagues who had passed the EPSO AST-SC 2 (Usher) competition and who were on the reserve list.
UNION POWER IS PEOPLE POWER
- Le PE introduit unilatéralement de nouvelles conditions de travail pour les interprètes, U4U et USL déposent un préavis de grève (juin 2022) Voir la page dédiée…
- Conclusions après l’intervention de Madame la Directrice Générale lors de la plénière sur les conditions de travail des agents de sécurité
- Situation des collègues délaissés au Schuman, bâtiment du PE à Luxembourg Situation of the colleagues left behind in the Schuman building of the EP in Luxembourg
- Mise en place du Centre de Vaccination du PE à Bruxelles Setting up of the EP Vaccination Center in Brussels
EP: Compensatory allowance for staff posted in Luxembourg, “adaptation” of the Luxembourg minimum
In Luxembourg, the basic salary of contract agents GFI and GFII is lower than the Luxembourg minimum wage (by 25%, no less!). A minimum wage is what the public authorities consider indispensable to live with dignity in a given country according to that country’s standard of living. Below this minimum, one is considered poor.
The salaries’ grid and the rules of the Staff Regulations being what they are, it is impossible to increase the salaries of the staff concerned without reopening the Staff Regulations. So a creative solution had to be found to lift our colleagues out of poverty, and eventually out of a form of illegality, since in a MS with a legal minimum wage, it is not possible to offer less for equal working conditions.
Thus, the European Parliament (EP) decided to compensate the difference between the monthly salary set in the Staff Regulations and the Luxembourg’s minimum wage (e.g. GFI – step 1: Staff Regulations €2,074.90 – Luxembourg minimum wage €2,507.70, that is €432.80 compensated by the European Parliament). On the 23 November 2020, the EP submitted to the Staff Committee its decision to grant a compensatory allowance to colleagues based in Luxembourg in order to have their opinion. So far, so good.
Let us analyse this decision. The problem comes with the first promotion/step upgrade. If the monthly salary increases as a result of a promotion or career progression, the compensatory allowance paid by the EP administration is reduced to keep the remuneration at the Luxembourg minimum wage level. In other words, contrary to the effect produced for the rest of the staff when they benefit from an upgrade in step or a promotion, GFI and GFII contract agents do not benefit from their career progression: their purchasing power remains the same for as long as the compensation is absorbed by the promotions/step upgrades. Imagine if someone did that to you? To not obtain any benefit from the financial effect of a promotion or a step upgrade. This means years of flirting with the decent minimum wage. And it’s neither very motivating nor fair.
Compensation is obviously welcome, but it is not a favour done to the staff. It is a correction of an untenable situation for the GFI and GFII grades’ colleagues. And its creation is problematic for it only solves half of the disadvantage caused. By correcting an illegal situation, it introduces an injustice.
Thus, U4U introduced an amendment to this decision during the last plenary session of the Staff Committee, which requested the Luxembourg minimum wage to be increased proportionally to the increase in the statutory salary. So that staff could benefit from the impact of the step upgrades/promotions on their purchasing power. The text of the amendment: «The Allowance shall be increased automatically according to the Luxembourg legal minimum scale in force for a qualified worker or increased according to the annual index which applies to the statutory staff salaries’ grid, if the Luxembourg minimum wage is lower than the adapted salary of the EU staff salaries’ grid.»
The aim of the amendment is to ensure an increase, because if Luxembourg were not to increase its minimum wage for a qualified worker, the staff of the European Parliament concerned by this statute would not be increased for years. For the salary adjustment, steps or promotion obtained during this period would only serve to absorb the difference between the salary set in Staff Regulations and the Luxembourg minimum wage, thereby reducing the compensation paid by the European Parliament.
Most unfortunately, and we deeply deplore it, this proposal was rejected by 14 votes in favour and 15 votes against.
This is why U4U invites the administration of the European Parliament to consider the creation of an Office to integrate contract staff in security agents’ posts, but also in infrastructure, logistics, drivers or publication/reprography posts, for instance. The Staff Regulations allow the Offices to recruit contract staff on permanent contracts’ basis in GFIIs (and not in GFIs). This would constitute a qualitative leap for our colleagues, allowing an undeniable career progression, as the Staff Regulations rules for the Offices are more advantageous for the salary and career of our colleagues in these grades.
Apprenticeship” decision: language training for security guards at the EP
European Parliament: Staff Committee – Appointment of staff representatives to committees and delegations – a certain idea of democracy fails.
Various committees punctuate the work of staff representatives in defending their interests.
A new Staff Committee has been in place since last September, and it must appoint its representatives to these committees. A total of 133 full and alternate seats must be filled. The Committee’s rules of procedure stipulate that the seats should preferably go to those who stood in the staff elections and were elected. One would hope that the appointments would take into account the electoral weight of each list and that the distribution of seats would reflect the choice of the electorate.
In fact, before the appointment meeting, U4U had proposed to the Staff Committee that it should respect two principles of democratic life, which are also applied in the European Parliament in its own committees: proportionality in appointments with regard to the electoral representation of each list, and the application of the d’Hondt method for the order of appointments to committees, a method which allows for a fair distribution. We thought at the time that the majority would seize this opportunity to break with the practices that it had decried during the election campaign, promising to work for all staff and not for any particular party.
For the time being, the majority has refused our proposal. The final result of the votes in no way respects the votes of the electorate (see attached table). The allocations went overwhelmingly to the alliance of 16 elected members, which had not been given such weight by the electorate.
The elected members of the minority who had put themselves forward for appointments and responsibilities on the committees were pushed aside, even though their personal scores in the elections were well ahead of the pack.
The current majority on the Staff Committee is characterised by an alliance of elected representatives (16 against 13 for the “minority”). In the course of the designation exercise, the majority took a very large number of committees and titular positions, leaving few committees and seats to the elected members of the minority. In addition, the alliance awarded some sixty seats to non-elected members of its own ranks, while elected members of the minority put themselves forward, despite the rules of procedure giving preference to elected members. At 16 to 13, despite the minority’s vote, the majority is in the lead, especially when it favours a voting system that was imposed in 24 hours and whose procedures are not very explicit.
If we want staff representation to improve, its practices must improve. It must define and formalise transparent procedures that promote correct representation of the sensitivities of the electorate and fair and equitable allocation of mandates.
This is a prerequisite for staff confidence in their representation, which cannot be satisfied with empty words. The current majority is missing an opportunity to improve the functioning of the Staff Committee and to show its maturity and respect for the democratic values that must govern our institutions.
U4U once again appeals to the majority: it is not too late to correct the situation, rebalance the distribution of mandates and return to attitudes that favour cooperation and unity of action within the Staff Committee for the greater benefit of the staff.
In view of the stumbling blocks, the U4U presidency recently made a proposal to all the unions to create the conditions for a cooperative and democratic functioning of the Staff Committee.
Appointments to the bodies and committees of the Personnel Committee
European Parliament: Staff Committee – appointment of staff representatives to committees and delegations – a certain idea of democracy in failure
Different committees punctuate the work of the staff representation, to defend its interests.
A new Personnel Committee has been in place since last September and it must appoint its members to these committees. 133 seats of titular and substitute members are to be allocated. The Committee’s rules of procedure stipulate that the seats go preferably to those who stood for election by the staff and were elected. It is to be hoped that the nominations will take into account the electoral weight of each list and that the distribution of seats will reflect the voter’s choice.
Moreover, before the nomination session, U4U had proposed to the Staff Committee to respect two principles of democratic life, applied in the European Parliament also in its own committees: proportionality in the nominations with regard to the electoral representation of each list, on the one hand, and the application of the Hondt method for the order of nominations in the committees, on the other hand, a method that allows an equitable distribution. We thought then that the majority would take this opportunity to break with practices they had decried during the election campaign, promising to work for all the staff and not for chapels.
For the moment, the majority has rejected our proposal. The final result of the votes does not respect the votes of the voters (see attached table). The attributions went overwhelmingly to the alliance of the 16 elected members to whom the voters’ votes had not given such weight.
Minority elected officials who had run for committee appointments and responsibilities were dropped, even though their personal electoral scores were well ahead of the others.
The current majority of the Staff Committee is characterized by an alliance of elected officials (16 versus 13 in the “minority”). During the nomination exercise, it has allocated a very large number of committees and positions to itself, leaving few committees and seats for elected representatives from the minority. In addition, the alliance allocated about 60 seats to non-elected members of its ranks, while elected minority members ran for election despite the rules of procedure, which give preference to elected members. Although the minority voted 16 to 13, the majority led the way, especially when it favoured a 24-hour voting system that was imposed in a way that was not very explicit.
If staff representation is to improve, its practices must improve. It must define and formalize transparent procedures that promote a proper representation of the sensibilities of the electorate and a fair and just allocation of mandates.
This is a prerequisite for staff confidence in their representation, which cannot be satisfied with empty words. The current majority is missing an opportunity to improve the functioning of the Staff Committee and to show its maturity and respect for the democratic values that must govern our Institutions.
U4U once again appeals to the majority: it is not too late to correct the situation, to rebalance the distribution of mandates and to return to attitudes that favour cooperation and unity of action of the Staff Committee for the greatest benefit of the staff.
In view of the blockages, the U4U presidency recently made a proposal to all the unions to create the conditions for a cooperative and democratic functioning of the Staff Committee.
The Staff Committee elections took place last February.
Since then, COVID has passed through, and elections have taken place to allocate the presidency. Since September, a new Committee has been in place. The current Presidency has a short majority (15 against 14). This does not necessarily add to an easy exercise for the next legislature. The Presidency therefore needs to put in place procedures to strengthen the capacity of the new Committee to act and function by enabling all its elected members, whether or not they belong to the majority, to express themselves and work in the interests of all staff.
On November 10, the Committee had to appoint its delegates to the various joint committees (promotion committee, for equality and diversity, against harassment) and elect its delegations: 188 seats will be allocated by vote.
The first task of this Presidency would be to take a strong act: respect the vote of the electorate and respect the minority. All lists should have a number of seats on the committees corresponding to their respective electoral weight. It will be necessary to find a method that allows for a fair distribution of mandates among all lists, also to avoid allocating the most important seats and committees only to representatives of the majority, thus depriving the other lists of fair representation.
Indeed, the European Parliament applies these two principles: proportionality and ‘fair’ representativeness for its constitution and for the composition of its committees.
U4U proposed to the new Staff Committee to ensure that, in a spirit of collegiality, proportionality based on electoral scores is respected so that all lists representing staff can have access to committees that are important to them.
A way of ensuring this representativeness is included in a method known as the d’Hondt method for the allocation of seats, according to the number of votes obtained.
WE hopes that the majority will follow up on its proposal, which respects the voter and works towards an ideal of democracy by ensuring the correct representation of the minority, in this case almost half of the staff. This would facilitate the collaboration of all the lists chosen by staff who prefer to see their elected representatives cooperate rather than tear each other apart.
November 10 will be a key date.
6 Nov 2020
ETHOS-EUROPE – PLURALIST – U4U – UNION SYNDICALE LUXEMBOURG – UNION SYNDICALE PARLEMENT EUROPEEN
The European Parliament is not really used to dialogue…
…with staff representation, nor with trade union organisations. This is revealed once again during the crisis we are going through.
European Parliament: telework: the administration’s unacceptable proposals
Within the framework of the containment decided in response to the COVID 19 pandemic, the administration has just taken a series of measures that concern the staff without even consulting them through their representative bodies.
On 31 March, in a GEDA (2020) 11843 note, Klaus Welle proposed, for those volunteers who wished to return to their Member State for the time of confinement, a measure of part-time teleworking at 75%, with a salary reduced to 75% and the abolition of the expatriation allowance.
The (unilateral) limitation of activity to 75% is questionable. On the other hand, the abolition of the expatriation allowance may be considered illegal under the present conditions because staff are not assigned to their Member State. This is an exceptionally critical situation which forces some colleagues to return home. It is not a change of assignment.
In the same letter, Klaus Welle states that, by analogy, this measure of part-time teleworking also applied to the few people on leave when the confinement started and who were unable to return, for various reasons all linked to a case of force majeure.
U4U reacted immediately and requested, in an open letter to the Secretary General, and in a joint leaflet with other trade union organisations, to review this proposal and to restore the expatriation allowance immediatly.
The expatriation allowance is a right settled by a recruitment (formally a nomination) in a given place of employment (cf : annex VII, section 2, art.4) . In the case of a temporary containment, the place of employment does not change, nor does this latter change, for instance, when one takes leave to spend holidays with one’s family. Suspending this allowance is illegal.
As for the number of hours that a colleague can work from the place where he or she is contained, it is up to him or her to determine that number, and not to the administration to impose it, especially when one can work 100%.
U4U also requested that for colleagues trapped by containment measures abroad, the administration’s decision should not be applied brutally and without nuance, but on a case-by-case basis, depending on each person’s conditions.
The Parliament has also tried to apply this measure to APAs (parliamentary assistants) but several political groups have already indicated that they do not accept the principle and will not apply it. At a time when all the institutions are showing diligence towards their staff faced with a new situation which is not of its making, Parliament is addressing its staff in a rather repressive manner.
This absurd cost-saving measure, since it affects only a handful of colleagues, reveals a certain state of mind with regard to staff, which we hope will be its ultimate expression.
Petition to the European Institutions : Defend our Conference Interpreting Agents
Supported by the Central Commission Staff Committee (CSC), the Commission Staff Committees in Luxembourg and Brussels, and the Trade Unions and Professional Organisations (OSP) at the European Commission.
The signatories to this petition wish to alert the institutions to the situation of “Conference Interpreting Agents” working for the European Institutions.
These interpreters cover more than 50% of the interpreting needs of the institutions and make possible the multilingualism which is essential for the European union to carry out its tasks. They earn a living by working almost exclusively for the institutions on the basis of one-day contracts.
A large majority of them moved to Brussels or to Luxembourg because of the institutions’ recruitment policy so that they could be as available as possible for their employer. Just like us, they pay Community tax on their income. Just like us, therefore, they are part of the structure of the European Union that they serve.
These interpreters have always shown loyalty, a readiness to work and flexibility in meeting the European Union’s needs. However, since the arrival of COVID-19 in Europe and the slowdown of activity in the institutions, they have suffered financial losses of between 50% and 100% of their income. Their contracts have been cancelled week after week without any real prospects of an improvement in their situation until September at best.
Their particular contractual relationship with our institutions means that, for the most part,they are not eligible for national support schemes.
This unprecedented crisis calls for a gesture of solidarity; a shouldering of responsibility.
The European institutions should have provided a minimum of protection to their conference interpreting agents, who are essential in normal times. Instead, they are doing the exact opposite.
DG SCIC (for the Commission and the Council) and DG LINC (for the European Parliament), scorning social dialogue and breaking the collective agreement between the parties, have imposed their non-negotiable solution: not aid but a simple advance payment on contracts, which, to make matters worse, is for a derisory amount. This has led to upset and incomprehension. Interpreters feel insulted.
The situation facing conference interpreters is a matter for all of us since it shows the failings of labour flexibilisation in our institutions and the erosion of rights that comes with it.
At a time when the European Union’s leaders are continually putting forward the need for solidarity, we support ACI interpreters’ demand that effective social dialogue be reopened. This is essential to achieve acceptable solutions to protect this category of co-worker.
The signatories of this petition call for an immediate opening of a genuine social dialogue with a view to establishing worthy and adequate financial conditions for a group of women and men who render an essential service for the European project
To sign this petition, send an email to : firstname.lastname@example.org
European Parliament: the plight of freelance conference interpreters is a cause for concern
Several institutions have recourse to a pool of freelance interpreters, a flexible and available workforce which must, for example, replace absent statutory interpreters at short notice. These interpreters have a special status. The majority of them have only our institutions as employers via long contracts which guarantee a minimum of services over the long term, and short contracts according to last-minute needs), and pay their taxes to the Community budget. In other words, they are not taxpayers in their Member State of origin, nor in their Member State of residence, since a large proportion of them have established themselves in Belgium or Luxembourg, where they provide services. This does not make them eligible for any unemployment or aid such as those that the Member States are putting in place for their various economic players (employees, SMEs, self-employed, etc.) affected by the crisis caused by the pandemic.
U4U has therefore written an open letter to all the Presidents of the concerned institutions as well as to MEPs and fostered an inter-union response to draw attention to the plight of these colleagues, whose short contracts have been terminated every beginning of the week since the beginning of the pandemic, and whose long contracts have been terminated recently as well. These colleagues, deprived of contracts, find themselves without resources and without the support of national aid mechanisms.
Like the Member States, our institutions in general, and Parliament in particular, must reflect on measures to enable these regular colleagues to hold on economically until work resumes. This crisis shows us how much the lack of an economic safety net for a considerable number of citizens invites us to think about new protection mechanisms.
Open letter from the DELINT
On April 4th, the Staff Interpreters’ Delegation at the European Parliament (DELINT) wrote you an Open Letter concerning the cancellation of the long-term contracts of our ACI (freelance interpreters) colleagues. We expressed our solidarity with our colleagues and called “upon DG LINC to fulfill its duty of care towards ACI colleagues” and “for discussions to start immediately between ACI representatives and all EU institutions in order to ensure a fair level of support for ACI colleagues, whether they are beneficiaries of long term contracts or not, during this difficult time.”
A few meetings then took place between DG LINC and DG SCIC Management on one side, and the AIIC Negotiating Delegation on the other, and we hoped that a fair measure of support would be found.
On May 26th, however, we found out with renewed consternation that DG LINC and DG SCIC had put an end to the dialogue and issued a unilateral offer, published on EpiWeb with the title “Outline of the contract-based mitigating measure for freelance interpreters elaborated by DG SCIC and DG LINC”.
The ‘measure’ found is to grant ACI colleagues “who had at least 40 contract days for the institutions in one of the past three years” “a special type of contracts for which the payment will be made in advance while the assignment dates will be confirmed at a later stage, during the period between 1 June and 31 December 2020”, amounting to a total of “three contract days for experienced freelance interpreters and four contract days for beginner freelance interpreters”.
In essence, the institutions fell back to an offer which had already been rejected twice by the AIIC Negotiating Delegation, as it would only postpone, but in no way resolve the solvency problem ACI colleagues are facing: a loan of around 1300 euros paid in advance for services to be provided later. Their generosity, in fact, as one ACI colleague pointed out, amounts to only around 27 euros: the cost of the interest rate for the same loan being taken out from a bank. By way of comparison, at this particularly difficult juncture, even some of the less wealthy Member States of the European Union are putting in place support schemes for self-employed workers that are not only far more substantial in terms of funding, but also essentially constitute a one-off measure of solidarity with no strings attached. Indeed, the very next day, May 27th, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented to the European Parliament a recovery package of 750 billion euros to support an economy that ‘leaves nobody behind’. It seems, however, that the EU institutions find it difficult to practice what they preach.
To call such an offer dismissive is only to scratch the surface of its indignity (it is ostensibly supposed to ‘bridge the months of lower interpretation demand in June and July 2020’, ignoring the fact that many ACI colleagues have seen their income drastically reduced since March), and it has been rightly and universally greeted with a mixture of outrage and disbelief by both ACI and staff interpreter colleagues, as the many comments on the SCICNet forum show (DG LINC, unfortunately, has not to this date considered fit to provide a public forum of expression to colleagues).
Moreover, in its communication, DG LINC announced ‘If the COVID-19 crisis continues after the summer and the demand for interpretation remains low, DG LINC will consider offering freelance interpreters additional contracts for interpretation-related activities regarding new technologies, skills enhancement and training’. The official announcement of such a measure of testing ‘new technologies’ under the guise of solidarity towards our ACI colleagues is yet another example of circumventing both their and staff interpreters’ representatives, who have already expressed a very clear position on ‘new technologies’. Indeed, there is currently no other relevant ‘new technology’ in the field of simultaneous interpretation than platforms such as Interactio, and it is precisely on testing ‘full remote’ interpretation (from home or another distant site) that the Director-General of DG LINC has kept insisting, from one language unit meeting to the next, in the last weeks. Therefore, there can be little doubt as to what is meant by ‘new technologies’. These ‘new technologies’ are not compliant with the ISO standards for conference interpretation equipment, nor is their use regulated in any way, in terms of interpreters’ working conditions (i.e. health and safety at work, working hours etc.), confidentiality, liability etc., and DELINT, in its position sent to DG LINC management on April 30th, demanded to be involved, together with AIIC, from the earliest possible stages of planning any such testing. It appears that DG LINC Management is again choosing to ignore interpreters’ representatives.
The AIIC Negotiating Delegation has already issued a protest letter denouncing the ‘deliberate disregard for social dialogue’ since the offer was presented as ‘non-negotiable and would be presented to individual interpreters whatever their representatives may think or say’.
We again declare our full support for our ACI colleagues and the AIIC Negotiating Delegation, and call for DG LINC to immediately restore proper social dialogue and return to consultations with the AIIC Negotiating Delegation in order to find a common solution which is worthy of both the institution and the service provided by our ACI colleagues.
The Staff Interpreters’ Delegation at the European Parliament (DELINT) 29 May 2020
Freelance interpreters being left behind – Letter to President Sassoli
We are now in the middle of the worst crisis the European Union has ever faced, and the European institutions are rightly calling for all measures to be taken so that the health crisis is not compounded by an economic crisis.
However, this is precisely what is happening to freelance interpreters who make up half of those currently going into the booth, at the risk of exposing themselves to Covid-19, in order to guarantee that plenary activity can continue in a multilingual environment as per the treaties.
Now, in the middle of a pandemic, the Directorate-General for Logistics, Interpretation and Conferences (DG LINC) of the Parliament has started cancelling contracts on a weekly yet systematic basis, invoking an article of the collective agreement applicable at the Parliament, which in ordinary circumstances has only been triggered on an exceptional basis (and with contract offers for other dates). However, this time it is being applied massively and systematically in these most extraordinary circumstances.
Ignoring social dialogue, no prior consultation was requested by DG LINC and no meeting took place prior to the unilateral decision to cancel contracts.
Instead, interpreter representatives and all other freelance interpreters were informed of this decision as it was already being implemented. DG LINC argued that they understood our situation and wanted to help but that they had no option but to assess the situation and cancel contracts on a weekly basis. They also explained that they would do their best to recruit again in the future.
However, it is clear that in the coming months, activity will be reduced to a minimum, which in effect means there will be virtually no work for freelance interpreters until at least September. Effectively, 50% of those who make multilingualism possible at the Parliament are being left behind for months.
As things stand, most would not be covered by national solidarity measures currently being envisaged in member states since these are based on national taxable income and many freelance interpreters at the Parliament work exclusively for the European Institutions and therefore pay tax on their income into the European Union budget.
Freelance interpreters have already agreed to go into the booth and to be flexible about the non-compliance of provisional arrangements with the standards that guarantee high-quality interpretation and protect our health. We want to make our contribution to Parliament’s activity.
As the Negotiating Delegation of Conference Interpreting Agents prepares to meet DG LINC in order to find a solution to the clear and present economic danger, we call on you to give DG LINC the flexibility to think out-of-the-box and to find a pragmatic form of solidarity so that we are not left behind.
EPPD – European Parliament Professional Delegation of freelance interpreters 6 April 2020
ND – Negotiating Delegation of AIIC for the EU sector
Executive Committee of AIIC – International Association of Conference Interpreters
Modification pour la durée de la pandémie des règles régissant le personnel de l’Institution :
- Open letter to Mr. David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, on Note (GEDA (2020)11843) 01/04/2020
- Renew Europe : Letter to President D. Sassoli : Teleworking measures for APAs and EP staff
- COVID-19 – Leave requests : exceptional measures
- Covid19 : Freelance interpreters left to their own devices. Letter to President Sassoli
- Open letter: the situation of AIC interpreters (Auxiliary Conference Interpreters)
- Video of AIC interpreters
- EURACTIV article: European interpreters left behind in the face of the pandemic
- IS DG SAFE REALLY SAFE?
- Social dialogue and coordinated communication at EP
- Testimony on interpretation in times of pandemic (Fev 2021)