In this issue
Teleworking and well-being
The next article in this issue of Link 101 looks at hybrid working. To provide a context for this discussion, which we have been conducting for the past two years, we would like to briefly review the scientific literature on the relationship between teleworking and well-being. This will enable us to see the effects of this way of working, which is becoming increasingly popular outside the European institutions.
According to a study carried out in 2023 in 34 different countries, in several waves and involving several tens of thousands of participants, 56% of respondents would like to work at least one day a week from home, and 19% would like to work 2 or even 3 days a week (17%). Similarly, in a 2017 study of 7,000 American employees, Alexandre Mas and Amanda Pallais found that workers were prepared to accept a salary that was on average 8% lower if the job in question offered teleworking. According to the same authors, one of the decisive factors in the choice of teleworking is the reduction in the number of journeys between work and home.
However, if the studies conducted before the Covid-19 epidemic are to be believed, teleworking does not necessarily make people happier. In fact, Sabrina Pablionia and Victoria Vernon point out in a 2022 analysis of US employees only, that teleworking does not always enable them to spend more time with their families, take care of household chores or get more sleep.
This dichotomy between what workers want and the effects of teleworking once it is in place seems to be the crux of the problem. The often forced experience of teleworking during Covid-19 has exacerbated this tension. For example, studies carried out in the UK and Germany before and during Covid-19 show that teleworking during this period proved damaging to the health of the people doing it. As the households studied were still largely rooted in the traditional, gendered division of household tasks inherited from patriarchal society, it was often women who suffered most from teleworking during the epidemic. This is due in particular to the fact that children were being schooled at home, which meant an additional burden that was unevenly distributed across households. It should be noted, however, that Covid-19 and the successive confinements/deconfinements associated with this period greatly altered the nature of teleworking. Many families, particularly those from the most precarious backgrounds, found themselves confined to housing that was often too cramped and had no social life outside the family circle. What can we say about isolated students, who have often lost the job that enabled them to pay the rent, or violence against women and children, which also exploded during this period? All these factors make it difficult to isolate the variables which suggest that telework was harmful to employees from the other factors specific to Covid. The negative elements put forward by the studies carried out in Germany and the United Kingdom, such as the loss of social contacts and flexibility, are just as much attributable to teleworking as to the measures taken by governments to manage the epidemic.
These considerations suggest that hybrid working would be a good compromise for the majority of workers. The survey carried out by Aksoy and colleagues shows the most frequently cited benefits of teleworking: “No commute”, “Less time to prepare for work”, “Flexible working hours”, “Quiet” and “More time with friends and family” and for on-site work: “Face-to-face collaboration”, “Socialisation”, “Work-life boundaries”, “Better equipment”, “Face-to-face with my manager” and “Peace of mind”. This shows that teleworking is appreciated not because it increases well-being or efficiency at work – which is not mentioned very much in the studies – but because it enables better time management and greater reconciliation between professional and private life. However, we should not forget that employers have put in place numerous means of remote control, some of them not hesitating to charge their employees more than usual for fear that they will work less. On the other hand, on-site work is valued for the social relations it allows. If these two aspects are to be reconciled, hybrid working needs to be coordinated at the level of the organisations practising it, so that we are not in a situation where people who come on site to find human contact find themselves in front of empty offices.
We could envisage, as is already done in some companies or national administrations, imposing one or two fixed days of compulsory presence. Unfortunately, this type of solution is impossible at the European Commission because of its restrictive building management policy. The drastic reduction in the number of office spaces will only allow 50-60% of staff to be present on site at any one time. We should also remember that the essence of human contact is not only found in the performance of work-related tasks, in meetings or even in one-off events, but also in what goes on around it, what we might call the socialisation of the corridors. It’s also these light, short, unexpected interactions that we look for when we come to work.
 To do this, we will be relying mainly on an article published in the AOC media by Claudia Senik, professor of economics at Sorbonne University (formerly Paris IV and Paris VI): Senik, C. « Télétravail et bien-être : épilogue ou travaux en cous ? », AOC, 11 septmbre 2023, [En ligne], URL : https://aoc.media/analyse/2023/09/10/teletravail-et-bien-etre-epilogue-ou-travaux-en-cours/.
 Aksoy C., Barrero J-M., Bloom N., Davis S., Dolls M., and Zarate P. (2023). Working from Home around the World. 2023 Report. CESifo EconPol Policy Brief 7(53).
 Mas A. and Pallais A. (2017). Valuing Alternative Work Arrangements. American Economic Review 107 (12): 3722‑59.
 Les préférences des travailleurs à ce sujet ont similaires en Chine, cf. : He H., Neumark D., and Weng Q. (2021). Do Workers Value Flexible Jobs? A Field Experiment. Journal of Labor Economics 39 (3): 709‑38.
 Pabilonia S. and Vernon V. (2022). Telework, Wages, and Time Use in the United States. Review of Economics of the Household 20 (3): 687‑734.
 Gueguen C. and C. Senik (2023). Adopting telework: The causal impact of working from home on subjective well-being. British Journal of Industrial Relations: 1–37.
 Senik C., Clark A. E., D’Ambrosio C., Lepinteur A. and Schröder C. (2022). Teleworking and Life Satisfaction during COVID-19: The Importance of Family Structure. IZA Discussion Paper, 15715.
 Op. cit. Gueguen C. and C. Senik (2023).
 Entité des Nations Unies pour l’égalité des sexes et l’autonomisation des femmes (ONU-Femmes). COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls, https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/issue-brief-covid-19-and-ending-violence-against-women-and-girls-en.pdf?la=en&vs=5006.
 Service Statistique Ministériel de la Sécurité Intérieure. Analyse conjoncturelle des crimes et délits enregistrés par la police et la gendarmerie à la fin du mois de juin 2020. Interstats Conjonct N° 58.
 Op. cit. Aksoy C., Barrero J-M., Bloom N., Davis S., Dolls M., and Zarate P
Hybrid work: what should be assessed?
Decision C (2022) 1788 on hybrid working and working time establishes teleworking as a right and puts office work and teleworking on an equal footing. It rests on two essential pillars: flexible working time arrangements and a management system based on trust. Its main objective is to improve working efficiency while reconciling the private and professional lives of officials and other staff of the European institutions. However, the achievement of these objectives presupposes that psychosocial risks for teleworkers are avoided and that telework does not compromise the cohesion of the European civil service.
The evaluation exercise launched by DG HR shows, on the basis of staff survey data, a certain level of satisfaction, including among managers, although many questions remain, particularly as regards the implementation of the decision. Overall, hybrid working and its corollary, flexible working hours, have met the objectives of efficiency and reconciling private and professional life. A number of positive elements were put forward in the opinions expressed by the various committees, including management based on trust, increased flexibility, the various arrangements set out in the decision, which recognises hybrid working as a right (20% of working time) and on a voluntary basis, the right to disconnect, 10 days’ teleworking abroad and finally the creation of a joint committee.
We have to recognise that we are in a transitional period of fundamental change in the way the Commission works, and that it will take time to understand its potential impact and wider implications for the way our institution operates. This is why we need to put in place rigorous monitoring and evaluation tools as well as adequate communication and transparency procedures. In this respect, the Joint Committee on Hybrid Working (JCHW) has an important role to play. However, having spent several months discussing the rules of procedure, the committee has not been able to devote the necessary time to evaluation work, including the involvement of experts and a review of existing literature. As a result, it does not have the detailed data (e.g. by age, gender and place of work) or an objective evaluation methodology to be able to assess the merits of the current provisions on hybrid working.
In the interests of constructiveness, U4U would like to raise a number of questions to inform the current evaluation exercise. These are largely derived from our paper on the 21 theses on telework that were developed in 2022 where we argued that telework is “flexible, voluntary and based on trust”.
First of all, what is important for a modern public service is to be able to function effectively with a flexible organisation and appropriate tools and infrastructure. Ensuring a weekly presence in the office is a way of guaranteeing regular interaction between team members as well as with external members, and therefore work collectives and team cohesion, which is a necessary condition for their effectiveness. This presupposes formal or informal arrangements for hybrid working, enabling managers to organise the work of their teams, as well as better organisation of the balance between family life and professional work. For example, the European Parliament has set teleworking at two days a week, but allows more flexibility. For example, the European Parliament want to set a two-day week for teleworking, but this allows for greater flexibility, so that staff can take a whole week off and then be present at their office for the whole of the following week. However, this flexibility is made difficult, if not impossible, at the Commission because of the buildings policy, which tends to drastically reduce the number of places available.
Secondly, we need to assess whether the right to disconnect, which is regulated in most Member States, has been respected and whether it has been implemented uniformly and consistently. One of the major risks associated with hybrid working is that some Commission staff tend to remain permanently connected, working beyond working hours and during disconnection periods, weekends and public holidays. As a result, the boundaries between the work sphere and the family/private sphere are becoming increasingly blurred. A recent study by Eurofound1 tends to show that there is an overall increase in workload due to hyperconnectivity (for example, reading and replying to emails at all times) and therefore an intensification of work, without this necessarily being accompanied by productivity gains. Similar practices are also tending to develop within the Commission’s departments. The right to disconnect must therefore be encouraged at all levels in order to safeguard the well-being and health of European civil servants.
Thirdly, in relation to the non-respect of the right to disconnect, the psychosocial risks linked to work overload must be better understood through objective evaluation data, which remains to be constructed given the paucity of information in this area. The decision on hybrid working (art. 14) emphasises two aspects: the responsibility of managers, who will have to undergo appropriate training to avoid the “possible risks and dangers of digital overload and digital burnout”; and the individual responsibility of staff, who will have to take “preventive measures” to avoid physical risks in their teleworking space, while the “Commission will organise regular and appropriate prevention campaigns in the field of health and safety at work”. This is the essential minimum, but what is needed is a holistic approach that covers all aspects of well-being and health at work, including an ergonomic teleworking environment and, above all, much stricter rules to avoid situations of stress and burnout, the human costs of which need to be more fully integrated into the evaluation exercise.
Fourthly, the right to use 10 working days of telework abroad at different times of the year or in conjunction with annual or parental leave must be preserved. The survey carried out by DG HR shows that this right is widely used by officials and agents, which tends to show that it meets a real need for flexibility. However, as indicated in the COPEC opinion, it is necessary to assess the extent to which its use is not restrictive or discriminatory against women (who make greater use of this form of work), for example during periods when buildings are occasionally closed. In the event of exceptional authorisation, as permitted by the Decision, care will have to be taken to strike a balance between greater flexibility and the necessary work efficiency, which also depends on physical interaction between colleagues and the cohesion of work teams. This list of questions is not exhaustive, but reflects the state of discussions in the Joint Committee and other committees that have issued opinions on the matter. Generally speaking, without prejudging the conclusions of the evaluation exercise, it emerges that the Decision is balanced and that its basic principles should be preserved, even if improvements are needed on certain aspects in the light of experience gained to date. Given the short time available to us, it is clear that the evaluation exercise will be limited and that more time is needed to gain an overview of the implementation of the Decision and its impact on the operation of our Institution. In this respect, it is essential that the Staff Committee and the various Committees be able to complete their respective opinions on the basis of the information requested from DG HR, in the absence of a consultation of experts, which would have been much needed if not for the lack of time. The future of the European civil service and the way it operates are also at stake.
Movings at Luxembourg
Let’s discuss the moves that have been or will be made in Luxembourg and the underlying issues at stake.
Case study: 2 DG’s move to Mercier-Post:
Context: remember the facts highlighted in our leaflet of 11/3/2023: the hasty decision to house 2 DG’s in a building initially intended for a single DG, the imposition of the magic Open space/hot desking formula dear to the current Commission and its buildings policy summed up by one motto: cut costs.
It would appear that there was some competition as to which DG – OP or CNECT – would have which floor in the Mercier-Post building. We welcome its resolution, but we deplore the climate and the damaging precedent this has set in terms of the perception of the difference in value of each colleague or even in terms of “competition” between DGs to get what were perceived as the “best locations”.
How has this been beneficial?
To greater collegiality, to ‘healthy’ emulation? The staff of these 2 DGs are in the same boat. To have created a division/competition for millimetric and qualitative advantages was not only dishonest, but also counterproductive for their necessary long-term cooperation, given their cohabitation.
Secondly, it served above all to partially conceal the fact that the 2 DG’s were forced to accept less space than before. In fact, the 2 DG’s will be in the same ‘boat’ since in future they will be forced to live together in a building that can only accommodate 86% of their total staff at any one time.
In other words, open space/hot desking has to be ‘swallowed with the same bitter pill’ of joint and forced relocation.
Colleagues from the Publications Office have already moved.
CNECT colleagues will follow in September.
Let’s take a look at the experiences of OP colleagues already in the Mercier-Post building:
- There’s a difference in the quality of the working environment depending on whether you’re sitting on the lobby side or the window side of an open-plan office. If you sit on the hall side, any passing colleagues can create a distraction. There are far fewer distractions for people sitting by the window.
- Another dichotomy observed is that the inside is darker and cooler, while the outside is bright and warm in hot weather. The variation in brightness is due to the lamps hanging from the ceiling and/or the proximity of a window. A simple solution would be to install individual desk lamps. For the CNECT – it would be a good idea for colleagues to move their old desk lamps themselves. The advantage of this is that it costs the institution nothing.
- The keyboard and mouse had to be moved by the people themselves.
Moreover, all personal items must be placed on the desk in the morning and put away in the evening in the personal lockers, which can only hold a few items.
- Each unit has a mini-meeting room for 2, 4 or 10 people! Given its small size, it’s going to be complicated to use. How do you organise meetings for an entire unit of 15 to 20 people?
Are face-to-face unit meetings a thing of the past?
- For the moment, there are still no rooms equipped for hybrid meetings (videoconferencing equipment, i.e. large screen, microphones, etc.). Given the tiny size of the mini-meeting rooms reserved for each unit, how do you go about organising a hybrid meeting?
- On a positive note: if you need more space, you can have access to an individual locked cupboard, provided you ask permission from the OIL.
- Do you want some “quiet time”?
Each floor has meeting rooms for 2, 4 or 10 people.
There are also a few small sound-proofed rooms called “quiet rooms” that can accommodate 1 or 2 people to work in silence or even organise a meeting or videoconference for 2 people on their own laptop.
- “Where are our vending machines?” you might well ask yourself when working at Mercier-Post. For the time being, there are only two automatic coffee and hot water machines in the canteen, next to the only water fountain.
When the canteen was announced to open on 28 August, we asked that it offer quality food and have sufficient capacity for the joint staff of the 2 DG’s, roughly 800 people.
- Also, at the outset, the car park presented a signage problem at its entrance. Colleagues didn’t know how to get there by car. So, dear colleagues, analyse the building plans before driving to work to avoid any mishaps.
Then, when the building is fully occupied by the 2 DG’s, it’s a safe bet that the 129 parking spaces announced (i.e. around 1 space for every 8 members of staff) will be woefully inadequate.
For this reason, we are asking that sufficient parking spaces be provided for the CNECT and the OP:
- Puis, lorsque le bâtiment sera entièrement occupé par les 2 DG’s, il est fort à parier que les 129 places de parking annoncées (soit environ 1 place pour 8 membres du personnel) seront largement insuffisantes.
Pour cela, nous demandons de prévoir des places de parking suffisantes pour la CNECT et l’OP :
- Provide at least 150 parking spaces for the CNECT DG in an additional private car park as mentioned by Mr Becquet at the General Meeting on 13 March.
- Provide additional parking spaces for the OP in an additional private car park as mentioned by Mr Becquet at the General Meeting on 13 March.
- The 48 additional spaces made available in the FISR building are not enough. Given that they will be taken up by colleagues attending training courses in the FISR building.
Why such requests?
Because we are starting from an initial situation where the majority of colleagues are cross-border, with a territorial dispersion that does not always allow for good public transport connections. And moving from one building to another means either an average journey time of half an hour longer, or the additional stress of finding a car park:
- Until June, the OP (around 700 colleagues) had 177 parking spaces, i.e. around 1 space for every 4 colleagues. All this while being close to the station. This means that despite the proximity of the station, there was still a clear need for parking for these colleagues.
- CNECT (around 200 colleagues) housed at the EUFO until September had 212 places, 27 of which were reserved, i.e. almost 1 place for each colleague.
Colleagues have built their daily lives around the need to travel by car (e.g. home close to a motorway; need to take children to school). This upsets the balance between their professional and private lives.
If we push the reasoning to the absurd, in the absence of car parks, what are you planning for cross-border workers, most of whom cannot even “dream” of accessing the Luxembourg property market?
Once again, would this be an opportunity to introduce the long-debated housing allowance? We explained the merits of this allowance in our leaflet of 03/12/2022.
Pay-and-display solutions with nearby car parks or Park & Ride facilities don’t help to contain the stress associated with mobility. Coming to work will become a daily ordeal.
Finally, limitations on meeting room space and parking will be a real headache when it comes to organising office meetings for extended teams.
We’ll be keeping an eye on the situation at Mercier-Post and will keep you posted!
Dear colleagues from the OP and the CNECT, don’t hesitate to let us know what you think.
New competition model
Viewpoint: What do the EPSO selection tests tell us about the nature of the European civil service? Let’s debate them.
Since 2019, EPSO has been working on overhauling the European civil service entrance ‘competitions’. The new model resulting from these discussions has already been the subject of a number of debates within the institutions, notably during the AST/154/22 competition, which was cancelled by the EPSO board. The competition was disrupted by technical problems, but was also widely criticised for the way it was run. The reform is not just about human resources. Since it affects competitions, it also influences the position of civil servants in the field of European policies, insofar as selection methods tell us about the institution’s expectations and perception of them.
Indeed, the competition proves that Euro-civil servants have “cultural and informational capital”, expertise from which they can then draw part of their legitimacy. However, in the early 2000s, the Kinnock reform drastically changed the competition model by introducing psychometric tests and management skills, while doing away with EU knowledge tests. It was inspired by private sector selection methods. This reduced the importance of expertise and brought European civil servants closer to other international civil servants.
The new model proposed by EPSO reverses this change somewhat. It reintroduces a multiple-choice knowledge test and does away with the oral tests at the test centre. Another major change is that the tests will take place entirely online. To organise the technical side of the test, EPSO has turned to an American company called Prometrics, which specialises in this field. This company has a subsidiary in Ireland, and is therefore subject to European regulations on personal data, enabling it to contract with European clients. However, the organisation and supervision of the tests has been the focus of virtually all the criticism levelled at the new model, particularly in the AST/154/22 competition mentioned earlier. Some people felt that the examiner’s inspection of the environment using the candidate’s webcam (the candidate must show the room in which he is taking the test, prove that he is indeed alone and that he has no means of cheating) was too intrusive. Others were reportedly ejected from their test session because a member of their family or a pet had entered the room. While the number of negative testimonials undoubtedly attests to the real abuses that took place during this competition, it was also one of the first trials of this new model, so malfunctions were to be expected.
It would therefore seem that the technical aspect and the delegation of supervision to Prometrics are the main causes of the problems encountered by the candidates, insofar as the Commission has abandoned all pretence of organising its own recruitment competitions. It is highly likely that these problems will be eliminated in future competitions and that EPSO will tighten its demands on Prometrics and their supervisors.
Other criticisms relate to the fact that competitors must have a personal computer, a relatively powerful and stable internet connection and a controlled test environment where they can isolate themselves. It is true that people from modest or disadvantaged social backgrounds may find it difficult to meet these conditions.
However, the previous model where tests were held in test centres could also generate costs for candidates, particularly in terms of travelling to the nearest centre, since the Commission was no longer involved in funding such expenses. What’s more, the “test centre” part was by far the most expensive for the majority of competitions, according to estimates made by the European Court of Auditors. There are many ways in which this model could be improved, and we are currently looking into this, which will be published in the next issue of GRASPE.
It is clear that the nature of the competitive examination and its tests are part of a series of political battles to define the function of the European civil service, the role that the institutions should play and therefore the dynamics of European integration. At the same time, the Parliament and the Council are becoming more powerful in the decision-making process, to the detriment of the Commission, which is seeing its staff numbers and budget reduced. After the pandemic, which turned countries in on themselves, the war in Ukraine put the Member States and their representatives centre stage. All these factors are undoubtedly indicative of a return to national logic and a weakening of the Community level. Guaranteeing the skills, effectiveness and expertise of Euro-officials is therefore crucial to preserving the political legitimacy of the European institutions.
 Georgakakis, Didier. « Au service de l’Europe. Crises et transformations sociopolitiques de la fonction publique européenne », Paris : Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2019, p.50.
 Cour des comptes européenne, Rapport spécial n° 23, « Office européen de sélection du personnel : le moment est venu d’adapter le processus de sélection à des besoins de recrutement en pleine évolution », 2020, p.40.
Mobilisation Executive agencies
Executive Agencies: the mobilisation of staff has borne fruit, but the problems are far from being resolved
The joint mobilisation on 6 June 2023 in front of the Berlaymont building was undoubtedly a success. At the initiative of the trade union Common Front, it presented a platform of demands for the executive agencies, incorporating all the open questions, from buildings to working conditions and its essential corollary, career development, agency restructuring, including the critical situation of the EISMEA agency, which could lose a quarter of its staff.
It also highlighted the shortcomings of agency governance, which operated on an “à la carte” basis and disregarded the principles of accountability and transparency worthy of a modern civil service.
In the absence of any real social dialogue, we put forward the need for comprehensive negotiations with all the players involved: agency directors, staff representatives, the Directors-General of the supervisory DGs and the Commission’s central human resources departments.
To this end, on 6 June we sent a letter to Commissioner Hahn in charge of budget and personnel, to which we received a reply on 20 July. In his letter, Commissioner Hahn delivers three main messages beyond the usual rhetoric on the commitment to offer attractive career prospects to agency staff.
Firstly, while recalling some relatively symbolic new initiatives (integration of agency staff into the JPP, pilot exchange programme between the Commission and the Agencies), he recognises the need for “more flexibility in terms of career and mobility between the Commission and the Agencies”.
Secondly, with regard to the situation of EISMEA, and in particular the planned reduction in staff numbers between now and 2027, it simply notes that “DG HR, in consultation with DG RTD, the main supervisory DG, has had discussions with the Agencies, which have confirmed their solidarity and willingness to implement and evaluate concrete measures to support EISMEA staff”. This overture is to be welcomed, and would probably not have been possible without the unitary mobilisation. In essence, it means that there will be no redundancies in this agency, but that staff will be redeployed to other agencies or to the supervisory DGs.
Finally, on the subject of buildings policy and the choice of North Light, the errors of which we had repeatedly denounced, the Commissioner confined himself to recalling the general principles and justifying such choices in terms of flexible working arrangements (with the generalisation of Dynamic Collaborative Space) and greening. Despite the resistance of the staff, the relocation of the three agencies concerned will take place according to the pre-established timetable, without any real preparation having been put in place (except at the REA agency). Despite certain openings that have yet to materialise, the problems are far from resolved. Mobilisation continues.
Mission guide- Greening and new ethical rules: an initial commentary
DG HR presented its new mission guide, which was the subject of consultation meetings with the unions in July. Given the widespread use of hybrid working – which has led to a very significant increase in online meetings – it is perfectly legitimate to consider that mission plans should be reviewed in the light of cost-effectiveness and environmental sustainability criteria.
DG HR’s stated aim is to reduce the number of missions by 50% by 2024 (compared with 2019) in order to make budget savings and reduce the Commission’s carbon footprint. As a result, missions will have to be carried out solely in the interests of the service and justified for reasons of a legal (e.g. legal proceedings), political (e.g. negotiations) or operational (e.g. investigations, audits, monitoring) nature, including institutional tasks.
The text of the decision introduces two major innovations: on the one hand, the taking into account of environmental considerations in the choice of modes of transport and, on the other, the taking into account of ethical considerations.
As far as greening is concerned, contractors will have to give priority, wherever possible, to the mode of transport with the lowest CO2 emissions, such as rail rather than air. In principle, rail transport should be used for distances of up to 550 km (one way) or where it is an efficient alternative to air transport (e.g. high-speed trains and/or night trains). When assessing the financial cost, the most environmentally friendly alternative should be preferred when the price is no more than 40% higher than the price of a plane ticket for the journey, taking into account budgetary constraints. The same principle applies when considering train journeys versus car journeys.
These provisions, which are still at the discussion stage, raise a number of objections. The two elements taken into account (distance and price) must be interpreted flexibly and take account of the context of the mission. In most cases, rail travel is more expensive than air travel. If the reference for a plane ticket is based solely on cost (low-cost flight) and the train journey is based on the first-class fare, the price variation can be much higher than 40%. We should therefore include certain guarantees to ensure that the mission holder does not bear the additional costs. In this respect, we propose increasing the ceiling, for example by 60% instead of 40%, on the understanding that this only applies to journeys of up to 550 km.
In addition to the greening aspects, it is proposed to strengthen the ethical provisions. The criteria include the absence of any actual or potential conflict of interest insofar as “the assignment and the provisions of the assignment do not represent a personal interest, or create a personal advantage, for the person carrying out the assignment that would impair his independence in the performance of his duties”. The guide places particular emphasis on the rules governing gifts and hospitality for staff. As a preliminary conclusion, it should be noted that the objective should not be so much to reduce the number of missions under the guise of “greening” and hybrid working (which remains the rule) but to ensure an adequate level of representation for Commission departments in their relations with the Member States, multilateral institutions and other interested parties. Social dialogue between trade unions and the administration will continue.
 In 2019, business travel by staff accounted for around 28% of the Commission’s own carbon footprint (more than 60,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent).
Letters from our readers
The splendour and misery of public sector pay in the US and the EU
At the end of August, US President Joe Biden officially confirmed his intention to increase the pay of federal civil servants by 5.2% in 2024. This increase is made up of a general increase of 4.7% plus a local adjustment of plus or minus 0.5%. The latter varies according to the geographical area in which the federal employee is located. There are 54 localities, slightly more than the number of states. The adjustment is calculated by taking into account the difference in salary between the private and public sectors for equivalent positions. While this adjustment seems welcome in the context of overall inflation – and the measure has been well received by the trade unions representing federal employees – some feel that it is insufficient, as the public/private pay gap is estimated at 22.47% by the Federal Salary Council.
This considerable difference is due to the fact that successive governments have been reluctant to use the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (FEPCA). Established in 1990, this law releases the funds needed to reduce the gap between federal and non-federal employees to 5%. No government has used this tool, probably to save money, and today the estimated cost of implementing the FEPCA has risen to 19.2 billion dollars. Biden is financing this increase in the same way as previous presidents: through an “alternative financing plan”. Even leaving aside the FEPCA, Biden’s plan is not the most ambitious, since two Democratic representatives, Congressman Gerry Connoly and Senator Brian Schatz, submitted a counter-proposal of 8.7%, which was not adopted. They nevertheless welcomed the increase announced by the American President.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the debate is quite different, with several media outlets crying foul over the “indecent pay rise for EU officials”. Under the pen of Jean Quatremer, the newspaper Libération criticises a 13% increase over two years in the salaries of European civil servants, an amount whose calculation is hazardous. The article targets the method used to adjust salaries, which takes into account the purchasing power of civil servants in 10 Member States as well as inflation in Brussels and Luxembourg. As is often the case, European civil servants and their salaries are a prime target for critics of the European institutions. It should be remembered, as the media outlet “20 Minutes” and the European Commission have done, that the method has only resulted in a 1.7% increase in salaries, with this increase taking effect in June 2023 with retroactive effect to 1 January 2023. What’s more, the method is just as likely to reduce the salaries of European civil servants, and this may well be the case in December.
 Federal Salary Council, Level of Comparability Payments for January 2023 and Other Matters Pertaining to the Locality Pay Program, 14 Octobre 2022, p.4. URL: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/pay-systems/general-schedule/federal-salary-council/recommendation21.pdf.
 Body responsible for providing recommendations on the local share of federal employees’ pay.
 Friedman, Drew. ‘How does locality pay actually work, and where did it come from?’, Federal News Netword, 5 janvier 2023. [En ligne], URL : https://federalnewsnetwork.com/pay/2023/01/how-does-locality-pay-actually-work-and-where-did-it-come-from/?readmore=1.
 Quatremer, Jean. « L’indécente augmentation de salaire des fonctionnaires de l’UE », 19 juin 2023, [En ligne], URL : https://www.liberation.fr/international/europe/lindecente-augmentation-de-salaire-des-fonctionnaires-de-lue-20230619_YI5RON22ZRAGTFUC3QMZSOVNCU/.
 Jehanno, Emilie. « Commission européenne : Non, Ursula von der Leyen n’exige pas une augmentation de 15 % », 20 Minutes, 15 juin 2023.
Women and trade unions in Europe
The effects of women’s involvement in trade unions
In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of women involved in trade unions in Europe. This change can be seen not only in terms of membership, but also in leadership positions. In France, the two largest trade unions are headed by women (Marylise Léon for the CFDT and Sophie Binet for the CGT), as is the case in Germany, where Yasmine Fahimi heads a confederation of trade unions “with around 6 million members”, and in the UK, where two women also head the country’s two largest trade unions. The growing presence of women in these organisations and on the labour market is said to have a major influence on equal pay policies and policies aimed at reconciling family and professional life (parental leave, childcare, etc.). This was shown by Grant Miller, professor of economics at Stanford University, who compared public spending on social services before and after women’s right to vote was extended in the United States, and observed a 24% increase. However, women’s participation in trade union activity has come up against a number of obstacles, firstly the fact that trade unions have generally lost influence over the years, but also the fact that many of them (29% in the EU) say they work part-time because of their family responsibilities.
At the European Commission and other EU institutions and departments, we are seeing a similar trend towards the feminisation of management positions in staff representation at both trade union and statutory level.
 Papalexatou, Chrysa. « La participation des femmes à la vie politique renforce les politiques familiales », Capital Grèce, 01 septembre 2023. [En ligne], URL : https://www.capital.gr/me-apopsi/3734985/i-summetoxi-ton-gunaikon-stin-politiki-enisxuei-tis-politikes-gia-tin-oikogeneia/
Why is it a good idea to take out supplementary insurance?
The JSIS provides effective protection for civil servants/employees and dependent persons, whether on a primary or supplementary basis. However, the existence of a number of reimbursement ceilings and exclusions means that you may need additional insurance to cover, in particular, hospitalisation costs and/or medical, dental and optical expenses.
Also, did you know that while civil servants/employees are well covered for accidents by the JSIS, this is not the case for pensioners or their dependants, even on a primary basis? In the event of an accident for either of them (pensioners or beneficiaries), the costs remain covered at 80-85%, but no additional reimbursement for accidents will be paid. Your child or your spouse insured with the JSIS on a primary basis is injured while skiing: if this is the only way to go, transport from the slopes by helicopter to the nearest hospital (real case), emergency transport, will be covered at 85% by the JSIS. Yours: will be covered at 100% (85% + 15% for the Accident top-up). Repatriation to your country of origin is not covered under any circumstances.
Or are you aware that in Belgium, in the event of hospitalisation, the JSIS covers 85% of the hospital stay based on the cheapest single room in the hospital. At the moment, however, many surgeons/doctors ask to work in a single room in order to be able to charge a supplement. At present, this supplement can be as much as 300% of the INAMI price (i.e. 4 times the price). Even if this supplement is limited to a maximum of 200% in hospitals with which the RCAM has signed an agreement, the amounts remaining to be paid by the insured can quickly become very substantial.
It is also important to remember that, under Article 20 of the JSIS Common Regulations and in accordance with the General Implementing Provisions (GIP), “where no ceiling on reimbursement has been set, including in the case of serious illness, the part of the costs which significantly exceeds the average prices charged in the country where the services were provided may be excluded from reimbursement”. Here again, the amounts can quickly become significant if you want to benefit, given the prices sometimes charged.
However, when it comes to medical reimbursements, as in the case of health, prevention is often better than cure.
As staff representatives, U4U believes that its role is also to alert colleagues to this state of affairs.
As a result, we have developed an agreement with Allianz, which, via our joint partner Afiliatys, offers supplementary health cover.
How does it work: the main principles?
Allianz Care offers you three options:
- Hospi Safe Plus”, which covers hospitalisation, routine medical care and dental and optical care under certain conditions.
- Hospi Safe Maladie & Accident”, which is the new name of the former “Hospi Safe” and covers the cost of hospitalisation due to illness or accident (and childbirth).
- Hospi Safe Maladie, which offers the same cover as Hospi Safe Maladie & Accidents, with the exception of accident cover. This plan is suitable for working people (covered at 100% for accidents by the JSIS). Note that you can choose a different plan for each member of your family. Example: In the case of a European civil servant married to a woman who does not work in the Institutions and who has a 6-year-old child who needs orthodontic treatment, we would advise him to take out Hospi Safe Maladie for himself, Hospi Safe Maladie & Accident for his wife and Hospi Safe Plus for his child.
Please note that this is a summary, only the contract is binding.
- Group insurance. Must be taken out before retirement. Life insurance.
- No medical questionnaire unless 6 months before retirement.
- Two-year moratorium for illnesses diagnosed before application.
- Hospitalisation, surgery and related outpatient care 2 months before / 6 months after. (Day hospitalisation included).
- Reimbursement of 100% of the difference between the costs incurred and the RCAM reimbursement. Valid for day hospitalisation.
- No ceiling – but 20% for revalidations.
- Beware of RCAM exclusions.
- Covers hospital treatment in the event of an accident (for pensioners, spouses, etc.).
- Fully covers all problems during pregnancy.
- May continue for contract employees after their contract expires.
- Worldwide cover but limited outside the EEA.
- Premium based on age (€, including tax). 10-year framework contract.
Stable premium except Eurostat index (€, including tax).
Annual bonus 2022 in EUR
Hospi Safe Plus
Please note that this is a summary, only the contract is binding.
Group insurance. Take out before retirement. Life insurance
No medical questionnaire (unless 6 months before retirement)
Two-year moratorium for illnesses diagnosed before taking out the policy.
Same as Hospi Safe (100% for hospitalisation) but more:
- Reimbursement of 80% of the difference between the costs and the RCAM reimbursement
- For medical consultations (general practitioners and specialists) and medicines (annual excess and ceiling) – Laboratory tests, medical imaging, etc.
- For outpatient treatment under Article 8.2 and others (max. 20%)
- For optical and dental care (€700 1st year to €3,200 after 4 years)
- Supplementary reimbursement of treatment in the event of an accident
- Contribution to diet cures, fitness subscriptions (20%)
- Worldwide cover, but limited outside the EEA
- Premiums (€, including tax) paid quarterly
- 10-year framework contract. Stable premiums except Eurostat index
Annual bonus 2022 in EUR :
How can I join?
Register with Afiliatys beforehand and ideally with U4U.
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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.
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