In this issue
Promotion exercise: proposals from DGs are public
The Commission DGs have just decided on those staff to be promoted following meetings between staff representatives and Directorate Generals. The outcome of these meetings was generally positive, as staff representatives were able to make their voices heard and even make corrections to the proposed promotions made by the DGs. U4U was present among the staff representatives in 23 Directorates-General.
U4U members who wish to appeal, should contact us via our email address: rep-pers-osp-U4U@ec.europa.eu
In order to help you, we will need you to send us in good time your appeal draft as well as your appraisal documents. Please indicate clearly in your email your grade and seniority and make sure to respect the appeal deadlines.
In addition, we will be present in the working groups that study appeals. If you have already lodged an appeal, please send it to us.
Finally, an evaluation procedure has been started by DG HR in order to gather data on the implementation of the Commission’s decision on working time and hybrid work and, if necessary, propose recommendations by September 2023 with a view to a possible revision of the decision.
Essentially, groups are being asked to assess (1) whether implementation has worked well; (2) whether improvements are needed; (3) and what the possible scenarios are for the future.
The results of the survey, together with available data on office attendance and the use of the ten days of teleworking away from home, will be incorporated into the evaluation report.
U4U will be organising a brainstorming session on these three questions in the near future with its representatives from the various services and DGs to participate more effectively in the DG HR evaluation procedure.
Report on the balance of the pension scheme
New report on the actuarial balance of the pension scheme: is everything in the best of all possible worlds?
In a report published on April 14, the Commission examined the actuarial balance of the European civil service pension scheme. In the 2013 reform of the Staff Regulations, a review clause was introduced requiring two evaluations, one in 2018 and the other in 2022, based on Article 14 of Annex XII of the Staff Regulations. The aim of this report for the Commission is also to present a favourable report to the Council by highlighting the savings generated by the reforms of 2004 and 2013 and thus avoid a new reform of the Staff Regulations.
The report begins by reviewing the fundamentals of the pension scheme for civil servants. It reminds us that it is not a pay-as-you-go scheme, but a notional fund that is closer to a funded scheme, even though it “also has certain characteristics of a solidarity scheme”. This fund is evaluated regularly to ensure that it is in balance. This balance takes into account the retirement age, which is evaluated every five years. To do this, the Commission takes into account the aging of the population. At its last assessment in 2021, the Commission did not consider that life expectancy had increased significantly enough to raise the retirement age beyond 66. It also welcomed the fact that “its” retirement age is among the highest of the member states’ civil service retirement ages, which is also a way of defending the current age in the Council and preventing its increase. Unfortunately, this rather advanced retirement age also has a perverse effect, since if one wishes to leave before the mandatory age, penalties are applied. However, article 42 ter, which allows for derogation from this rule, is in practice very rarely applied, which pushes staff to remain in their posts, even though some of them may be exhausted or no longer able to do their work properly for health reasons. The evaluation of the balance is also done with the help of other parameters, on the one hand there are demographic hypotheses with mortality tables, invalidity tables, the theoretical age of retirement or the probability of being married at the date of retirement, and on the other hand financial hypotheses, in particular real interest rates observed for the long-term public debt of the Member States as well as the increase in salaries linked to the professional advancement of the members of the Union’s personnel.
The Commission then analyzes the developments in the pension system, placing greater emphasis on the benefits of previous reforms. For example, several measures directly affecting staff have been taken to reduce the share of the EU budget allocated to pension payments. For example, there is the Interinstitutional Agreement of 2 December 2013, which provided for a 5% reduction in the number of staff in the EU institutions and agencies between 2013 and 2017. So we have seen a decrease in the number of officials in the institutions during this period. At the same time, new funds were made available to recruit contract agents. Finally, between 2014 and 2021, the Commission’s staff decreased slightly while the overall population of the institutions increased from 58,000 to 66,000 officials and agents. This increase is mainly due to the recruitment of staff for the agencies and newly created bodies such as the European Prosecutor’s Office.
Finally, the Commission welcomes the significant savings achieved by the 2004 and 2013 reforms, the first of which alone is expected to save €1 billion per year in the long term. However, the Commission acknowledges, albeit half-heartedly, that these reforms have had a negative effect on the attractiveness of the FPE.
A few figures to conclude: since 2014, pensions have generated 5.8 billion euros of revenue for the EU budget. The expenditure on pensions, on the other hand, increases by about 6% per year, which is also related to the fact that pensioners receive the method and to the increase number of retired colleagues.
Hybrid Working Committee
Hybrid Working Committee: the evaluation has finally been launched, but by DG HR!
After many months of discussion in the Joint Committee on Hybrid Working (JCHW) on the rules of procedure and then on the guidelines, which were replaced by a short document and questions and answers, we are finally getting to the heart of the matter, perhaps too late given that the review of the implementation of the hybrid decision will take place in the last quarter of this year.
The evaluation exercise has also recently been launched by DG HR to collect data on the implementation of the Commission Decision on working time and hybrid work and, if necessary, to propose recommendations for a possible revision of the Decision by September 2023. DG HR has proposed a series of focus groups of up to 15 members (HR correspondents, Heads of Unit, Directors General, etc.) who will be consulted on three general questions to guide this exercise. In essence, these groups will be asked to assess (1) whether the implementation has worked well; (2) whether improvements are needed; (3) and what the possible scenarios are for the future. The results of the survey, together with available data on office attendance and use of the ten days of teleworking away from the workplace, will be included in the evaluation report. It would be desirable for this report to be submitted to staff representatives for their opinion prior to publication.
U4U has made proposals for the organisation of working groups within the CPTH. At its last meeting at the end of May, the CPTH decided to set up a working group on data collection and indicators. Meanwhile, the Central Staff Committee (CSC) has been consulted as part of the consultation process organised by DG HR, with a deadline of 15 working days for comments.
It is important that the CPTH, and in particular the staff representatives, are fully involved in this exercise so that it can fully play the role for which it was set up. Otherwise, we run the risk of having a useless joint committee, when it should be providing staff representatives with food for thought and enabling them to make an active contribution to social dialogue on an issue that is so important for the future of the European civil service.
Putting the Commission’s anti-harassment coordinator under the direct authority of the Commissioner: a bad idea! Let’s discuss it!
As reported in previous issues of LINK, the European Commission has embarked on a major project to make its anti-harassment policy more effective and accessible.
The centrepiece of the system presented by the administration to the trade unions is the appointment of a “chief confidential counsellor” responsible for coordinating this policy.
In order to guarantee the independence of this senior official, whose grade is equivalent to that of a Director-General, it is proposed that he or she should report directly to the Commissioner for Human Resources rather than to the Director-General for Human Resources.
If we understand correctly, the aim would be to protect the coordinator from any pressure that might be brought to bear on him by the management of the Directorate-General for Personnel, with the aim, we assume, of embellishing the statistics, turning a blind eye to the odd case or even concealing whole areas of the harassment situation.
We have to admit that this lack of confidence by the authorities in their own structures is worrying.
At U4U we continue to advocate a strong civil service with sufficient safeguards to deal fairly and effectively with the problems of violence, harassment and discrimination that arise within it. Provided, of course, that we are given the resources to do so.
To put it bluntly, the recent examples we have seen in the European Parliament (several MEPs involved in harassment cases where the follow-up and resolution have been excessively long and difficult) make us doubt whether the political level is better placed than the administrative level to deal with such issues.
Is it any wonder, moreover, that we have to fear that the political milieu, even more than the administration, is in danger of being susceptible to … political pressure?
Not to mention the fact that giving the Commissioner direct responsibility for a matter such as this is tantamount to giving him a competence that will in reality be managed by a member of his cabinet who already has a host of other responsibilities and no training in the matter.
That’s a risk we don’t want to take.
For our part, we remain convinced that the administration is still best placed to deal fairly with situations of violence and harassment in the workplace, provided it is equipped with the necessary resources and countervailing powers (particularly trade unions, but also by encouraging direct expression by employees) within its own departments.
If we want the harassment policy to be more effective, it is of the utmost importance that the administration is not relieved of its responsibilities. It is precisely this policy to combat harassment that the DGHR must implement. Not to relieve it of the responsibility for monitoring its implementation also means that it can be held responsible for its failure. Would this be possible in the case of monitoring by a Commissioner?
This question has nothing to do with whether we trust a Commissioner or a Director-General, but is simply a question of organisational common sense.
This is what we will try to convince our partners of in the forthcoming social dialogue meetings, after discussing it within U4U. A second aspect is also important to us: the introduction of tools to prevent harassment, and how and on the basis of which indicators. We’ll come back to this later.
Executive agencies : The 6 June mobilisation
Executive agencies : The 6 June mobilisation was a great success, but our action must continue
After two unified rallies in Covent Garden, Place Rogier, on 13 December 2022 and 31 January 2023, the long-awaited Berlaymont rally finally took place on 6 June 2023. This was the result of a lot of hard work, accompanied in the home stretch by visits to workplaces in all branches and numerous discussions to mobilise colleagues around concrete demands. The Common Front’s united call for this demonstration was actively supported by the representatives of the staff committees of the executive agencies.
It was a success in many ways. Not only because of the number of colleagues present, around 450, but above all because the mobilisation focused on the real issues affecting working conditions and staff welfare. During the rally at the Berlaymont building, a trade union delegation handed the member of Hahn’s cabinet a file containing a letter to Commissioner Hahn with our main demands.
Firstly, we insist on a reform of the governance of the social dialogue in the agencies. The forced move to the North Light building has highlighted the shortcomings of a system in which the responsibilities of the main decision-makers (the directors of the executive agencies, the directors general of the supervisory DGs, the OIB) are not clearly defined, to the point of asking who is ultimately responsible for the action in question and for the use of public money. If the legal basis is unclear, how can Community money be spent and be accountable to the budgetary authority and therefore to the European taxpayer? The operation was carried out by the OIB in conditions of financial opacity and without any real consultation of the staff concerned. The staff representatives have consistently expressed their dissatisfaction with this move, which we have always denounced as a political operation with no real economic or even environmental justification, as well as with its direct consequence – the Dynamic Collaborative Space or DCS – whose declared aim is not well-being at work but short-term budgetary savings. In order to avoid any resistance, the OIB is speeding up the process for the three sectors concerned, at least two of which are unprepared for such short deadlines. It is therefore essential that the social dialogue now involves all the actors concerned, including DG HR and the supervisory DGs.
Secondly, job security. This is an issue that concerns all agencies, even if only one is currently affected. In this one agency alone, EISMEIA, 13 staff have been transferred to the parent DG following an IAS report and 90 jobs are at risk of being lost by 2027, i.e. almost a third of the total staff of 350. This is an unacceptable situation, especially as the agency faces an increased workload and a large budget (including the flagship €10 billion European Innovation Council programme) to manage with fewer staff. Hence the stress and anxiety among staff wondering about their future. Solutions need to be found in the framework of the social dialogue to ensure that there are no net job losses, in particular through inter-agency mobility, but also with the supervisory DGs. This is also in the interest of the Commission, which will benefit from qualified staff in its services. At the same time, colleagues who are transferred to DG RTD, albeit on a voluntary basis, should benefit from more favourable conditions in terms of status and rights.
Finally, career development. At present, these opportunities are very limited, as the reclassification rates are very low – for example, a GFII contract agent has to wait 8 years to be promoted to a GF III post. In addition, contract and temporary agents do not have access to the Commission’s internal competitions. Here too, we need to examine and propose a range of viable solutions – including the possibility of internal competitions based on objective criteria – to meet the legitimate aspirations of the staff concerned in the executive agencies.
We therefore want to participate in comprehensive negotiations on working conditions and welfare as part of a real and constructive social dialogue involving all stakeholders, including DG Personnel and the supervising DGs. We are also defending the entire European civil service and its future by fighting for the rights of our colleagues in the executive agencies.
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.
New perspectives for our healthcare reimbursement
It’s about time: For the first time in several years, a proposal to amend the JSIS GIP has been submitted to the social dialogue (formal discussion between the unions and the administration) after being discussed by the CGAM (Health Insurance Management Committee).
Put simply, new, more favourable reimbursements for our medical expenses are in the pipeline.
The proposals on the table are as follows:
- Reimbursement, subject to certain conditions (in particular age and maximum number of attempts), for treatments related to medically assisted procreation
- An increase in the ceiling for GP consultations from €35 to €40
- An increase in the ceiling for specialist consultations from €50 to €60
- An increase in the ceiling for certain types of fixed dental prosthesis (crowns, etc.) from €250 to €350
- An increase in the ceiling for purchase or repair of hearing aids from €1,500 to €1,800
- An increase in the ceiling for incontinence-related supplies from €600 to €1,200
Overall, this progress is to be welcomed, but it comes late (the real cost of medical expenses has been rising for years without any adjustment of the ceilings) and is still insufficient.
This situation is all the more problematic given that, after years of small deficits (due in particular to the reduction in contributions following the amendment of the Staff Regulations in 2004), the European Union’s sickness insurance scheme now has a surplus (described by some as a “financial cushion”) of around 400 million euros, equivalent, for example, to what the Commission hopes to obtain from the planned sale of its buildings in Brussels.
This is a considerable sum when you consider that, at the height of its deficit, the RCAM was losing 10 million euros a year. The so-called “financial cushion” would therefore be enough to cover the deficit for no less than 40 years if it were to return to that level (which is unlikely).
So we’re saying it loud and clear: this money is part of our salaries, transformed into a kind of “forced savings”. It must therefore be used for its intended purpose: to reimburse our healthcare costs.
Let’s not let this money sit idle any longer! And let’s not run the risk that one day it will be diverted to cover some deficit or other! There is an urgent need to reform the JSIS, raising the thresholds for several types of benefit, improving access, particularly to mental health benefits, and taking account of new types of treatment.
As U4U has done in the past (and we would particularly like to acknowledge the work of our former representative on the JSIS Management Committee, Kim Slama, in advancing the issue of medically assisted procreation), we will continue to fight for a health care reimbursement system that better reflects the actual costs incurred by affiliates, as well as changes in the cost of medical care.
Our ideas in these areas are as follows:
- The introduction of a sliding scale for ceilings, which would allow the ceilings for each category of care to be automatically reviewed at regular intervals (e.g. every 5 years) for all reimbursable services. Instead of setting the ceilings at a fixed amount, requiring a formal decision for each change, it would be possible to set the ceiling on a sliding scale, for example at a given proportion of the average prices paid for each reimbursable service.
- The calculation of the above-mentioned mobile ceilings could also be adjusted, under certain conditions, depending on where the care is provided (e.g. if the average price of care is 20% above or below the general average or even the average in Brussels).
- A better level of reimbursement in general for services related to preventive medicine; the reduction of services related to annual visits organised by the Commission service would be an excellent opportunity to increase these reimbursements to 100%.
- Simplification of the prior authorisation system. A certain number of services which are systematically authorised on the basis of objective criteria (e.g. number of services accepted, etc.) could easily be excluded from the prior authorisation system. Such administrative simplification would also be a source of savings.
- Greater transparency of medical board opinions and the external expert opinions on which they are based (immediate publication of these opinions, subject to anonymisation of patients’ personal data).
A general review, based on the opinion of a committee of medical experts made up of equal numbers of doctors appointed by the administration and staff representatives, of the maximum number of psychotherapy services authorised and, more generally, a more comprehensive approach to mental health, in particular by facilitating access to psychotherapy in the longer term.
Results at the EASA
Regulation Agencies : progress at the EASA
The question of how social dialogue works at the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in Cologne has been on the agenda for some time.
The social situation in Cologne appears to be very difficult and has been for a long time, and in October 2022 the staff committee resigned en masse in protest. This is a relatively unprecedented situation within the European civil service and deserves our full attention and, if possible, very rapid responses. U4U has focused its efforts on improving the situation through intensive social dialogue.
Initially, U4U actively campaigned for a quick re-election of the staff committee. It was important for the staff to continue to be represented at both trade union and statutory level (staff committee and joint committees). This re-election was all the more necessary in a tense social climate. The absence of the Staff Committee would have deprived staff of one of their voices in defence of their collective interests. So the new elections in February 2023 led to the appointment of a new Staff Committee within EASA. On this occasion, U4U presented a list of candidates.
In this context of tension, the role of staff union representatives has become even more important. U4U has therefore engaged in social dialogue to defend the interests of its staff, because EASA, in principle, also needs the social dialogue, which is essential for its smooth running, to be supported by representative bodies, trade unions and staff committees. At the request of the Agency’s management in November 2022, and in accordance with the framework agreement governing relations between EASA and our union, our organisation conducted lengthy negotiations with the EASA administration between November 2022 and April 2023 on all the major issues (promotions, school contributions, improving the social climate and dialogue, surveys, new issues such as harassment, teleworking, social climate, etc.), on which we acted and obtained convincing results that improved the situation.
U4U has focused on 7 themes, which have been agreed and will be implemented this year:
- Rapid re-election of the Staff Committee
- Examination of the 3 agreements concluded between EASA and the U4U local section in Cologne, in particular the evaluation/promotion exercise, the implementation of which has been significantly improved.
- The defence of colleagues who will not be promoted in 2022 in respect of 2021 and who were promised that they would be promoted this year.
- The defence of colleagues under administrative or disciplinary investigation for whom it has been secured that the investigations will be carried out by independent investigators.
- Setting up an exercise in direct and collective employee expression, with a view to subsequently initiating social dialogue with a view to improving the social climate. The results of this exercise and the employee survey will first provide ideas for improving the social climate in Cologne and then define the issues to be addressed in future social dialogue meetings.
- At the end of this social dialogue exercise, the social partners will draw up a list of issues to be discussed at local level.
- Finally, the revision to improve the framework agreement on relations and social dialogue between the trade unions and the administration.
The scope and ambition of this social dialogue, which is due to end at the end of June, can be measured after the social dialogue meeting attended by the Staff Committee, on the basis of the evaluation exercise of the direct and collective expression of employees and the “staff survey”. This innovative exercise in direct staff expression, which recently took place in the Barcelona Agency (F4E), proved to be constructive and could serve as a model for other departments.
This situation once again raises the question of the European Commission’s supervision of Community bodies and, in particular, of the governance of these bodies of which the Commission is a part.
Together we can solve the problems of the present and improve our future, and together we will move forward! Our organisation will continue to defend staff and the European civil service.
Changes in the situation of interpreters
New working method for interpreters: how has the situation of interpreters evolved in the different institutions?
At the EP, negotiations on a Code of Conduct, « Requirements for remote participation in EP meetings », and on the incorporation of this new working method into the Working Conditions are continuing.
In principle, the Code of Conduct is definitely a step in the right direction. Based on its raison d’être, the protection of the health of both interpreters and participants in hybrid or remote meetings, it covers the essential aspects of correct remote participation: appropriate equipment (unidirectional microphone), equipment to avoid (headset microphones, Bluetooth microphones, mobile phone wire microphones, built-in microphones of PCs, tablets and telephones), a quality image, a good connection and a calm working environment. All this, plus a sound test.
If this Code of Conduct were mandatory, we could rightly speak of a quantum leap for health and safety in the EP workplace.
Unfortunately, although the recommendations are clear and strong, they are not mandatory. We are left to rely on the common sense and goodwill of MEPs who, we hope, know that the interpreters who have served them faithfully for so many years are not acting on a whim, but are pursuing a more than legitimate objective: the hearing health of all meeting participants.
This lack of a clear framework complicates the negotiations on the integration of remote interpreting into working conditions. How can we define the extent to which we can resort to a work formula if we don’t know exactly what form it will take and with what probability it will be dangerous or not?
Remote interpreting is explicitly described as an “inferior form of simultaneous interpreting” in the IIA-RI (Interinstitutional Agreement on Remote Interpreting, also known as Hampton Court).
Since then, technology has indeed advanced and in recent years we have been virtually obliged to develop this form of interpreting. However, remote interpreting is far from being the same as face-to-face interpreting. From a quality perspective, going on site is always the first option.
The interpreters can see the gestures and facial expressions of the speakers, they can observe everything that is happening in the meeting room, communication is possible between the interpreters and their clients (often by gesture or eye contact, but also by talking to each other), and it is less easy to forget the interpreters when additional documents are distributed.
The absence of these aspects increases the cognitive load. The latter is aggravated by uncertain health protection due to a non-mandatory Code of Conduct. However, a well functioning Code of Conduct is the sine qua non for extending working conditions. Only a transition period that functions as a trial period can guarantee that it works in practice.
If remote only happened exceptionally for very high-level work or in emergencies, that’s one thing. If it is used as the usual mode of presentation, working conditions will suffer. They should therefore be adapted. On the one hand, they should expressly include the “remote” mode of working with all its facets, and on the other hand, something in return should balance out what is in fact a deterioration in working conditions.
Even if there are still important elements to be defined, both in terms of substance and procedure, we are confident that it will be possible to find a solution in Parliament with DG Linc.
At the Commission, we are faced with a problem concerning working conditions in a number of respects and social dialogue, as it is currently being practised, fails to provide a solution.
The area of new modes of interpretation is a huge grey area, with no clear and lasting rules in sight :
– For meetings on platforms, SCIC is still applying the working conditions of the pandemic (IPA) which, moreover, are being applied with a good dose of “creativity”.
For the time being, management is not open to negotiations to find a long-term solution.
At the Council, even for meetings served by SCIC, no set of rules is respected for visioconferences, which are coming closer and closer to remote meetings, which means that the problems of remote access are well and truly present.
– As for hybrid meetings with a low remote participation rate, known as MIPs (Mostly in Person Meetings), a pilot project is underway to collect data. However, what is possible at the EP (collecting data, finding solutions for recording the speaking time of remote interpreters, differentiating the duration of the meeting from the duration of the Interactio connection), seems to be impossible at the Commission.
According to Scic, the data has indeed been collected, but it is unusable. And yet, as a major Interactio customer, SCIC should even be in a position to ask for a technical feature that would make it possible to record remote working time automatically.
The pilot project scheduled to run from October to January has already been extended. As it is due to expire soon, the Interpreters’ Delegation asked what the next step would be. The administration does not seem to be in a hurry to negotiate.
– Regulating platform work in the long term is entirely possible. Working conditions on platforms could even be much more flexible than at present (even though Tempe will always be more strenuous than work on site), provided that good quality sound can be guaranteed. To find a solution to the problem of potentially harmful sound, the EP is working with internationally renowned experts. At the Commission, SCIC did receive the CPPT’s recommendations in February, but the procedure has been bogged down ever since. The Interpreters’ Delegation’s proposals on this subject have not been discussed.
Current working conditions are also suffering :
As a reminder, SCIC was originally conceived as an inter-institutional service for the Commission and the Council. In the end, it became a Commission interpretation service, providing services to the Council, the EESC and the CoR in return for payment.
There is currently a shortage of interpreters on the labour market, which limits the opportunities for SCIC to engage. At present, the Commission is asking for more meetings to be served (which is normal, since it is its interpreting service), so SCIC must provide more resources for the Commission.
At the same time, it does not want to reduce the service provided to the other institutions (on the one hand, it is bound by Service Level Agreements (SLAs), on the other hand, it needs this income, being one of the few DGs that have to earn part of their financial resources themselves).
This situation has several repercussions.
– some of the requests for interpretation (from within the Commission, but also from outside, from the Council and the Committees) cannot be met. The institutions in question therefore try to engage themselves. This is possible, given that they are not bound by the SCIC’s working conditions. We see hourly contracts, contracts for work from home, paid at a rate that is clearly below the rules, and non-regulatory working hours.
Current working conditions are also being eroded.
The workload is distributed very unevenly. The SBC, an purely internal indicator (different from the KPIs for external use) that would help to rebalance the workload, is biased and little used.
Missions are being carried out to impossible timeframes (time to arrive at the airport), and problematic practices are becoming established (Mission Order accepted – but with certain conditions, which means additional costs for the mission leader, without the latter being informed).
At the beginning of May, the SCIC announced that an Action plan to better satisfy demand for interpretation had been drawn up for the coming year. This plan was established without prior consultation of the Interpreters’ Delegation. At a meeting requested by the DI, certain aspects could be smoothed out. The fact remains, however, that a rule concerning extra-statutory work patterns, although recently negotiated, has been further restricted unilaterally.
Compensation for exceptionally long working hours, hitherto decided and when necessary negotiated on a case-by-case basis, has now been fixed as a flat rate without any consultation of the Interpreters’ Delegation. – According to SCIC, the Agreement would allow such a decision to be taken without consulting staff representatives. The ID is still waiting for a precise answer to the question of where such a provision would be found.
In addition, the fixed day for the work of staff representation has recently been called into question. (Until now, Planning had to ask staff representatives for their agreement when it came to giving up their “staff representation” day to work in high-level meetings. In future, the burden would be reversed and it would be up to the DI members to claim it once they see that they are scheduled in a team on an ID-day).
All this does not augur well for the renegotiation of working conditions (the 1987 Agreement and its Annexes which have updated it over the years) which has already been announced for after the summer.
Furthermore, sensible proposals from the Delegation (adapting teleworking abroad to the professional reality of interpreters in a post-pandemic context as well as a feasible solution for the holidays in French speaking Belgian schools) have been brushed aside without any convincing explanation.
While this situation is having an impact on current working conditions, the work of the ISO Group, in which some SCIC representatives (but not staff representatives) are participating, is likely to jeopardise working conditions for the entire profession in the long term. The ISO Group is currently working on a standard governing booths used for a hub. A hub is a working arrangement that separates the meeting room from the place where interpreters gather to work. Since the Commission has no experience of working with a hub, it would make sense to first define the working conditions for this kind of arragnement in the framework of social dialogue, and only then work out the technical aspects of the box (booth) that is supposed to house this type of work.
What’s more, such an undertaking could be based on an idea of optimisation: if we opt to forego the advantages of face-to-face work on site (see above), we might as well try to avoid the disadvantages (confined space, poor ventilation, sub-optimal sound insulation, lack of daylight) all due to the necessity to integrate the booths into the meeting room. We could imagine generous, well-insulated booths with adequate ventilation, daylight and, why not, windows. In fact, if interpreting means doing office work (on a screen), we might as well have offices like all the other civil servants, just fitted with the necessary technical equipment.
Strangely enough, the opposite seems to be the case.
It is not without reason that mobile booths, whose ventilation and soundproofing are suboptimal by definition (a mobile booth is the exception to a booth, which in itself constitutes an exception to labour law) are not planned as a permanent solution. It goes without saying that a booth should have a large front window, if only for reasons of visual ergonomics.
An ISO standard that falls below current standards could be the perfect pretext to justify a downward revision of working conditions. It would be a fait accompli prior to the negotiation of the Agreement which, it should be remembered, was negotiated between the trade unions and HR, assisted by the interpreters as experts ; a recast should happen in the same format. We need to get back to the table of a social dialogue worthy of the name with staff representatives to discuss acceptable working conditions for the staff concerned.
Commemorate the Schuman Declaration
9 May, Commemorate the Schuman Declaration on its 73rd anniversary, celebrate peace!
On 9 May, European citizens and EU officials joined a ceremony in Brussels to celebrate Europe’s Day and European solidarity. After the raising of the European flag under the arch of the Cinquantenaire, they gathered about the bust of Robert Schuman, at the entrance of the park next to rue Art-Loi, to listen to the speech in his tribute by Avenir de l’Europe and to the European anthem sung by the Swedish choir of Brussels.
The representatives of the European, Belgian and Ukrainian authorities spoke to recall the need to preserve peace and defend democracy and free speech. The 9th May will from now on be celebrated in Ukraine as Europe’s Day.
The ceremony ended with the presentation of the exhibition « Justice For Ukraine » de Cartooning for peace in partnership with Amnesty International France.
The event was organised by the European Commission’s representation in Belgium with the support of numerous associations including “Avenir de l’Europe”, the ” Young European Federalists Belgium and Brussels” (JEF Belgium and JEF Brussels), the ” Groupe Europe of UEF”, “Alliance 4 Europe”, “Schuman Square”, the “Jean Monnet” association, the “GAQ”, the “Jean Rey” association and “Visit.brussels”.
The “Schuman Declaration” of 9 May 1950 is the founding and revolutionary act of a new project of collaboration between the peoples and states of Europe, no longer based on the hegemony of one over the others, but on peaceful collaboration, and equality between them. It was the beginning of a new stage in European history that allowed the longest period of peace. Let us not forget it.
New Pact on Migration and Asylum
The pitfalls of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum
While Italy declared a state of emergency for six months at the beginning of April following a sudden influx of migrants on its territory, the inter-institutional negotiations on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum are still underway. Yet this legislative package had already been announced on September 16, 2020, during the State of the European Union address, where Ursula Von der Leyen announced her wish to abolish the Dublin system. This controversial regulation is one of the major sources of European asylum law. It has two objectives: to determine the state responsible for the asylum application of a person arriving on European territory and to fight against secondary movements, i.e. the registration of the asylum application of the same person in several states. The first objective is the main stumbling block of this text. Indeed, to determine the authority responsible for processing an asylum application, the dominant criterion still today makes the State through which the asylum seeker first entered the country solely responsible. The second objective, the fight against secondary movements, is far from being achieved. If we compare the years 2014 and 2021, which saw a similar number of asylum applications (510,696 and 505,221 respectively), in 2014 there were 137,220 cases in which a prior application had been made in another member state. In 2021, this figure will rise to 213,310 cases. Thus, the containment of secondary movement has not been very effective. The combination of these two factors has led to major imbalances, placing the burden of processing applications more heavily on the Southern and Eastern countries, on Europe’s doorstep, to the point where the asylum system of some countries, such as Greece, has collapsed.
Unfortunately, the New Pact as proposed by the Commission does not solve these structural failures. The criterion that makes the state of first entry the responsible authority remains. To remedy this, the Commission has set up a “solidarity mechanism” that allows states to share the processing of asylum seekers. However, the choice is left to the States to: relocate the applicants on their soil, provide material and logistical support to overburdened States or finance the return of applicants to a third country. Given the reluctance of many European countries to receive migrants on their soil, it is likely that relocation of applicants will be very little practiced by member states.
The problem with the European asylum system is that it is still focused on a security vision of European borders without taking into account the challenges that the future holds. For several years now, we have been observing a rise in right-wing and far-right populism in Europe. In September 2022, the Sweden Democrats, a conservative, right-wing, anti-immigration party, obtained unprecedented scores in the parliamentary elections with 20.5 per cent, placing second ahead of the Moderates. In the same month, Italy’s far right Fratelli d’Italia party, led by Giorgia Meloni, gained 21.6 percentage points and 26 per cent of the vote in the Chamber of Deputies. In France, the Rassemblement National, Marine Le Pen’s party, managed to place 89 deputies in the National Assembly, compared to 7 in the previous elections. While this undeniable dynamic may seem alarming, it shows one thing above all: there is an electorate of European citizens seduced by these political programs. The governments in place are therefore both obliged to share the institutions with the elected representatives of these extreme right-wing parties, but also tempted to capture a share of this electorate. Some of them are therefore more inclined to hold conservative and hostile positions on issues such as asylum and migration. We therefore find ourselves with a deeply contradictory system of asylum management where we find two opposing logics: European aspirations for the protection and promotion of fundamental rights on the one hand, and the sovereignist and security-oriented wishes of states on the other. It is therefore not surprising that this system is not designed to resist the migratory crises of this century. This becomes particularly worrisome when one looks at the projections of climate displacement. A 2021 World Bank report estimates that by 2050, 216 million people will be forced to leave their homes and migrate within their countries. Many of the most affected countries are already in a precarious economic, social and political situation and massive population displacement is likely to be a major factor in instability. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) explains in a 2022 report on climate change-related mobilities that by 2030, about 50% of the world’s population will live in coastal areas that are increasingly exposed to floods, storms and tsunamis. Moreover, if we take the +2°C scenario as a reference, 350 million people will be exposed to unbearable temperatures. We could go on and on with equally apocalyptic figures showing that the migration crises we have experienced so far will certainly pale in comparison to those that await us. We will then have to choose between sinking into a murderous isolationism and vainly trying to prevent access to our territory or radically changing our perspective and designing a system capable of welcoming migrants and asylum seekers in the best possible way.
COMMON FRONT TO HELP UKRAINIAN REFUGEES
SEVERAL THOUSAND REFUGEES ALREADY HELPED!
Thanks to your donations, several thousands of Ukrainian refugees have benefited from the action for the support of refugees by receiving food, clothing, products for children and also language courses held by colleagues and former colleagues volunteers.
We would also like to thank the OIB for its technical support throughout this united front action.
More than 55,000 euros were used to help refugees who were waiting for government aid. So many families saved from the street.
This is an incredible feat that was only possible thanks to your generosity!
This action is realized with 0 € management fees. It is 100% of your donations redistributed.
WE ARE CALLING ON YOU WHILE WAITING FOR THE FULL DEPLOYMENT OF PUBLIC AID
To achieve this challenge, we must remain united. We will therefore continue to gather all the good wills.
We still need your help to keep this action going until the full deployment of national aid!
Support the action by sending your donations to
IBAN BE20 0017 6787 9156
THERE ARE NO SMALL CONTRIBUTIONS, ONLY BIG INACTIONS.
You can always deposit your imperishable donations (Rice, Pasta, etc.) directly at the Commission’s post office in each building. Thanks to the support of the OIB, they will be forwarded to the center rue de Theux, 49 1040 Brussels which also welcomes your donations in person.
WITH ALL OUR HEART – THANK YOU!