We must be united: we must not sacrifice our AST staff!
The ASTs are not happy with the Commission. Their work has lost some of its meaning and direction.
Their numbers are down, although they represent 25% of the Commission’s workforce and all of the contract staff. They are just about the only category of officials that has suffered job cutbacks since the 2014 reform. This has resulted in a significant reduction in transfer opportunities. In addition, these cutbacks are seen by AST staff as a sign of the institution’s disinterest, despite the fact that our AST colleagues are better qualified and have acquired substantial professional experience outside of the institution.
Finally, this group feels “surrounded” by other categories: the AST SC staff, the CAs in function group 3, and often those in function group 2, without mentioning the takeover of some of their duties by the AD staff themselves.
The number of posts for certification is quite limited and, since 2014, ASTs have seen their career prospects restricted to grade AST 9 (as opposed to AST 11 previously), without the transitional compensation that was provided for AD staff. The progression to “senior assistant” is poorly defined and happens frustratingly slowly. For administrative reasons, the AST grades occupy AST/SC posts, giving them the impression that they are being downgraded.
In short, the prevailing impression among a growing number of AST colleagues is of being the category held in least regard by the Commission.
We must not remain inactive or indifferent. We must be united and reject the corporatist paradigm of “every man for himself”. To do this, we have to offer AST staff proposals that improve their situation and discuss these with them.
That is why we are proposing, as for contract staff, 10 courses of action and consideration, of unchanged status. Most of these measures have already been partially implemented. It is now a matter of systematically developing them as an element of the human resource policy for this category.
1. Setting out clear professional career paths, culminating in an end of career at AD grade, made possible by certification, or at that of “senior assistant”.
2. Increasing the number of “senior assistant” posts up to the 8% limit imposed by the Staff Regulations.
3. Taking account of experience in AST grade for AD certification, so as not to delay their promotions.
4. Providing training, co-financed by the institution, enabling them to pass their external AD exams.
5. Improving the replacement or compensation accompanying the grant of part-time status to ASTs (CSC, part-time work, union activities, long-term training, etc.).
6. Starting a “Junior professional” pilot project for AST staff, similar to that for ADs.
7. Introducing internal reclassification competitions helping to speed up careers in the AST grade.
8. Improving inter-institutional transfers
9. Organising an AST “exchange programme” to promote staff transfers. Providing, as in Luxembourg, a stock of vacant AST posts to promote staff transfers.
10. Encouraging, when possible, detachments to enable AST staff to carry out temporary activities in other units on a more or less part-time basis. This will help to distribute workloads between services and to enhance the professional experience of AST colleagues.
Redeployment of AST secretaries to the DG GROW
A pilot redeployment operation for secretariat staff is in progress at the DG GROW. This operation falls within the more general framework being conducted in other DGs and for a wide range of functions (buildings, human resources, IT, communication), as part of an ongoing quest for savings corresponding to approximately 1,000 posts. We will return to this issue.
At the DG GROW, the AST secretaries are gradually being redeployed to other units of the DG to plug the gaps caused by retirement and the non-renewal of the contracts of contract workers. The aim is to reduce the workforce to one statutory secretary per unit between now and 2017.
The certified secretaries who still perform secretariat tasks will, as assistants, have to devote themselves to a greater extent to tasks involving communication, human resources and support for Desk Officers in their operational duties.
In addition, bearing in mind the reorganisation / centralisation of the tasks of ushers, the secretaries will also be responsible for mail management. In total, this will mean an increase in tasks for the AST secretaries, as well as for the rest of the staff. How can well-being at work be guaranteed now?
The AST assistants will have to demonstrate flexibility and be ready to take on certain tasks that the single unit secretary will not have time to do.
A secretary pool will be created in each department to cover absences and extra workloads in the units. These replacements will be made from the work station of each employee.
As a result, the duties of the single secretary in each unit will be related more to coordination and logistical support. They will be less diversified, and therefore less interesting. The secretaries will also have to cope with a constant heavy workload under pressure. This will result in a risk of loss of efficiency and quality of work.
The Desk Officers will have to, among other things, prepare their mission orders themselves, enter their documents in ARES and reserve their meeting rooms, in addition of course to further casework they will inherit between now and 2017, due to the departure on completion of their contracts of the ENDs and contract workers. Despite the training courses that will be arranged and given the extra workload, we can expect these administrative tasks not to be carried out with the same level of efficiency as previously by the secretaries.
The streamlining of the work of the AST assistants is presently under consideration in each department of the DG GROW.
AST at a dead end?
ASTs make up a significant proportion of the European Commission’s staff in terms of numbers, skills and functions.
However, developments in intermediate and/or specialised professions in the modern world of work, as well as the latest changes to the Staff Regulations, seem to be having an impact in the medium term on the careers of ASTs and the attractiveness of their jobs.
Caught between the AST/SC and AD categories, limited by a complicated certification system that does not offer many posts, and worried by the Commission’s lack of vision for their functions and careers, AST colleagues are on the way to becoming the forgotten victims of the Commission’s reform.
To analyse these trends, bear witness to the current drifts but also propose solutions, U4U invites you to a gathering of ideas on 25 September 2015 from 12.30 to 14.00 rue de la Loi 80 in the large room of the CCP. This discussion will be useful to better prepare us for the meeting that the Vice-President and Director General of DG HR, aware of the challenges, wish to host on this subject in November 2015.
Legal column: career transition for AST category officials following the revision of the Staff Regulations on 22 October 2013