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Well being at Work

Protecting well-being: Psycho-Social Risks (PSR) at the European Commission

For several decades now, the labour market has been increasingly exposed to psychosocial risks (including the risks of depression at work, burnout, etc.). The European institutions are no exception. The purpose of this article is to present the concept of “psychosocial risks” and the measures taken by the European Commission to prevent and combat them.
What are Psychosocial Risks?

Psychosocial risks (PSR) have always existed, but they are now coming to the fore. But what does this term actually mean? It needs to be defined in order to better understand and prevent them. Nevertheless, the concept remains complex to define and circumscribe.

In Chapter 2 “Psychosocial risks: definitions, causes and manifestations” of the book “Psychosocial risks and quality of life at work“, researchers Franck BRILLET, Isabelle SAUVIAT and Emilie SOUFFLET explain that the difficulties in defining this concept can be divided into two aspects. The first difficulty relates to the intrinsic characteristics of psychosocial risks, i.e. the multifactorial, subjective and permeable concept of PSR:

  • The multifactorial approach: the various physical and/or mental disorders are caused by a tangle of risks that are difficult to disentangle.
  • The subjective concept: RPS are situated at the interface between the individual and his or her work situation, and defining RPS therefore requires a variety of non-exhaustive criteria to be taken into account.
  • The porous concept: the boundaries between private and professional life have become more ‘porous’, making it difficult to identify what individuals ‘import’ and ‘export’ from their private lives to the workplace and vice versa.

The second difficulty relates to the frequent confusion between determinants and their effects, between causes, their manifestations and their consequences. As a result, PSR is often equated with other concepts such as work stress or burnout, even though these concepts are observable examples of PSR. This confusion leads to a simplistic view of PSR.[1].

However, these researchers explain that a definition of PSR has now been agreed by institutional actors. This definition comes from the Collège d’Expertise sur le suivi statistique des risques psycho-sociaux au travail, and more specifically from its final report of 11 April 2011. According to this college of experts:

Psychosocial risks at work are risks to mental, physical and social health caused by working conditions and organisational and relational factors that are likely to interact with mental functioning “.[2]

This academic definition of PSR provides an insight and understanding of what the concept encompasses. But what about the European Commission’s vision of RPS?

Psychosocial Risks and the European Commission

With PSR now a key concern, the European Commission and the European institutions in general have made it a priority issue. But how are they dealing with these risks?

The European Commission considers psychosocial risks and their impact on mental and physical health to be among the most sensitive issues in the field of occupational safety and health (OSH).

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (OSHA) defines RPS as:

” Psychosocial risks arise from the poor design, organisation and management of work, as well as from a poor socio-professional context, and can have negative psychological, physical and social consequences “.

It draws up a list of the working conditions most likely to lead to RPS:

  • Excessive workloads;
  • Conflicting demands and lack of clarity about the employee’s role;
  • Lack of involvement in decisions affecting the worker;
  • Lack of influence over the way work is done;
  • Poor management of organisational change;
  • Job insecurity;
  • Ineffective communication;
  • Lack of support from peers or management;
  • Psychological and sexual harassment and difficult customers, patients, pupils, etc.

The Commission takes a multi-dimensional approach to PSR, whether from an individual, collective or economic/state/productivity perspective.

In addition to the mental health problems associated with PSR (burnout, anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, etc.), workers suffering from prolonged stress can develop serious physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease or musculoskeletal disorders.

In addition to the harmful effects on the health of individuals, the Commission identifies other problems associated with PSR, in particular the negative impact of PSR on the efficiency of organisations and on national economies.

PSR has negative effects at the organisational level. The consequences for organisations can be many: poor overall business performance, increased absenteeism and presenteeism, higher turnover rates and higher accident and injury rates. Absences related to mental health tend to be longer than those related to other causes, and work-related risk factors are a major contributor to higher rates of early retirement. The costs to business and society are estimated to be significant, running into billions of euros at national level.

The Commission wants to support/develop a quality psychosocial environment that promotes good performance and personal development, as well as the mental and physical well-being of workers.  Despite these clearly stated intentions, what action has the Commission taken in relation to PSR?

The European Commission’s action to prevent and combat Psychosocial Risks
  • Action already taken by the European Commission

For about ten years, a team of volunteers (HRD7 – Greening, Occupational Hygiene and Buildings Unit) has been carrying out missions to prevent and combat psycho-social risks and mental health in the workplace.

This initiative reflects a genuine internal desire to create a healthy working environment in which European employees feel more comfortable in their respective workplaces. Over the past ten years, this team has worked with 15 of the European Commission’s 43 Directorates-General and Services (DGS) to implement prevention campaigns on PSR and well-being at work.

The initiative taken by our colleagues is therefore to be commended and encouraged, as they are not necessarily specialists in this type of issue, but are nevertheless taking steps to train themselves to ensure that their prevention campaigns are coherent and appropriate.

U4U supports this initiative and the colleagues involved.

  • Actions taken following the Occupational Health and Safety Summit on 15-16 May 2023

On 15 and 16 May, the Swedish Presidency and the European Commission organised the “Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Summit”. The summit focused on psychosocial risks. In particular, it was noted that psychosocial risks and mental health at work are now considered to be growing problems in the context of occupational safety and health. It was also stated that these problems need more sustained attention and that this type of problem needs to be prioritised.

The European Commission undertook to follow up on the Summit conclusions to improve mental health at work in full respect of the tripartite principle. It will also continue work on the revision of the Workplaces Directive (89/654/EEC) and the Display Screen Equipment Directive (90/270/EEC). In addition, it will support the implementation of the European strategy on care through actions that contribute to the mental well-being of carers and those receiving care.

The European Commission has launched a number of flagship initiatives to prevent and tackle psychosocial and mental health risks at work. These initiatives include:

  • The Commission will carry out a peer review of legislative and enforcement approaches to tackling psychosocial risks at work in the Member States, with a view to presenting an EU-level initiative on psychosocial risks in the medium term, depending on the results and the contribution of the social partners.

In addition, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) runs various campaigns to raise awareness of psychosocial risks in EU workplaces:

  • A first EU-wide campaign will be run by EU-OSHA from 2023 to 2025. It is called ‘Healthy Workplaces – Safe and healthy work in the digital age’ and focuses on mental health at work.
  • A second EU-wide campaign will be run by EU-OSHA from 2026 to 2028. It is called “Healthy Workplaces – Psychosocial Risks and Mental Health at Work” and focuses on new and neglected occupational sectors, including agriculture and construction, and groups, including low-skilled workers, migrants and young people[4].

U4U supports the implementation of these prevention campaigns by EU-OSHA and encourages the generalisation of this type of approach within the various European institutions.

[1] BRILLET Franck, SAUVIAT Isabelle, SOUFFLET Emilie, « Chapitre 2. Les risques psychosociaux : définition, causes et manifestations », dans : , Risques psychosociaux et qualité de vie au travail. sous la direction de BRILLET Franck, SAUVIAT Isabelle, SOUFFLET Emilie. Paris, Dunod, « Management Sup », 2017, p. 39-61. URL :–9782100760541-page-39.htm

[2] Ibid

[3] Rubrique « Risques psychosociaux et santé mentale au travail » disponible sur le site internet de l’Agence Européenne pour la Sécurité et la Santé au Travail (OSHA) à l’URL suivant :

[4] Rapport de la Commission Européenne, « Communication de la Commission au Parlement Européen, au Conseil, au Comité Economique et Social Européen et au Comité des Régions sur une approche globale en matière de santé mentale » du 7 juin 2023 (COM/2023/298 final), trouvable à l’URL suivant :

Understanding burn-out

As you may know, for several years now U4U has been reflecting on the subject of work and, more specifically, health at work. As part of this relaxion, Graspe magazine has tackled the issue of burn-out by inviting specialists such as Danièle Linhart. This researcher links burnout to new ways of organising work that lead to the isolation of workers and a new fragmentation of tasks. This conference will be published in the October 2023 issue 48 of Graspe magazine on the evolution of work today.

Drawing on the reflections of Josh Cohen, Doctor of Literature, psychoanalyst and professor at Goldsmiths University in England, we will try to understand what burn-out is, moving away from the preconceived ideas that people may have on the subject. In an article for The Economist, Josh Cohen begins by reminding us that burn-out is not an isolated phenomenon, and that certain sectors of activity tend to demand an overload of work from the people involved, notably banking, the media, but also certain public services. For example, a 2014 study of 9,000 employees in the finance sector showed that the majority of them felt at least partially burned-out, and 20% completely burned-out.

Unfortunately, burn-out is all too often misunderstood, and simply taking time out from work, which could be identified as the source of the malaise, is often not enough to cure it. In fact, according to Josh Cohen, burn-out is also the inability to relax. The individual suffering from this affliction is in a perpetual state of tension between the desire to accomplish his or her tasks and the inability to do so. This often leads to a form of “chronic indecision”, preventing the sufferer from taking action and thus getting out of this malaise. This phenomenon is exacerbated by the difficulty of disconnecting from work. Today, it’s very common to be able to receive work-related e-mails on your phone, regardless of the time, day or place you happen to be. The increase in and mismanagement of teleworking – a subject on which U4U has also done a great deal of thinking – is also a factor in this intrusion of work outside the office. Remember that it’s not just work, but also all electronic communications and the use of social networks that have grown massively in recent years, plunging us into a continuous stream of information that does little to promote peace of mind.

Finally, some companies try to alleviate this problem by setting aside time at work for meditation or relaxation. However, the success of such methods is mixed: while they can help those less severely affected, for more serious cases, these sessions also become tasks that can be passed or failed, and in this case worsen the situation.

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.

Moral or sexual harassment at work: what we propose

At the start of this year, we, along with the other staff representative organisations and the administration, began a social dialogue of the utmost importance on a new decision being prepared on the subject of moral or sexual harassment at work.

As a reminder, the notion of “harassment” does not cover all difficult situations in the workplace (conflicts, etc.), but is aimed in particular at situations defined in article 12 bis of the Staff Regulations.

Moral harassment is defined as “any abusive conduct that manifests itself in a lasting, repetitive or systematic manner through behaviour, words, actions, gestures or written material that are intentional and that undermine the personality, dignity or physical or psychological integrity of a person”.

Sexual harassment refers to “behaviour with a sexual connotation that is unwanted by the person to whom it is directed and that has the purpose or effect of violating that person’s dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive or embarrassing environment”.

It should be remembered that, in the case of both psychological and sexual harassment, the harassment may be perpetrated by the hierarchy, colleagues or even subordinates of the person concerned.

As we can see, these two concepts are far from encompassing all the difficult, harmful or dangerous situations that people may encounter in their relations with colleagues or superiors.

The draft decision proposed by the administration is not lacking in interesting innovations, foremost among which is the creation of a post of “Conseiller hors classe” (equivalent to that of a Director General) within the DG HR with the title of “Chief Confidential Counsellor”.

According to what we have been told by the administration, the role of the Chief Confidential Counsellor would be not only to coordinate the network of confidential counsellors, but also to direct victims of harassment to the bodies capable of helping them, to contact senior management on harassment issues where necessary and to ensure that information on preventing and combating harassment is widely and directly accessible.

This post would be placed under the direct authority of the Commissioner responsible for human resources (and its incumbent would therefore work independently of the hierarchy of the DG to which he or she reports).

As the aim of social dialogue is to enable trade unions to put forward their proposals or requests for improving the proposed texts, we would like to share with you now the points that have caught our attention, so that you can react and discuss them.

This will enable us to take your comments into account during our discussions with the administration and with the other representative organisations.

The points we propose to improve as a priority are as follows:

  1. The content of the Chief Confidential Counsellor’s role and the resources that will be made available to him or her.

If this role is to be effective, it is essential to broaden its scope as much as possible. For example, the Chief Confidential Counsellor could issue own-initiative recommendations on the situation in certain departments, or even conduct audits on the prevention of harassment. It is also important to provide it with a team and sufficient resources.

  1. Integrating the fight against harassment into a broader organisational and systemic perspective, with a strong emphasis on preventive measures.

Harassment concerns a limited number of situations described in Article 12a of the Staff Regulations and which, at least for moral harassment, require an “intentional” character (intention to harm the personality, dignity or physical or psychological integrity of a person). However, it will not escape anyone’s attention that what leads to harassment is often the result of situations of pressure or poor work organisation which, although not “intentional”, contribute to creating a climate that generates an increased risk of the emergence of genuine harassment behaviour. An effective anti-harassment policy, at least in terms of prevention, must therefore take into account issues relating to the organisation of work, the layout of physical space, management methods and the setting of objectives, etc.

  1. Support for victims, independently of considerations relating to disciplinary investigations and respect for the rights of the defence and the presumption of innocence.

Conducting an investigation takes time. However, victims of harassment do not have this time and it is often urgent to provide them with immediate support, while making it clear that this support does not amount to a declaration of guilt of the persons accused of harassment.

  1. The protection of victims against pressure of any kind or against any element that could have a dissuasive effect on their reporting of the facts.

Our organisations are regularly approached by people who are afraid to report harassment. The question of their protection against the “reprisals” they fear must be taken into consideration.

  1. The possibility of intervention by “whistleblowers”, also in cases of harassment.

In addition to complaints from victims, who sometimes dare not come forward, a whistleblowing procedure should also be introduced, for example through the Chief Confidential Counsellor.

  1. Simplification of the steps to be taken by victims to assert their legal rights.

Victims of harassment can submit a request for assistance to the institution via the procedure provided for in Article 24 of the Staff Regulations. However, this procedure is perceived as cumbersome and restrictive. A simplified procedure, or even automatic triggering of the right to assistance by the institution (particularly in the event of recourse to criminal justice) could be introduced. This would also ensure better protection of the right of fellow witnesses to give their evidence freely without being unnecessarily hindered by Article 19 of the Staff Regulations (which prohibits giving evidence in court without the authorisation of the Appointing Authority).

  1. Taking account of the diversity and inclusion dimension in dealing with the issue of harassment.

Victims of harassment are of different genders, origins, languages, cultures and status. This diversity must be reflected in the harassment policy as a whole and, in particular, in the composition of the teams of “persons of confidence”.

  1. Strengthening the independence and resources available to the departments responsible for investigations.

It is of the utmost importance that procedures not only be conducted independently but also be perceived as such. This is a prerequisite for staff confidence.

IDOC’s resources in this area should therefore be strengthened and certain investigators should be offered specialised training in this area, or even a corps of specialised investigators/inspectors should be set up within the department. The possibility of involving specialised external investigators in this type of investigation should also be considered.

  1. Strengthening the role and resources of the CPPT (Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work) in the fight against harassment.
  2. Easier access for elected staff representatives and staff representative organisations to detailed statistics on harassment and psychosocial risks.

Finally, in addition to the various points for discussion and improvement listed above, U4U would also like to see the reinforced anti-harassment approach extended to bodies with a strong link to the Commission, i.e. executive agencies and regulatory agencies. We are committed to this, and we hope that the administration will follow suit.


Building policies announced to senior management and teleworking policy

To the Heads of Human Resources

Staff have demonstrated throughout the COVID crisis great resilience combined with a deep commitment to the administration. They have also shown great responsibility and have received little appreciation for this.

At a time when the dossier for the new building “The One” to accommodate DG HR, DIGIT, SCIC and EPSO is still controversial, we learn that another wave of moves concerning Beaulieu – CNECT, REGIO, ENV and CLIMA – will take place in the coming months.

These moves are concerning. Without any consultation with the social partners or with the staff faced with a fait accompli, these moves impose a new working space policy for the Commission’s premises in Brussels.

  • 50% of the rental stock must disappear by 2030, that is to say, in less than 10 years.
  • The mandatory wider use of teleworking – which was neither the subject of social dialogue nor of a post evaluation of its implementation within the framework of confinement – serves as a pretext for a modification of the allocation of office space and a concentration of DGs in the same space;
  • The concepts of dynamic spaces, collaborative spaces and hot desking are being used to adapt the interior design and use of these future spaces without consultation with the DGs on the suitability of these spaces for their professionals and their needs.

We would like to remind the Commission of its document “The Workplace of the Future in the European Commission C (2019) 7450 final” (FR EN) which specifies, in particular:

  • That there is no “one size fits all” for offices (principle 6);
  • That individual offices are suitable for work requiring concentration and teleconferences (principle 6)
  • That hot desking can still be implemented while retaining individual offices (principle n ° 7).

Furthermore, the framework agreement provides for social dialogue measures relating to the working conditions of employees. Thus, we ask that staff and representative organizations be consulted in advance of these decisions about future accommodation conditions. Better still, the staff concerned should be involved throughout the process of designing and implementing the new workspace (principle 9).

The technical files relating to the buildings The One (L107) and Copernicus (L51) have still not been the subject of an in-depth analysis by the CPPT, the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work. The regulations for this type of office still need to be updated in order to comply, among other things, with the measures and principles of the Commission Communication on Tomorrow’s Work Environment (C (2019 ) 7450).

What is the reason for the current level of haste? In addition, such a broad real estate policy cannot precede a new policy for teleworking, for which we have not been consulted either. This must first be elaborated and discussed as a matter of urgency. This would then devlop the buildings policy and not the other way around. We are ready for this dialogue and you will find here our proposals.

For their part, the staff deserve an open and clear dialogue and all the information necessary to express themselves fully, through their representatives, on these radical changes.

Message of the Common Front

All TU togheter

Opinion survey on flexible collaborative spaces (“hotdesking”) imposed on colleagues, the first DGs and departments to be subjected to this being: DG HR, EPSO, DIGIT and SCIC; the others will follow.The statement of the Director-General of DG HR, following the management meeting of January 18, 2021, regarding the move of the colleagues from DG HR to the new building “The One” (107 rue de la Loi), organized in the working environment model of a“dynamic office space” (hotdesking) , surprised all the trade unions and professional organizations and all the colleagues, this being all the more worrying as no announcement or even negotiation was communicated to staff representatives.Listen from minute 10:”We cannot consult our staff on where we are going, the decision is beyond our reach.”This unilateral decision by the Director-General of DG HR is unacceptable not only for all trade unions and professional organizations, but also for all the staff of this Directorate-General. It should also be pointed out that making a decision of such magnitude in the midst of a pandemic, is far from being the most appropriate in terms of calm reflection on the future of our institution.All unions are in favour of an approach based on dialogue and the involvement of the personnel concerned.At this stage, we can only note a total dissonance between the words of Commissioner Hahn during the meeting he had with all the trade unions and professional organizations, as well as with the local staff committees and the central staff committee (LSC / CSC), on 12 January 2021.During this meeting, in his introductory speech, he confirmed to us: “… understands the needs for an effective social dialogue…” but also “…. and reassures the concern of the Institution to care about people. “And the actions / positions of DG HR:“Will the unions be consulted about the move?
Formally, unions do not need to be consulted when DGs move to new buildings. It is important to note that DG HR is committed to making this new model of working a success and it has therefore prepared a range of workshops to involve staff in the change management process. ”
We all agree that a change in the working environment appears necessary in the context of the development of teleworking (a HR’s decision that is still awaited to this day) and certain budgetary restrictions.That being said, this development cannot be done without consulting the staff concerned and let alone without taking into account the well-being of the staff.If we base ourselves on the Communication from the Commission on the working environment of tomorrow of the European Commission on 16 October 2019 [C (2019) 7450 final], this one affirms “We need to strive to create a working environment in the Commission that gives our highly qualified and engaged staff the best opportunities to work effectively, work collaboratively with colleagues and external stakeholders and that enables them to reconcile their personal and working life in a healthy, sustainable and balanced manner“As a reminder, “the dynamic or flexible office is a concept whereby the number of people in the service concerned exceeds the quantity of workstations normally available, and which are not assigned by name. (…) In fact, the dynamic office can be converted in a landscaped office layout as well as in an individual or shared office, completely or in part. Each day the employee chooses his position, according to availability and / or his needs and / or according to the operational needs of the service. .[1]. “. In the current case, the administration is planning to set up a dynamic collaborative office (open plan office), therefore without individual offices and without assigning workstations by name. This also entails a “clean desk” policy, that is to say, the obligation to clear the table completely before leaving, and the elimination of storage spaces (drawers, cupboards, etc.), replaced by a small locker at the entrance. Therefore, no customization of the space would, in principle, be possible.We can note that two important principles particularly stated in this communication on the workplace of the future:
PRINCIPLE 8. Before deciding on a particular office set-up, Directorate-Generals, departments and teams should receive help and advice and help to look at options and decide what the best office arrangement is for their work.
PRINCIPLE 9. Staff affected should be involved throughout the process of conceptualising and implementing the new workspace.Unfortunately we sadly remark that neither DG HR nor the other DGs concerned have consulted their staff, or / and the joint body responsible for defending the interests of the staff in such situation, that is to say, the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work. This is all the more regrettable as it is in violation not only of the commitments of the Commission but also of Belgian law relating to the code for prevention and protection at work (Articles II.8-1 to II.8-3 :Therefore, the common front trade unions and professional organisations propose to you a staff consultation in order to verify the enthusiasm, announced in particular by the Director General of DG HR, of the colleagues from the Directorates-General who will be affected by this new project of flexible collaborative spaces. This exercise will also be offered to colleagues from other Directorates-General who will be faced with a “done job” and who will also be affected by such a project. We will analyse your answers and use them to defend your rights during the negotiations with the administration.Colleagues from DG “HR, EPSO, DIGIT and SCIC” will receive an EUsurvey link in the next few hours so that they can participate in the survey. In the coming days, the colleagues from the DGs for which a switch to Flexidesking is announced, will also receive a link. With each new move announcement, we will send an EUsurvey link so that all colleagues can express their thoughts on the situation and share their experiences.———[1] Draft Housing Conditions Manual (HCM) for Commission services – Part 3, 30 March 2015, page 3Protection of personal data
Responses to this survey are voluntary and will be collected anonymously. No link will be established between the responses and any information that could possibly lead to the identification of their origin.


OPEN SPACE: taking into account the realities of work and the opinion of the staff

The administration has been trying for a few years to offer staff a new working environment: the open space. Several attempts have been made, for example in the Offices, others have been refused by staff such as Near and TAXUD, sometimes with the active help of the Unions. Recently DG BUDG organized two information meetings with its staff to present its plan about new open space offices.In general, the staff concerned is rather hostile to this type of work environment, especially since things are designed and implemented without its contribution, and without the improvement of working conditions be proven.Like any transformation of the working environment, this requires an intense dialogue both with the staff concerned and with the intermediate bodies such as the trade union organizations and the Staff committee. No change in the working environment would be beneficial to the services if it was against the advice of the staff, if it did not require its involvement in setting it up and if it was not obviously an improvement in working conditions. The staff often had to suffer from imposed changes, which were contrary to its wishes. The most recent Satisfaction survey of the Commission’s staff showed that it considered itself to be insufficiently recognized, as its opinion was not sufficiently taken into account, as shown in the analysis of the results. Today, we must reverse this trend by demonstrating together – administration and staff representation – that this is not the case. Let’s make sure that changes in the working environment are built with the staff, based on the reality of each person’s work and not conceived a priori from the outside. The staff is the main asset of the institution and of its general directorates. Its contribution must be valued and its working conditions preserved, and even improved.In these uncertain times when the European project is stagnating or even faltering, our priority is to mobilize our work community to better implement the policies of the Union. U4U is convinced that this is your opinion as well. This is why our organization hopes that the coming dialogue will provide the relevant solutions. At each stage of this dialogue, U4U will act in consultation with the staff concerned to better reflect its concerns and proposals.


See our position relating to Open Spaces at DG NEAR

Management of Open Spaces at the European Commission: note from all the Commission’s trade unions and professional organisations supported by all the statutory staff representatives 01/04/2020

Rue de la Loi relay antennas: Precautionary principle – Tomorrow will be too late!

Petition from the staff of DG AGRI, ECHO, TAXUD, EMPL, SCIC requesting an impact study prior to the installation of antennas (December 2017).
This petition is now closed. Letter to DG HR following this petition.

Last September, two emeritus professors presented the Commission with a “5G Appeal” petition signed by 180 scientists and doctors from around the world. Their text drew attention to the need for the precautionary principle to prevail in the installation of 5G relay antennas. One of their key concerns was the growing number of antennae and the coexistence of successive generations of antennae, which, in the case of previous generations (2G, 3G, 4G and WiFi), had been shown to cause damage to health, particularly among the very young, not to mention to biodiversity.

For the signatories of this appeal urging the public authorities to apply the precautionary principle, the expansion of antennas in towns and cities should be halted until it had been proven that they were safe for health.

27 relay antennas are to be installed on the roof of the LOI 89 building. These will be in addition to 30 existing antennas less than 50m away. The antennas are being massively erected in a very narrow area. And it is not certain that the prior impact analysis attached to the permit authorising the installation was carried out in a comprehensive manner. It is possible to object to this permit before 12 November. At the very least, clarification is needed.

U4U has alerted:

  • SIPP, the OIB department responsible for prevention and protection at work, the OIB, which oversees it, and DG HR via the supervision unit.
  • the Local Staff Committee (CLP), which immediately referred the matter to the joint CPPT committee responsible for prevention and protection at work.
  • the Directors General of the four DGs whose offices are located opposite the existing and future branches announced [AGRI, TAXUD, ECHO, EMPL] to ensure that the precautionary principle is applied to their exposed staff.

In response to this letter, SIPP asked Vinçotte, the approved inspection body selected under a framework contract, to carry out an analysis of the impact of total emissions from transmitting antennas inside EC buildings following the proposed installation of 27 TELENET antennas on the roof of 89 rue de la Loi.

The results of Vinçotte’s report, transmitted to yesterday’s CPPT, repeat unchanged the conclusions of the permit application, i.e. that the standard is not exceeded except in areas not accessible to the public and that the impact of the installation of these antennas can be considered acceptable.

However, none of the additional measures requested by U4U have been carried out by Vinçotte, in particular :

  • What about controlling the impact on materials other than concrete, such as doors, windows and plaster partitions, which can let the waves through?
  • What about the probable impact on nearby EC buildings of 27 new antennas combined with 30 existing antennas?
  • How could Vinçotte have based its opinion on partially erroneous information, such as the reference in the permit to existing installations (which simplifies the granting procedure) when there are no antennas on the roof of LOI 89?

In response to these questions and objections raised by U4U, SIPP replied that Vinçotte recommended that the levels reached after the additional antennae had been brought into service should be evaluated and that analyses should be carried out in the Commission buildings that are exposed once the antennae are operational. This response undermines the prevention vocation of this service. The 4 DGs concerned have not replied.

Only the Commission can object to the installation permit. It is the Commission that occupies the buildings concerned. In accordance with Directive 2013/35/EU, it must ensure that these installations are safe and inform its staff. It would appear that it was not even informed of these installations, or so we hope. This raises questions about the relationship between our host, the Brussels-Capital Region, and our administration, which must protect the health of its staff, whether in terms of air quality, mobility or now electromagnetic emissions.

U4U has questions and concerns. What is stopping the Commission, on behalf of all the institutions, from demanding better conditions for the 30,000 people working in Brussels, because it is where the European institutions are largely based? We are just as much citizens of this city, and contributors to the capital’s wealth and development. And we demand the application of the precautionary principle enshrined in EU(2011) Resolution 1815.


Message from U4U to the President of the CPPT: permit to install 27 antennas on the roof of LOI 89 – precautionary principle and impact assessment
Tue. 14/11/2017 18:34

Mr Chairman,

U4U referred to the OIB the problem relating to the installation of 27 additional antennas for the company TELENET on the roof of LOI 89, by email of which you were a copy, on 19 October last.
U4U also referred the installation of these antennas to the CLP, which sent you a note on 27 October summarising a number of concerns raised in the documentation issued with the notice of installation permit, which could be objected to until 12 November.
SIPP replied that it was commissioning an analysis from Vinçotte, the results of which would be discussed at the next CPPT meeting on 9 November.
On November 9, SIPP presented the results of the Vinçotte analysis to the CPPT.

Several points caught our attention and are of great concern to us.

  1. The Commission did not seem to have been informed of the plans to install these base stations, even though national legislation derived from European law requires an impact assessment and prior information of those exposed;
  2. The documents relating to the installation permit were not available to the members of the CPPT so that they could validly deliberate in possession of the elements of the file at your meeting, even though we had sent them to the SIPP and the CLP;
  3. Vinçotte’s findings seem to be limited to an analysis of the dossier attached to the installation permit, whereas in their concerns, both U4U and the CLP had mentioned the following elements, which did not seem to have been taken into account:
  • External simulation of the impact of emissions on adjacent buildings: very high emissions threshold. The maximum thresholds authorised by the legislation have already been reached. This concerns all the top floors of the buildings housing DG AGRI, DG TAXUD, SCIC and DG ECHO (LOI 80 to LOI 130).
  • Daily and permanent exposure of colleagues to the maximum thresholds. In order not to be exceeded, this will require regular measurement and monitoring of the impact, impeccable maintenance and the assurance that permanent exposure to the threshold is harmless to the health of the staff concerned.
  • The internal simulations in the dossier show that the threshold is exceeded inside certain buildings. This information does not concern our buildings, but we would like to know whether simulations have been carried out taking into account the fact that LOI89 is the same height as our buildings. We would also like to know whether the window factor has been taken into account, as our buildings have plenty of windows.
  • The installation of these antennas is in addition to the 15 existing antennas on Rue de Trêve for ORANGE and the 15 existing antennas on the roof of the THON hotel for PROXIMUS. 57 antennas are concentrated in a perimeter of barely twenty metres. It is not clear that the dossier takes all the antennas into account when simulating total emissions.
  • Page 3: “Article 3: Installation of facilities: not applicable, the facilities already exist”. You only have to go up to the 11th floor of DG AGRI to see that there are no existing installations on the roof of LOI 89, which casts doubt on the seriousness with which the preliminary investigation was conducted and therefore on the factors taken into account to authorise this permit.
  • The file does not contain vertical and horizontal radiation diagrams, which are also decisive in assessing the dangerousness of exposure to emissions, in particular.
  1. The SIPP’s operational conclusions, which consist of proposing that Vinçotte carry out monitoring once the antennae are operational, seem to us to be in total contradiction with the purpose of the CPPT which, as its name indicates, is concerned with the prevention of risks in the workplace;
  2. The lack of decisions by both the SIPP and the CPPT regarding the application of the precautionary principle, in particular by objecting to the installation permit before 12 November, the time required for our departments to complete the impact analysis and obtain the necessary guarantees regarding the harmlessness of these installations, combined with 30 already existing antennas, on the health of the staff concerned.

U4U asks you, on behalf of the CPPT, as authorised by the mandate of this Committee, to alert the DG HR of this project to install antennas, of the doubts attached to the granting of the installation permit and of the concerns of the staff who will be continuously exposed to the maximum emission thresholds.
U4U would also ask you to commission an independent expert opinion, which would also be responsible for responding to the points raised above by comparing the results of the analyses carried out and supplementing them (taking into account window factors, taking into account laterality, taking into account the concentration on the perimeter, in particular).

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter,
President U4U

Air quality in Brussels

In June 2015, the European Commission commenced proceedings against Belgium before the EU Court of Justice due to the continued high particle level, which posed a significant risk to public health. Studies show that poor air quality is responsible for more deaths annually than road accidents. Microparticles called PM10, mainly caused by human activities such as transport, industry and domestic heating, cause respiratory problems, lung cancer and lead to premature death.Belgium’s air quality results have improved slightly in recent years, with just three areas and conurbations (Brussels and the port areas of Ghent and Roeselare) still not reaching their objectives. The proposal to refer to the Court followed the sending of a reasoned opinion in February 2014, in a case first opened in 2008. Although measures were taken in all air quality areas concerned by the action taken by the Commission, they have not to date been enough to resolve the problem and, as the time limit for compliance has long since expired, the Commission brought the case before the EU Court of Justice.At the end of April 2016, the European Commission sent Belgium a formal notice for failing to comply with Directive 2008/50/EC of 21 May 2008 concerning “ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe”. Belgium is in breach for failing to comply with annual limits set for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). In reality, instead of “Belgium”, this should read “the Brussels Region”. Since the Directive came into force in January 2010, Brussels exceeded the annual limit every year until 2014.The Commission also criticises Belgium (and therefore the Brussels Region) for not implementing air quality measures in those places where the highest concentrations are observed, with the results obtained subsequently proving to be non-representative. Two major measurement stations at Arts-Loi and Belliard have been closed since 2008 and 2014 respectively. However, the figures from the Arts-Loi station showed a steady rise in the level of NO2 pollution before it was closed.The fine particles cause 12,000 premature deaths annually in our country, according to Hans Bruyninckx of the European Environment Agency, which blames the 3.5 million diesel vehicles on the road in Belgium.For those of us who work daily in the European quarter or near major road routes (e.g. Beaulieu, Geneva, etc.), and in particular on the two “autoroute” axes formed by the Rue de la loi and the Rue Belliard, air quality is a major issue for our health.U4U requests the administration to take regular measurements of air quality in the most exposed buildings, to release these measurements to staff so that they are aware of the risks they are exposed to on a daily basis, and to notify them to the Belgian authorities so that they can take the necessary measures on our behalf and on behalf of the populations of the neighbourhoods concerned.U4U fully supports the infringement proceedings launched in 2015 and the formal notice of 2016 and hopes that the combined pressure from Justice and the administration will overcome the tardiness, not to say the inefficiency, of the Belgian authorities in this matter.

Well being at work

Assessing burnout

Following a major change in definition, burnout can now be seen as a multifactorial process resulting from prolonged exposure to persistent stress in the workplace, in people who attach a great deal of importance to their profession. It leads to professional exhaustion, both emotional and physical.

It is difficult to make a clinical assessment of burnout. There is no real reference in international classifications such as DSM or ICD. However, burnout is mentioned in the ICD10 as an exhaustion syndrome, noted as Z73.0. It is not a psychological disorder in its own right.

The European Union Cyclists’ Group

In 1996, a group that now includes over 1,600 cyclist colleagues  from all the European institutions was formed to advance the cause of the bicycle as well as the environment. After twenty years of activity, there has been an increase in the number of bicycle parking spaces inside and outside of the institutional buildings, better access to showers, an improvement in general cycling facilities and counter-theft measures, the provision of bicycles to travel between buildings, participation in consultations to establish cycle routes in the Brussels region and in all public consultations in Brussels relating to mobility and air quality, including space for bicycles on trains, better signs and the promotion of laws governing cyclist mobility, training and information about routes, etc.Briefly, this very active group intends in the short term to request the installation of signs calling on cyclists to show more courtesy to pedestrians and is taking part in consultations to change cycling rules along the lines of those European capitals most forward-thinking on the subject, such as Copenhagen.There is no doubt we have everything to gain by the wider use of the bicycle, provided it respects both pedestrians and road safety rules, as a solution to the mobility and pollution problems we experience in the Brussels Region. Let us support our cyclist colleagues in their struggles, which are also ours. None of us like to work alongside roads that might as well be motorways. The Brussels traffic is so dangerous that we dread the thought of cycling, suffer from the increasing pollution that affects us all, and are all horrified by the poorly designed bicycle routes, which are so dangerous for pedestrians.So yes, let us share the space intelligently, create the necessary conditions for the safety of cyclists and their equipment, engage in discussions on mobility in Brussels Capital, the region where we work and where many of us live.

Canteens and cafeterias

Post-pandemic era

Canteens, food-trucks, distributors, where are we? Where are we going? Last Wednesday 20/10/2021, the meeting of the joint Canteen committee took place. We wanted to inform you quickly.As announced in MyIntracomm, the administration is gradually reopening some canteens and trying to have an alternative offer for buildings without a canteen. This is already a first victory for us.The pandemic had rightly led the administration to cancel its invitation to tender for the canteens. Given the still uncertain context and the current difficulty in sizing the catering offer, which must also be economically viable for the operators, we salute the current efforts of our colleagues who have shown flexibility in changing their tasks and dedication.That being said, and even if there are certainly food-trucks serving quality food, lunch should not be reduced to a piece of pizza or a “mitraillette”, nor even to a light Armenian lunch wrapped in tinfoil and cardboard paid 12 euros. In the same way, buildings should not be reduced to station halls where you buy a mediocre sandwich with your stomach in knots.In addition to the classic points (healthy, quality, varied, affordable, sustainable cooking with particular attention to waste) two less classic points seem important to us:

  • While we are gradually coming back to the office with more or less enthusiasm, the moment of the meal and in particular the place where these meals will be shared seems to us a strategic moment to create conviviality. In a way, to re-enchant the idea of getting together.
  • Particular attention will need to be paid to certain problems that may arise: the lack of affordable and nearby supply will weigh more heavily on those on lower incomes or with high work pressure.

Faced with this situation, U4U id perfectly able to be reasonable and patient; the current situation of the pandemic how important uncertainties remain. However, we think it is important to use this time to get prepared for the situation that we will have after.For our part, U4U is committed to continuing to explore any realistic and feasible solution in the interest of us all and to insist on increasing the canteen offer. If you have any questions or comments, please contact us. 01/11/2021

Pre-pandemic era

Commission canteens: Welcome to the Good Food label!When good will and skills come together to collaborate, an example of successful social dialogue that deserves to be applied in other areas, Commission canteens!

On 24 April this year, the OIB launched the call for tenders for the concession of the Commission’s canteens, selfs and cafeterias, banketing, Overijse Leisure Centre and after-school childcare facilities in Brussels.This call for tender is to be welcomed. It is the result of years of patient effort by a handful of colleagues convinced of the need for a change in practices: food must be sustainable and responsible. It is also an essential component of our well-being and health.This is why we have resolutely decided to turn our backs on the past: from now on, our canteens will meet the requirements of the Good Food label developed by the Brussels-Capital Region :

  • Minimum quantity of organic products ;
  • Vegetarian (and veggie Thursday) offer;
  • Seasonal fruits and vegetables;
  • Measures to promote a healthy diet;
  • Fight against food wastage;
  • Consumer information.

The specifications go even further: compliance with sustainable fishing standards, waste sorting, donations to NGOs of unsold/consumed products, food recycling, tap water, consideration of allergies, vegan offer, organic cleaning products, and consideration of our 27 cultures in terms of taste and recipes ….Colleagues from the Staff Representation, including that of U4U, have been involved in the change in the Joint Committee for Catering since 2012. More particularly, we have made colleagues in charge of managing our canteens aware of the need to bring our practices in line with our policies on environment, sustainable fishing, respectful agricultural, fight against waste, EMAS standards, etc.We also had to take into account the trends and expectations of an ever-increasing number of colleagues more and more concerned about their food, in all its dimensions. This invitation to tender is the result of successful collaboration between staff representatives and the managing departments of the OIB and, more broadly, the Commission departments whose work contributed to the decision-making process. Creativity is therefore possible; allowing it to emerge, a disposition of mind. The administration and staff representation must agree on modalities for social dialogue which encourage this creativity.Change takes time, the time for information, for training, for awareness-raising, for bringing different and new players into contact, the time for ideas to mature, for experiences to be transferred. Time to identify the services that can collaborate/contribute, time to convince. It is never the work of a single person but of a group of good wills. The OIB recruited colleagues who had set up the Good Food label in their home institutions, and who could transfer their practices. The fact that our institution was able to detect and benefit from their experience is reflected in the tender specifications.From the production of our food to the donation of unsold products to NGOs, through the processing of ingredients, cleaning products used in the kitchen, waste recycling, etc., the new concessionaire will have to implement the requirements of the Good Food label. Finally, we are following in the footsteps of hundreds of public authorities in Europe who have transformed collective catering in their administrations and public services (schools, hospitals, army, etc.).U4U thanks all those who made this change possible, those who came to hold conferences, share their experience, and colleagues from the services who came to explain their policies. Let us salute the efforts of our OIB colleagues who stood firm, amidst resistance and contradictory, even irreconcilable, demands, for having made this call for tender possible today, which also makes us responsible actors in the Brussels-Capital Region, whose label we adopt and support.


Canteens of the Commission in Brussels:

Good Food Labeling and Fair Prices – We’ll get there!

Since 2012, U4U has been campaigning for sustainable canteens and has spoken widely in various forums and publications. Finally, things are changing to meet the expectations of more and more colleagues.A future call for tenders to award the concession for canteens of the Commission is in preparation. For U4U, it is necessary to promote the Good Food label, a concept developed by Bruxelles-environnement that combines seasonality, local production, respectful farming practices, respect for animal welfare, healthy food and fight against waste, bio as much as possible, especially.Everyone agrees today that we need to rethink our diet. But in terms of canteen, the question of the quality of what we eat is related to the question of the cost of what we eat. Quality has a price.The price of quality ingredients pays producers who guarantee this quality by agricultural practices that are more respectful of the environment and more social.In the canteens, the products are then transformed into a meal, it is a job that must also be paid. The question of the working conditions of the concessionaires’ staff, who have led several strikes in recent years, has led many colleagues to mobilize, aware that no one can work without proper pay and decent working conditions.The more the preparations are studied to obey healthy eating criteria, the more time is devoted to it: there, as elsewhere, time is money. So, we can not eat better for rates we would like to stay low.The supply of competitively priced food has been detrimental to the environment and our health. Respect for our agriculture requires a fair reward for work and practices respectful of the planet. And more and more colleagues want to reverse the trend and reconnect with a quality diet, sustainable for the environment, healthy for our health.But when we talk about price increases, objections are raised. Our salaries are indexed to the cost of living which we know increases and justifies this indexation. Therefore, we must accept that the price of what we eat in our canteens also increases. Our employer already pays a portion of the cost of our meals by providing space, covering some of the operating costs (water, electricity, some of the crockery, etc.).The real question is: what is the cost of switching to a good food diet? Is this cost sustainable for all? Is the increase a difficulty for the lowest wages? The answer depends on the policy that must be put in place. Imagination is needed to enable everyone to benefit from improved nutrition, and it is up to our employer to think about solutions.Stopping “feeding” and relearning “eating” is a fundamental dimension of our lives. In this paradigm also comes the quality of the canteen environment, which U4U has already mentioned (see below). At the Committee of the Regions, the Council or the European Parliament, Good Food has been a staple for years, to the great satisfaction of the greatest number.It is high time for the Commission in Brussels to emulate them.

August 2019

8 march 2019

International Women’s rights Day represents an opportunity to highlight how much remains to be done to achieve equality between men and women. Despite the fact that our Institutions have been trying for the last fifteen years to become exemplary employers in this area, in keeping with the policies whose implementation they have prepared for, voted for, promoted and contributed to, much remains to be done to change mentalities and practices. However, there are differences between institutions, offices and agencies in how they apply the rules and decisions that bring about this equality. In reality, the Institutions lack the capacity or the will to truly ensure equality throughout the European Civil Service.At first glance, there is no gender pay gap and salaries are equal for both men and women. Better yet, a range of resources has been introduced in order to combat all forms of discrimination, bullying and unacceptable behaviour. However, discrimination remains an issue in our Institutions. Contrary to what may be believed, it is not contained to isolated cases of individual behaviour or inaccurate cultural stereotypes, as workplace inequalities have also manifested in our Institutions in spite of the equality policies in place. In Europe, workplace flexibility is becoming ever more necessary to ensure employment stability. Contractual work, which often results in a lower salary, impoverishes mainly women, because it is mainly women that have been forced into this third-rate status.In our Institutions, the majority of Contract Agents (CA) are women, in particular in the lower categories. The same applies to AST/SC career paths. Hence, women make up the majority as they represent 56% of all active agents in these positions (at least in the Commission). The CA sectors have the fewest career opportunities, with no opportunities for advancement or career development. Despite all the progress made in the last few years in terms of reconciliation of work and family life, which has also benefited men, women are still affected by every budget cut made in the Institutions. For example, budget cuts to childcare services (opening hours of creches and childcare centres, lack of schools nearby, contact with school medical services, etc.) mainly impact women as they are usually responsible for arranging daily childcare.Eventually, this begins to impact their career opportunities: the more obligations to juggle, the less time available to train and progress. How convenient for our Institutions, as training budgets are being cut and only those with no time constraints seem to progress. Furthermore, performance evaluation criteria and the organisation of work are still defined by men, which negatively impacts their careers. Systematic non-replacement after maternity leave, or being made part time, is also a threat to internal mobility and to the taking on of additional responsibilities for women. Finally, we must examine our practices and consider the impact of the outsourcing of an ever-increasing portion of our requirements to service providers, which has also contributed to women’s employment instability, even if they are not the sole targets.In conclusion, although the outlook is good in terms of objective developments and a repeated desire to promote gender equality, it is undeniable that the difficult budgetary context of the last 15 years undermines these developments, and even reinforces the inequality that the implemented policies are intended to combat.


Canteens: when will they be insourced?

The contract for operating the canteens and cafeterias in the Commission’s buildings in Brussels is about to expire and will probably have been the most complicated contract to manage in the entire history of sub-contracting the Brussels canteens.The experience has proved disappointing, if not downright awful. The outsourcing to three different service providers did not live up to expectations, especially with regard to healthy competition between them to guarantee us the best service at the lowest price.In fact, the sheer number of representatives proved to be a real headache for the management of contracts and was of no benefit to staff:

  • the competition between canteens did not improve the supply nor the prices;
  • the feeble advances of the specifications in terms of healthier food could not overcome the financial constraints;
  • the service was not suited to our needs, which were constrained by the financial realities of the service providers;
  • the canteens experienced constant periods of strike and instability, all of which were related to working conditions and salaries of employees of the service providers;
  • the OIB’s workload tripled without a corresponding increase in its resources.

The list of problems is long and far from exhaustive. In addition, between 2012, the year of the previous call for tenders, and today, the sociology of our population has changed significantly. There have been a number of moves and building closures, the working hours have got longer, and teleworking has become more widespread, influencing the use and profitability of the canteens and making their management more complex. Furthermore, a growing number of us want a sustainable, healthy and ethical diet. It is a shame that the EU’s policies on this subject are not translated into action when we ourselves become involved in contract catering. The service therefore did not deliver on its expectations nor on its challenges. And with the failed gamble of this three-way outsourcing, let’s not forget the disaster that is the restaurant. The Commission is the largest institution in Brussels, receiving guests from around the world, and yet it does not have a restaurant.On the basis of these findings, the OIB is preparing a new call for tenders. However, the paradigm remains that of sub-contracting a service that is essential for our well-being at work and for our health. In U4U’s opinion, the solution lies in the insourcing of canteens. Previously, the canteens and restaurants belonged to the Commission. They did not exist to remunerate shareholders; it was enough for them to achieve a balance. The discounts offered by wholesalers on the quantities purchased benefited the economy of the internalised canteens (rather than the capital of service providers) and influenced prices, which could remain favourable without affecting quality. We were therefore being offered a good service. A flexible management, as close as possible to the end consumer, can take the sociology of each location and the practices of the General Directorates into account, and can therefore continuously adapt itself as appropriate. The current situation proves that it is necessary to regain control of the canteens in order to attain a level of flexibility that a contract simply cannot offer, due to the fact that the slightest change to a call for tenders results in a time and energy consuming amendment. A contract is a straitjacket, rigid and unsuited to rapid change. Three contracts simply triple the difficulty. Direct management also allows for a new pricing policy and takes account of the purchasing power of trainees, for example, and that of certain categories of agents and officials. Many public canteens in other Member States innovate in this matter by implementing flexible pricing schemes. This is certainly not a time for recruitment, but a time for imagination. Solutions do exist and inspiration can be taken from the practices of the OIL (in Luxembourg), which manages its local canteens and employs its cooks, but subcontracts some of the kitchen and serving staff. The infrastructure exists in and belongs to the Commission, whether it owns the premises or leases them. The OIB has the experience and skills to do everything just as well as the OIL. Freed from the tasks of contract supervision, controls and triple audits, the OIB could devote its resources to direct management. There is therefore no objective obstacle to such a solution.U4U has advocated for this change for years. Through our patient work raising awareness on the health and environmental issues related to nutrition and responsible consumption, U4U has made OIB managers aware of the need to develop our canteens and purchases and increased awareness  of the “Good Food” label, developed in the Brussels Region.With more than 7,000 meals served daily, the Commission is one of the most influential stakeholders in the Brussels region. Its behaviour as a consumer of foodstuffs therefore has a considerable influence on supply and, finally, on production. Better control of our food consumption today means prioritising organic, local and in-season food items and sustainable fishing, for example. It also means re-evaluating our dietary needs, our consumption of meat, sugar, salt, fats and dairy products, and taking on board a series of preventive health recommendations, such as promoting “veggie” Thursdays. Being part of a Brussels-based approach means establishing ourselves as responsible and concerned guests of the land that welcomes us to live and work.U4U has already written extensively about the failure of the division of canteens and cafeterias that should have put the 3 service providers selected in a situation of mutual competition and thus guarantee us the best quality at the cheapest price, a principle that causes substantial social damage. This strategy has failed and the service has not improved overall. All you have to do is visit our neighbours at the European Parliament, the EEAS or the CESE/CDR to realise that we are the least well fed. Also, the only ones to have experienced repeated strikes, which are related at least in part to the current sub-contracting model. Particular care must be taken when establishing the canteen service for our crèches and childcare centres.Février 2019

Safety at the Commission

CCP statement of 13 April 2016

Open letter to Vice-President Georgieva

The plenary session of the CCP wishes to express its solidarity with the families of the victims and the injured of the attacks that savagely shed blood in Brussels on 22 March.

In addition to the Belgian population, the international community and the European quarter were directly affected through the Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station.

The messages sent to Staff by the President of the Commission, Mr Juncker, and the Vice-President, Ms Georgieva, are laudable in their intention to reassure us, but they do not address the issues at stake or the seriousness of the situation.

By asserting that “these events affect us, but do not frighten us” and by assuring us that “all the necessary measures for a smooth return to normality are being implemented”, these assertions do not address the concerns of a large number of colleagues who fear for their safety in and around Brussels, every day, for themselves, their children and their family members.

Nothing can ever be the same again, and there is no prospect of a return to “normality” any time soon. The situation has changed dramatically and poses a real threat, particularly for the staff of the European institutions, and not just in Brussels. We therefore urgently need to prepare ourselves and get used to a “new normal”.

Of course, the Commission cannot be held responsible for security issues outside the buildings, but the fact remains that it cannot shy away from this essential aspect for everyone. It is essential to be able to come to work and move around in safety in the European Quarter and the places where the Commission and the European institutions are located.

The CCP therefore urges you to take all these aspects into account in your discussions with the national authorities, but also with the Member States, as it is essential that cooperation is more than ever a tangible reality and that the resources made available, including financial resources, are commensurate with what is at stake. Security is a priority that is part of a new deal and cannot suffer from budgetary restrictions.

With regard to access and working conditions in the European Commission’s buildings as well as in the crèches, nurseries and European Schools, the CCP urgently calls for the implementation of a genuine reinforced security policy and concrete measures to provide staff and staff children with a minimum of guarantees, namely :

1) To put in place a genuine security policy and strategy with the help of the best specialists in the field, involving staff representatives, also taking into account the experiences and decisions of the other institutions and strengthening, where necessary, inter-institutional cooperation and cooperation with the competent national authorities in the places of employment,

2) Strengthen the professionalism and staffing of our Security Directorate,

3) Explore the possibility of internalising our “inter-guards”, as has been done by the EP and the Court of Auditors, and, if necessary, other professions,

4) Review the control of external staff, in particular by screening staff who have access to the buildings and by revising the specifications with external suppliers to include safety and control standards for people recruited and working for the institutions,

5) Review the OIB/OIL policy on mixed-use buildings, which makes it more difficult to ensure the safety of our buildings and therefore of our staff,

6) Raise awareness and train all staff in safety issues and first aid,

7) Organise first-aid rooms near the building entrances that are easily accessible by ambulance services, with the appropriate equipment, in particular: first-aid box, defibrillator, wheelchair, stretcher, woollen blanket, bench, and water point as stipulated in the “Standard Building Manual” regulations and at the same time ensure the presence and training of first-aid attendants in each building,

8) Ensure the safety of crèches, nurseries and European schools in the same way, by involving staff and parent representatives,

9) Extend accident insurance to staff spouses and children, as is already the case in the delegations.

These requirements, which are by no means exhaustive, apply first and foremost to Brussels, following the attacks of 22 March, but they must also apply to all places of employment, in a manner proportionate to the risks.

To be effective, this policy and the security strategy covering the legitimate needs of staff and their families at all places of employment must be developed as soon as possible in collaboration with Staff Representatives and legitimate stakeholders such as Parent Associations.

Hot desking in the Commission ?

In a draft document innocuously called « Housing Manual », the Administration contemplates the introduction of « hot desking » in the Commission. This document comes as a total surprise. No one has been consulted. Not the high hierarchy who expects outputs of a high quality, not the middle managers who would have to manage this scheme and of course not the staff.

Is this practice adapted to our working environment ? No one knows because the manual concentrates on practicalities and does not study whether our activity is compatible with this sort of arrangement. Furthermore, the paper does not take into account the profound changes to the management style or to the design of the premises that are a pre-requisite for such a model to have a chance of working. Incredibly, the manual declares : “Dans le cas de postes de travail non attribués nominativement aux personnes, aucun changement n’est à prévoir aux modalités déjà en place pour l’aménagement et le cloisonnement de ces espaces” which is obviously plain nonsense.

Finally, the paper mentions such trifles that could be a negligible consequence of the scheme : « l’insatisfaction du personnel, une certaine frustration, une démotivation ». Indeed. But who cares ?

See the draft document….

See the letter from U4U asking for the opening of a social consultation

04/06/2015 : Le Parlement européen, par une note de son Secrétaire général, M. K. Welle, a abandonné son projet de bureaux open space.

More reading…

Hot desking is an office organization system which involves multiple workers using a single physical work station or surface during different time periods. The “desk” in the name refers to an office desk being shared by multiple office workers on different shifts as opposed to each staff member having their own personal desk. A primary motivation for hot desking is cost reduction through space savings – up to 30% in some cases.

Hot desking is regularly used in workplaces where not all the employees are in the office at the same time, or not in the office for long periods at a time, which means actual personal offices would often be vacant, consuming valuable space and resources. An alternate version of hot desking would be in a workplace where employees have multiple tasks and multiple employees may require a certain work station, but not for their entire duties. Thus a permanent work station can be made available to any worker as and when needed, with employees sharing the station as needed. This could be for a single element of one’s work (for example, sales employees who may need an office when they have client meetings but otherwise do not need an office) or may be a series of multiple work stations for multiple tasks in an assembly line fashion. A collection of such workstations is sometimes called a mobility centre.

The term hot desking is thought to be derived from the naval practice, called hot racking, where sailors on different shifts share the same bunks.

With the growth of mobility services, hot desking can also include the routing of voice and other messaging services to any location where the user is able to log into their secure corporate network. Therefore their telephone number, their email and instant messaging can be routed to their location on the network and no longer to just their physical desk.

With the emergence of hot desking and the growing amount of technology in the workplace there has been the development of tools to aid the simplicity and efficiency of hot desking. Generally the hot desking system is maintained by a piece of software which integrates with the company’s communication systems and is tailored to the office of each individual company. These software systems usually also allow the company to manage many resources such as conference rooms, desks, offices, and projectors and other types of media.

In some cases, the employees are designated to a certain area but because of the hot desking situation, all available seats must look the same. Therefore, in order to enable workers to make sure they are sitting in the right group area (or “neighborhood”) sometimes colored walls, mousepads, or acetate nameplates are used. Then workers are designated to sit anywhere in the red zone, for example, or the blue zone. The groups in the company are then identified by these group colors.

8th March 2015

On the occasion of Women’s Day, U4U affirms that at work, what women want is the recognition of their professional talents!

The Court of Auditors criticises the Commission’s training policy

“The European Commission’s staff development activities should be more focused on the organisation’s objectives”, according to the EU’s auditors.

The Commission offers a wide range of development opportunities to its staff, including professional training, informal learning and changes of posting.
While the Commission’s staff as a whole spent an average of 6.9 days on training in 2010, it was not specifically focused on the organisation’s objectives. The Court of Auditors recommends that measures be taken to strengthen the Commission’s learning environment and enable learning opportunities to be fully exploited.

To implement EU policy, the Commission depends on its 33 000 staff. In order to carry out their tasks effectively, they need to update and maintain their skills through training, informal learning and professional mobility. At the Commission, this is particularly important given the length of careers and low turnover of permanent staff. In its special report published on 25 July 2012, the European Court of Auditors observes that the Commission does not have sufficient information on the skills that exist or are needed among its staff. Although it offers its staff a wide range of development opportunities, it does not sufficiently monitor their rate of participation in training, the acquisition of skills or the usefulness of training for their work.

“Offering a wide range of training opportunities and basing staff participation on demand does not ensure that staff development activities are sufficiently focused on achieving the EU’s operational and political objectives”, says Louis Galea, the Member of the Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “By implementing the European Court of Auditors’ recommendations, the Commission will strengthen the effectiveness of its human resources management and staff development strategy. It will also be in a better position to assess the results of the efforts it has invested in learning and development, and to improve its strategy over time.”

The special report on “The Effectiveness of Staff Development in the European Commission” is the result of a performance audit which revealed that staff development plans, both at individual and organisational level, are not precisely focused on organisational objectives.

The Commission has not put in place a learning environment that is effective enough to reap the full benefits of the learning offer. Staff attend only 35% of the courses on their training cards, 30% of staff attend less than two days of training, absence and drop-out rates from language courses are high, and participation in training is lowest among older staff in senior grades. Training is provided by managers and other Commission staff, but not in sufficient numbers to demonstrate that the organisation values staff development. The organisation provides limited support for the use of new skills in the workplace, and the appraisal and promotion system does not give sufficient recognition to staff who develop and use new skills. The Commission measures staff satisfaction with development initiatives. It also makes some attempts to assess the usefulness of development initiatives for the job, but rarely seeks the views of managers on the effectiveness of training and uses few objective indicators. Finally, it does not evaluate the impact of development actions on organisational results and therefore does not have the necessary information to show the contribution of development actions to the achievement of the organisation’s objectives. Based on these observations, the EU auditors essentially recommend that the Commission:

  • ensure that it has sufficient consolidated information on the current skills of its staff and those it will need to meet future challenges, and develop a strategy that convincingly demonstrates how staff learning and development will contribute to the achievement of the organisation’s objectives;
  • optimise the systems used to plan training and changes of assignment with this in mind;
  • develop its systems for monitoring participation in development activities;
  • combat under-performance and encourage greater use of the development opportunities on offer, while recognising the merits of staff who develop their own skills as well as those of others;
  • to monitor and validate the acquisition of new skills wherever possible, and to encourage their use in the workplace by organising follow-up activities;
  • to determine the extent to which staff who participate in development activities acquire new skills that they can use in the workplace.