06.08.15

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Spanish Media on Reign of Terror at EPO: Managerial Misconduct, Blocked E-mails (Censorship), and Abuse of Legal Immunity

Posted in Europe, Patents at 2:51 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Público

Summary: Spanish article from Público translated into English, demonstrating the greater role played by the media these days

THE EPO‘s management, knowing that it is already in a lot of trouble, has resorted to hiring thugs, attacking staff, censoring its network, and so on. It’s symptomatic of an abusive regime that feels threatened, for if staff (making up the EPO) and by extension the European public (subsiding the EPO) knew what EPO management was up to, prosecution too would be a possibility, not just the dead end of some people’s career.

“Público,” wrote SUEPO, “published an article (printable version) titled “The European Patent Office is violating labour laws, according to the employees”.

“The article reports on the authoritarian drift of the European Patent Office under the presidency of Mr Battistelli with the introduction of an investigation unit (supported by Control Risks), the increase in disciplinary procedures and the violation of fundamental rights of staff with the latest health care reform (lack of confidentiality of medical records and house arrests for invalids).”

Here is the collection of translations [PDF] with emphasis added where it matters:

The European Patent Office is violating labour laws, according to the employees

Trade union sources claim that the President of the organization has imposed a ruling which is having a massive effect on the health of the employees, their pensions, and their labour rights, such as the right to strike.

CAROLINA GARCÍA MUNDI

MADRID.- The European Patent Office (EPO) is encountering first-hand the problems of the employees. The President of the organization since 2010, and also President of the Administrative Council of the EPO, Benoît Battistelli, “is managing the Office in an authoritarian and antisocial manner, which is causing problems at the Office”. This at least is the view expressed by sources at SUEPO, the Staff Union of the European Patent Office, in statements made to Público.

The EPO, with headquarters in Munich and three branch offices in The Hague, Berlin, and Vienna, has a staff of 7,000 people, 480 of them Spanish nationals. The employees insist that the measures being imposed by Battistelli are having a massive effect on them. “Not only the rules about patents, but also about pensions, health, employees’ rights”. The President of the EPO, which is responsible for validating inventions and the patenting of them, is also the President of the Administrative Council. The Council is formed of 38 members, representing the 38 countries which make up the European Patent and Trademark Office, and is responsible for personnel matters as well as for defining the financial structure and arrangements, and the President is making his voice very clearly heard: He is the person who has the last word; he is the legislator.

In 2014, Benoît Battistelli imposed a ruling which is prejudicial to the rights of the employees in matters relating to trade unions, labour relations, and medical benefits. Labour rights in particular have come under attack. “He’s going to be the person who decides whether or not there’s going to be a strike, and how long it can go on”. “There’s massive repression being imposed”, sources in the trade union insist.

The staff can also be placed under investigation if someone utters an anonymous denunciation against them. They are told that they are going to be investigated, including the personal E-mails, but they can’t do anything about it. “The only people you can talk to are your wife and your doctor”.

One spokesperson for the union believes, however, that the investigation was only started because the person concerned was a significant member of the union, which was putting pressure on the Administrative Council and on Battistelli.

The basic rights of the employees are being violated, in particular with regard to their health. Battistelli is taking pseudo-medical decisions and “targeting people who are ill”, union members maintain. And there’s more: “The doctor, appointed by the President, decides whether a person is ill or not, while up to now three opinions were sought from three different doctors. If a person reports sick, they have to produce a certificate on the third day, and you can be subjected to examinations in your own home if you’re ill”.

As well as this, the medical records of each employee are stored on a database, and the staff have no idea who controls it. Confidentiality of medical records is a right and an obligation. In Spain, if confidentiality is breached, it may be treated as a criminal offence.

Pensions are also coming under attack. 30% of the salary of each employee is put into a savings fund every month. However, if you come from the State in which you are working, this pension can be reduced. “If I go to the State where I’m living, I’m breaking a rule and they penalize me. For example, if a Spanish national contracts a terminal illness, he can’t go back to Spain until he’s 55. If you do go, they can take disciplinary action and cut the pension”.

The EPO union has also come under fire. Union members have been having their E-mails blocked, from within the Office and outside. They cannot communicate with one another. They cannot complain, because if they do so under their real name they lay themselves open to disciplinary procedures. This situation, in which privacy is being violated, would constitute a criminal offence in Spain, as a lawyer confirmed (responsible for the case of the EPO personnel).

This breach of basic rights of the staff has already been brought before the courts. Sources from the SUEPO union confirm that the ruling by the Dutch court of second instance was in their favour, requiring Battistelli to revoke this ruling and to allow union members to continue sending E-mails, as well as obliging him to begin negotiating with the union.

But the decision by the court got nowhere. Battistelli issued a memo to all the staff to inform them that he was not going to abide by the ruling, because “it is dangerous for the Office for these initiatives to be taken, which are supported by the union, the primary concern of which should be to defend the interests of the personnel. You can nevertheless count on my perseverance and commitment to defending our organization”. Sources from the union maintain that this memo “is a propaganda exercise and an attack on immunity”.

Immunity is something which all the international organizations have. The implication is that the individual organization itself is independent and is not subject to the laws of the country in which it is based. This characteristic, however, comes to create great power, which can then degenerate into abuse. “They are using this immunity to change the rules about labour relations, about the unions, about health, and about basic rights and liberties. This is an abuse of immunity”, is how union sources condemn the action.

“The European Parliament is dodging the issue”

SUEPO, the trade union of the European Patent and Trademark Office, has contacted a number of national parliaments: The Netherlands, Luxemburg, and the European Parliament.

This was done in an anonymous and personal way, under the essential precondition that the identity of the persons concerned be kept secret so as not to be thrown out of their jobs. They simply provided the information needed for the parliamentarians to investigate and pursue the matter with the European Commission. The reaction by the European Commissioners and the politicians, however, has been entirely passive, dodging the issue on the pretext that the EPO is an independent international organization. “It is not part of the European Union, and they have no authority over it. They do have political authority, but they’re doing nothing”, according to union members.

“Battistelli makes the rules, he’s the judge and jury. He ought to be at least supervised by the Member States”, union sources insist. “But nothing is supervised, not the money or the power. The EPO does not receive money from the Member States; on the contrary, they reap a lot of benefit from it”, as the sources confirm.

“We have no legal recourse when it comes to labour relations”

All the employees, regardless of whether they are part of the union or not, take the same view. “We don’t have any legal recourse for labour issues, because the judge is the President”. They are in an indefensible situation; they cannot defend their fundamental rights if they cannot change the rules, and Battistelli makes the rules.

The only way they can exert any pressure is by way of the International Labour Organization (ILO), but with the difficulty that they cannot pursue claims as a union, but only as individuals. “Action by a union is vetoed. The EPO is not obliged to change the rules because the claim has to be from an individual, and only affecting that individual”, they maintain.

A law firm in Madrid has been contacted to pursue the issue. “By way of a media campaign, contact with the CCOO and UGT unions so as to access to the European Trade Union Confederation, contact with parliamentary groups, and with the representative of the Spanish Government, Patricia García Escudero, we are aiming to reopen negotiations, as well as pursuing legal recourse in Spain, despite the immunity”, is the view taken by one of the attorneys handling the case.

In the coming days we are going to look deeper into how the EPO stepped out of rationality, choosing to police people by force and intimidation.

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