Newsletter from U4U : June 2018 – n°64
U4U will take part in the demonstration organised by the European Citizen Platform (ECP), which it created with other associations. This demonstration, held at a time when heads of state and of government will be meeting, asks them to act quickly for things to change.
Everyone agrees: Europe needs to change, but there is little progress. Eurozone reforms have been under discussion for years and are regularly postponed. Europe needs investments, but the European budget remains inadequate. Immigration is still a common challenge that we are facing in disunity and by erecting new barriers between Europeans. The European Union should be able to act more effectively and more swiftly, but remains a prisoner of the national governments. The proposals on the table to improve it are still waiting for a response.
As the EU is not managing to change or to produce sufficient results, the nationalists are gaining ground and coming to power in a growing number of European countries. Our national political leaders are sleepwalking towards the dismantling of Europe!
On 28-29 June, the heads of state and government will meet in Brussels for a European Council. We, the officials, will be there to call for action. It is time to decide on a roadmap to strengthen the Euro. It is time for a massive increase in the EU budget for it to have a real economic impact. It is time to make the Commission the executive of a real government. It is time for the European Parliament to have a say in all areas. It is time to rally the citizens to reform Europe.
If you still believe in the European project, if you believe that Europe needs political unity, if you believe that the EU’s political decision-makers must act to wake Europe up now: come to the “#wakEUp, Wake up Europe!” demonstration on 28 June from 13:00, in front of the European Council (“Petite rue de la Loi", between the Schuman roundabout and the parc du Cinquantenaire). Bring a European flag, make your claims known and your voice heard.
Our interpreter colleagues are currently fighting to defend their working conditions, which are under threat from new measures introduced in July 2017, which pay no heed to the difficulties and specific nature of their jobs.
The interpreters have decided, with moderation and responsibility, on partial strike action, meaning that they will strictly adhere to the scheduled finish times of meetings (no longer accepting the overruns that have become far too frequent) and take a one-hour break (except for meetings for which the interpreters have been requisitioned).
Their strike is the consequence of the attitude of the European Parliament’s administration. The interpreters’ delegation has always sought to identify concrete problems so that concrete solutions can be found. It has made constructive, common-sense, effective and balanced proposals that take account of the new budgetary constraints and the need for flexibility with regard to meetings, as expressed by MEPs.
The strike is the result of the systematic refusal of the Secretary General to listen to the interpreters.
The administration has never shown any real desire to negotiate. It had no desire to find a compromise. It immediately adopted a strategy of attrition intended to impose its rules without consultation. Which is exactly what it did, in July 2017.
The European Parliament is the institution that performs least well in terms of social dialogue. Not even the outdated framework agreement of last century is being observed. U4U is the only EP trade union asking for it to be revised and updated.
The unions are overlooked. They are not given any possibility of negotiations. The administration informs the Staff Committee or the professional delegations in a mockery of consultation. When the staff, through its Committee, gives an opinion on draft decisions, their opinion is not taken into consideration. We have seen this recently with transfers for AST staff and with the working conditions of translators, security officers, and now interpreters.
The interpreters are now on strike, which the administration was informed of in good time and in accordance with the terms of the framework agreement. The administration is challenging their right to do so: it is now requisitioning all interpreters. This amounts to a denial of the right to strike, a basic democratic right in European societies.
The interpreters’ battle is now ours. We must send a strong signal to the administration of the European Parliament, in defence of our colleagues and of our rights. If the interpreters’ right to strike continues to be denied, we must all strike together to ensure it is respected. If the interpreters are defeated today, this will constitute a defeat for all staff tomorrow.
We must also act in unity. All the unions will have to adapt their actions to this objective.
Lettre de l'avocat de U4U contestant la validité des réquisitions des interprètes (juin 2018)
The current electoral system is not satisfactory. It does not accurately reflect the votes of staff. Therefore U4U, with other unions including USHU and the FFPE, created a trade union group – Near You - that won almost 30% of the votes, but only 10% of the seats.
In addition, the committee is composed of 20 pairings, i.e. 20 principal delegates and 20 substitutes - 1% of the total workforce. Taking account of the number of potential lists, that should involve no less than 5% of the total population of EEAS, which makes the composition of the lists very difficult.
Finally, the present system allowed for the vote to be spread (20 possibilities), and the electors used only one part, which amounted to their vote being ‘under-weighted’ compared to a ‘list’ vote.
For all these reasons, the administration, in association with the trade unions, proposed a reform – proposal 2 – that corrects the bad elements of the old system while giving the elector the power to change the order of one list. Most unions declared themselves in favour of this second option (i.e. in favour of the change).
U4U, USHU and FFPE believe that the proposed new rules unquestionably constitute an improvement for the following reasons:
· They are more democratic, and they better reflect the votes cast by staff.
· A smaller and therefore more efficient Staff Committee, moving from 20 to 15 members.
· The reduction in the number of preferences, to 5 instead of 20, will make it easier for colleagues to use their right to vote, either for a single list or to spread it over different lists.
· Finally, the choice will be much bigger, as independent candidates will be able to put themselves forward on a separate list.
For all these reasons, U4U, with USHU and FFPE, recommend that you vote in favour of Proposal #2
U4U have re-elected their Board, which appoints the President, the General Secretary, the Vice-President, the Secretary of the Council, etc. of our organisation. The Board was widely supported by the membership, who approved the list of the 20 members it is composed of (see at the end of this newsletter). The members also voted for the Litigation Committee.
This election via an electronic GM also approved the balance sheet and the accounts of our organisation. The votes cast represent 3 times the necessary quorum for these elections. There was also a presentation of our balance sheet and our prospective future action to a physical GM, on 18 June, in the presence of colleagues from Luxembourg, Cologne and Alicante.
The GM acknowledged the very significant progress of our organisation, both in terms of the number of members, the number of visits to our websites and of the number of readers of our newsletters, the quality of which sets them apart from the usual staff representation offered. The number of contact persons representing U4U in the services has grown substantially, to more than 120. We should also note our good progress at the European Parliament, where we have been represented for just over a year.
Strike action results from the realisation that there is no possibility of being heard, and therefore of developing an understanding.
For several years now, the administration of the European Parliament, as it itself acknowledges, has discussed the new rules for organising the work of the interpreters, first with the interpreters’ delegation (DELINT), and then with the Staff Committee (SC).
DELINT has always tried to identify concrete planning problems in order to find concrete solutions to resolve them. The delegation has made constructive, common sense, effective and balanced proposals that would also make savings. In spite of this, the administration remained deaf to the proposals.
The administration has never shown any real desire to negotiate, to find a compromise on the contested provisions that takes the arguments of both parties into account. Not once did it accept a proposal that differed from its own. The delegation did not give up. Then the administration imposed its new rules, in force since 1 August 2017, at the same time continuing a mockery of negotiations, this time with the Staff Committee.
When Parliament’s administration pleads a claimed ‘lack of exceptional circumstances’ that would justify the initiation of strike action by the interpreters, it is simply unbelievable. It knows very well that it has conducted a war of attrition. And if the strike starts today, it is because the Staff Committee, which has taken over the discussions, has recognised that after one long year of meaningless debate, the time that elapsed had the sole objective of ratifying the de facto situation imposed in the summer of 2017.
The reasons why the administration refuses to consider the staff proposals and insists on imposing its own remain a mystery. If savings and the flexibility of work schedules were not the main issue, what was? We can only suspect a conflict of authority, aggravated by a lack of respect for the social dialogue process. Neither the interpreters’ delegation nor the Staff Committee have been seen as partners with valid opinions and suggestions. Not to mention the trade unions’ blatant exclusion from the negotiations, which is in violation of articles 4 and 6 of the framework agreement. For after the negotiations with DELINT were broken off, the trade unions on the inter-union committee (COMI) should have taken over the negotiations.
The administration of the European Parliament is the worst of the European institutions in regard to social dialogue, which is quite amazing when you consider what the institution represents. It is time for it to introduce a framework for modern social dialogue, as a model for all European administrations. Is the administration afraid of democracy? That’s difficult to believe...
Any change must be able to justify why it is necessary and what its objective is. Otherwise it is nothing more than a gratuitous act, an impediment to social relations, a piece of dogma designed to disempower and neglect. At the expense of the citizens, who need to be accurately understood, and the interpreters, who serve them in this regard.
The dogged determination of the administration to impose its new organisation of the work of the interpreters is therefore also detrimental to the citizens. It should be noted that the need to be properly understood for better cooperation and to build a society together, which is at the heart of the European project, is clearly subordinated. The administration underestimates the role the interpreters play in discussions.
The interpreters are on strike today because if the conditions for serving the European project and the citizens who believe in it are not united, then we might as well start looking for a different future. Interpreting, in a Union with 24 languages, is a fundamental tool of democracy.
The proper conditions in which to perform this job must be fought for, both for current interpreters and for those who will do this job in the years to come. Also, there are no ‘minor’, or ‘less important’ languages. There are 24 languages that make up the richness of our Union; interpreting is key to maintaining our diversity in our uniqueness.
The working conditions for interpreting have been codified for a long time. They take account of the concentration needed, the fatigue it causes, and the need to prepare. The shifts and schedules are adapted accordingly and their routine validated by numerous scientific studies. Here, as in other major international organisations, these working conditions have for decades demonstrated their effectiveness. They guarantee the quality of the work and protect the health of the interpreters.
This strike affects all of us. The contempt shown by the administration towards a profession essential for democratic debate does not bode well for its attitude to the other occupations within our organisation. We saw this recently when it imposed, with the same brutality and the same denial of social dialogue, new working conditions for translators and forced transfers for AST staff. If the interpreters’ strike fails, it is all of us, collectively, who will fail to defend our own jobs tomorrow. If we remain united, our defence will hold off the wishful thinking of some who see the staff as an adjustment variable for their careers.
The interpreting profession at Parliament comprises 269 officials and more than 1,500 freelancers. It is already a largely outsourced, and therefore a less secure occupation. Together, the officials and the freelancers, with the support of their professional association, are taking strike action. It is remarkable. The interpreters are not only fighting for themselves. Of the officials, many will soon retire. However, they have supported the construct of ‘Europe’ for the last 30 years. They know what the public debate needs, they have seen their job evolve and how difficult it has become. They are fighting for Europe and for the generations of interpreters to come. They are also fighting all those who no longer respect the professions, the professionals, the appreciation of work well done, and who believe that we are all interchangeable.
The strike is now under threat. The administration is requisitioning the interpreters and engaging in a sleight of hand that fools no one. It claims to be requisitioning only 30% of interpreters, but this was up to 60% by the Thursday of the June session at Strasbourg. For meetings of parliamentary committees, by requisitioning only the interpreters from the booths of the most widely used languages, it is effectively preventing between 80% and 90% of the staff of these booths from exercising their right to strike.
What is more, it is enforcing the trend to do away with minority languages by recognising as indispensable only the most widely spoken languages, which in itself constitutes a denial of democracy and an attack on our diversity.
These requisitions are illegal and have no valid legal basis. The interpreters’ job is not an occupation whose work stoppage would endanger the security of the European Parliament. These requisitions are disproportionate and abusive. And once again, the social dialogue process is being scorned. The proposed requisitions are sent on a Friday evening to be replied to by noon on Monday, and the comments of the COMI on these requisitions are not even taken into consideration.
The social dialogue is a farce, and we condemn it.
The interpreters’ proposals were reasonable, coherent and feasible. They made the desired savings possible and took account of parliamentary needs, while providing dignified working conditions for the staff, both present and future. These are proposals made by professionals for professionals.
Why, then, has the administration not adopted them? What is it waiting for? For the movement to become more resolute and, perhaps, for the dialogue to take place between lawyers before the Court?
U4U supports the interpreters’ strike and is planning to initiate legal action against the administration of the European Parliament for denial of social dialogue and obstruction of the right to strike, in violation of the framework agreement, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Treaties.
Let us first look at the facts
After several social dialogue sessions, the Commission has just launched an experimental programme concerning interns, contract workers, temporary staff, and officials with less than 3 years’ experience. The aim is to supervise young colleagues, who are declining in number at the Commission, while avoiding the inclusion in the experimental project of a greater number of colleagues, whose monitoring the Commission’s services would not be able not guarantee at this stage. After selection, a total of 40 people are involved.
This programme has two sections.
The first concerns young officials with under three years’ experience. Ten of these will, probably on a voluntary basis, be selected for two years to test the possibility of benefiting, just after being appointed, from multiple different career paths, in several services supported by training, so as to have a better understanding of our institution, its occupations, and its European culture. On completion of this programme, a number of career opportunities could be suggested on the basis of a joint assessment.
The second section offers interns, contract workers in function group 4 and temporary staff with under three years’ experience the opportunity to join this two-year programme, for the same reasons as the officials. They will be selected by a rigorous process at both the start and end of the programme as, due to an internal competition open to temporary staff at the Commission, these thirty colleagues could aim to become officials. Selections will thus be tested in the reverse order of the usual practice. In other words, and in brief, instead of looking at CVs after the multiple-choice questionnaires (MCQ), people will be selected on the basis of their CV and their seniority at the Commission before then taking an MCQ on two occasions and other written and oral tests.
What is the selection process?
For interns, there are two steps:
This process is the same for both TA and CA staff entering this programme. Previously, these two categories were subject to their own selection processes on starting their employment.
What should we make of this?
It must be emphasised that this is a pilot experiment. It concerns a very limited number of cases and will only be repeated if it proves to be of interest. The unions are together in monitoring this experiment and will not fail, if necessary, to point out its shortcomings and limitations.
U4U recognises the Institution’s right to conduct human resource experiments aimed at improving its functioning. We are principally interested in the early stages of careers. The current system does not appeal to us: after the external competitions, people have to accept a post that is sometimes not consistent with their skills or career choices. Once they have started work, their career depends only on their initiative and the chance availability of posts. The officials have no support, and no dialogue about their career development. In addition, we find it necessary to draw employees’ attention to a wide range of professional experiences at the start of their career, by working at several services.
Finally, this programme certainly does not offer a suitable framework to meet the legitimate expectations of contract staff. For these colleagues, U4U is putting forward ten claims and a new proposal.
See our video to find out more:
Something new for colleagues who want to apply for an OLAF post during a selection procedure: a step toward mobility, and transparency in staff selection procedures when the appointing authority is not HR. A Court judgement in December 2017 created case law for colleagues looking for mobility within our institutions. This case law is intended to guarantee impartiality in the selection process. It also clarifies and defines the powers, forms, approach and practice of the services on the subject.
At OLAF, an applicant mistreated during a selection procedure had access to the documents of the procedure through the intervention of the European Data Protection Supervisor. In fact, OLAF refused the unsuccessful applicant access to the documents enabling him to challenge the result of the procedure and defend himself. The decision of 30 June 2014, by which the Director-General of OLAF appointed the head of the “Legal Advice Unit” of the “Investigation Support” Directorate of OLAF, was annulled by the judgement of the General Court of the European Union dated 5 December 2017 in case T 250/16.
This judgement is principally based on the violation of article 41, paragraph 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, according to which every individual has the right, in particular, to have his or her affairs handled impartially by the EU institutions. This requirement for impartiality, said the Court, covers subjective impartiality in particular, which requires the members of a pre-selection panel not to display any bias or personal prejudice.
The judgement of the Court constitutes real progress in this regard inasmuch as it directly applies article 41, paragraph 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union to a selection procedure for OLAF middle managers, and it clearly distinguishes the notion of "conflict of interests" from that of "subjective impartiality". The lack of a conflict of interests among the panel members and their impartiality are two prerequisites for performing their duties on the panel and for the legitimacy of their choice in a selection procedure.
It is important to understand the distinction the Court made between the notion of "subjective impartiality" and that of "conflict of interests". In fact, as the Court rightly states, the facts found were not likely to prove the existence of a conflict of interests on the part of the chair of the pre-selection panel, i.e. a situation in which, in the course of her duties, she would have had to decide on a matter in the handling or outcome of which she had a personal interest, particularly family-related or financial, that would be likely to compromise her independence.
However, four days before the start of the selection procedure, the chair of the panel had expressed a preference for German applicants over Italian applicants. And during the interview with the Italian applicant, she had “exhibited a polite, indulgent and even mocking smile” (see the judgement of the Court).
These words and this behaviour, not challenged by OLAF, were of such a nature as to call into question the impartiality of the chair of the panel. The words and behaviour of the chair of the selection panel led the Court to believe that there had been a lack of impartiality that had influenced the panel and the administration.
In its judgement of 5 December 2017, the Court also found there had been a violation of the appellant’s rights of defence by the Civil Service Tribunal that heard the case in the first instance. In fact, the Civil Service Tribunal had decided to place on the record the evaluation sheets for applicants to which the unsuccessful applicant (the appellant in this case) had not had access to prepare his defence. These documents, relating to the performance of the applicants, are not usually communicated by the administrations.
In the case in question, however, as is clear from the Order of the Civil Service Tribunal of 7 April 2016, OLAF, in accordance with the decision of the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), was obliged to transmit to the applicant, on 28 July 2015, the two evaluation sheets requested, namely the evaluation sheet for his application and that relating to his interview with the pre-selection panel, including details of the number of points awarded for each of the headings in the two evaluation sheets concerned.
This was a fundamental change concerning access to personal data for applicants undergoing a selection procedure. In the opinion of the the EDPS, the evaluation sheets must be completely accessible to the applicant concerned. We invite all colleagues to ask the EDPS for a copy of this fundamental decision and ask the administrations of the institutions to bring their practice in line with this decision of the EDPS.
With this judgement, the selection procedures leave the "legal vacuum" where they seemed to be situated. Case law finally establishes the basic rights of unsuccessful applicants and the duty of impartiality for the panel members.
The pension scheme for EU staff is one of the main benefits of the Staff Regulations of the European Civil Service. This benefit has been preserved in its principle and, for the main part, in its terms, throughout the history of the Staff Regulations, in spite of the partial reconsiderations of the last two reforms of the Staff Regulations in 2004 and 2014.
Our pension scheme brings together the best aspects of the different national civil service schemes. It allows the collection on retirement of 70% of the final salary, an annual review of this amount using the Method (which passes on to pensions any changes in the purchasing power of the officials of Member States, as well as inflation), it is not subject to special withholding tax, called ‘crisis tax’, and it is combined with social protection that is still of very high quality. These reasons explain why the staff and their representatives have always fought to keep it.
Is the scheme in danger?
However, in a relatively new development, our scheme is now under threat not only from the outside. For some years, and as recently as April 2018, the trade union Génération 2004 has called it into question! What is this really about?
Contrary to what that union claims, our pension scheme is sound. Despite the steps backward seen in the reforms of 2004 and 2014, this system offers pensions that are fair for everyone, the amount and adjustment of which are guaranteed by the new Method of updating pay and pensions. The Method, we repeat, is not a simple indexation on price changes. It guarantees changes in the spending power of EU staff, including pensioners, that are in line with those recorded in the civil services of the Member States. For pensioners in a “normal” economic situation, it means changes in the amount of their pension that are greater than those in prices.
Staff therefore have no interest or valid reason to see this case reopened. This idea, which is dangerous for everyone and which is based on a completely erroneous analysis of the pension system, must be combated forcefully.
U4U is an active union, working on behalf of colleagues through its workplace meetings, not only in Brussels, and present in negotiations with the administration. We have an informative and up-to-date website, we publish regular newsletters, systematically translated into English, we defend you individually before the administration and before the Civil Service Tribunal.
All of that comes at a cost. Help us to meet it.
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