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10.26.15

The Deteriorating Working Conditions at the EPO Show Reluctance to Make Talented Staff (or Ill Staff) Happy

Posted in Europe, Patents at 6:39 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Potentially a contributing factor to staff suicides

Suicide danger

Summary: Critical remarks about the poor treatment that EPO management offers to staff, whereas the EPO’s Central Staff Committee and the staff union — the one that the EPO’s management is frantically crushing — try to be attentive and helpful

THE MANAGEMENT AT THE EPO, which chose to treat the staff like an enemy rather than a gift, already recognises its poor recruitment capabilities in the face of a notorious track record and negative publicity (bribed-for publicity does not count [1, 2]) and brain drain (poor staff retention and in many cases suicides). Rather than extend an olive branch to what remains of the talent pool, the EPO continues to crush the rights of staff, assuring that things won’t change for the better.

“Rather than extend an olive branch to what remains of the talent, the EPO continues to crush the rights of staff, assuring that things won’t change for the better.”People who are tactlessly declared “invalids”, which is a rather offensive term that’s sometimes used to refer to people who have developed health problems, are also being pressured by the EPO’s management. It seems like invalid are prevented from doing some benevolent community service. How is that for a strategy? Is causing despair and hopelessness going to help the reputation of the EPO? The premise is that this can mitigate or eliminate conflicts of interest, but in practice it is a lot worse. Crushing the basic rights of European workers and spinning that as a moral advantage is, quite frankly, offensive at best.

“How to make sure invalids remain invalid” is what SUEPO called it, noting that help is around the corner, not at EPO but at SUEPO. People who are already suffering have a safety net or a cushion not from the employer that really ought to value their skills but from their colleagues, who fight for the rights of their fellow men and women.

Until now invalidity meant “not being able to perform your duties or similar duties at least at a 50% part-time basis” (previous Art. 62(a) par. (2) ServRegs). For new invalidities the limit has now been lowered to 30%. Nevertheless: those who have been held invalid, either under the old or the new system, may have a residual work-capacity, or may be able to have other activities. Under the old system those concerned were obliged to inform the administration of any paid activities and their invalidity pension was reduced accordingly. The new regulations, however, on top of obliging invalid staff to remain at their place of employment for at least 10 years and until the age of 55, forbid any gainful activity or employment. We do not to see the purpose of these restrictions, other than punishing staff for falling ill. We have often objected to the “Residenzpflicht” meaning that colleagues are kept away from the support of their family and friends “at home” if that is elsewhere than their place of employment. Note that for every absence permission must be requested in advance. With the Personnel Department in disarray swift, fair treatment is not guaranteed. With the additional interdiction of such activities, invalids are pushed even further in social isolation. The unclear formulation of the new regulations further opens the doors to arbitrary allegations against colleagues. It could well be that the implementation goes even
further than what one could expect when reading CA/D 2/15. A part of the new regulation will come into force on 01.01.2016. SUEPO will help those of its members who are concerned. Do not hesitate to contact us.

“Your new career,” SUEPO claims, is not so promising in the Battistelli-managed EPO. All the benefits are fading away and the work environment becomes more militant over time. “Back to the 1950s,” SUEPO calls it, alluding to very terrible workers’ rights (after a devastating world war). Here’s how they put it:

While the “new career system” was being designed, we predicted it would be a nightmare.

Some did not believe us; some hoped against all hope that it would not turn out to be so bad; some thought one would manage to survive the rat race. But now, already in the early implementation phase, the chickens are coming home to roost.

Are you a pregnant woman? Are you sick, requesting unpaid leave to refresh your mind, asking for a parental leave to take care of your children, asking for a family leave to take care of your old and sick parents? If you are in DG2, this absence will be held against you when assessing your contribution to your unit, and will have a negative consequence on your career prospects. In Patent Administration, a head of unit encouraged by this new “approach” that comes from the top even dared to state “Sick people should be happy to get paid while they are sick”. No comment. Similar plans are being hatched in DG1.

The recently published President’s guidelines on rewards for the “new career” further punish close to 40% of staff whose career is frozen (not step, no promotion).

A Brave New World is taking shape.

Let’s not forget institutional harassment and menacing threats against people who merely ‘dare’ to exercise their rights.

Interesting links shared by SUEPO include this article in German. “While Mr Battistelli and Ms Bergot introduce sick leave control systems that go against staff well being,” said SUEPO, “and are incompatible with national laws and medical ethics/secrecy, physicians form the university of Magdeburg plead for less sickness certification for employees in Germany.”

It is followed by a joke about Volkswagen (VW), where management is almost as corrupt as in the EPO (Volkswagen is in headline for only one major scandal, unlike EPO): “Sharp decrease of the sickness figures in the EPO: is VW in charge of measuring?”

Another joke is an extract from Job Profiles of all Staff: “To be flexible and to adapt in a positive way, to sustain performance when the situation changes, workload increases, tensions rise, ambiguity mounts or priorities shift.”

The punch line? “And when all of that happens at the same time…?”

Working for the EPO isn’t the ‘fun’ which in-progress propaganda tries to convince the public that it is. “PAX vicious spiral,” as SUEPO called it, describes the China-esque measurements of staff output, which annuls or ignores any human factors. People are reduced to machines and are treated accordingly. To quote:

In the recent years, the PAX data related to the so-called “Reference Examiner” had become fairly stable. For instance the 2014 productivity P of the reference examiner had only marginally increased or decreased (depending on the Cluster) when compared to the productivity P of 2013. This reflected the normal stabilisation of the productivity in DG1 after years of improvement of DG1′s performance, and was simply the proof that “sky is not the limit” if one wishes to keep a reasonable level of quality.

This was not enough for management. With the introduction of the “new career” Mr Minnoye (VP1) drastically changed the substance of the PAX Guidelines: fairness elements and safeguards have been removed but the calculation of the productivity of the Ref Examiner remains. This means that, to calculate the productivity P of the Ref Examiner for a year “n”, the data of the previous 3 years (n-1, n-2, n-3) of all experienced examiners, i.e. with no learning curve, are used.

The production and the productivity in DG1 have made a quantum leap in 2015 with respectively +13% and +7% (Jan-August compared to the same period in 2014). As a consequence, the productivity P of the Ref Examiner will mechanically increase by an amount between 2% and 3% next year.

This can only reassure management that “putting a gun to the examiners head” works beyond their wildest dreams.

We can safely predict that targets will be even higher in 2016 than in 2015. The insane production pressure and the current “management” methods will remain. With their deleterious consequences on staff’s health and the quality of the work performed at the EPO. But does management care?

Given the many EPO abuses (in the Wiki we have broken them all down to around a couple dozen), we humbly doubt these bureaucratic people care about how ‘low level’ staff (technical people, often with doctoral degrees) feels. They cannot actually care considering how they have been treating such ‘low level’ staff. We predict that unless some radical measures/steps like head-rolling are implemented (the current management is impossible to negotiate with), it won’t be long before the EPO has more job openings than patents issued in a month. Patent examiners would not have a hard time finding employment elsewhere given their skills; it’s just that their initial salary might — at least initially — be a lot lower. But what price can one put on happiness and health? It seems certain that managers at the EPO will need to compromise, apologise, reform, or simply resign, making room for new management that is not distrusted and at times literally loathed by the workers. A lot of damage has been done therein and in order to put an end to this distrust and loathing considerable changes are required. Battistelli, based on some claims, has already threatened to resign; maybe that’s imperative at this stage.

Incidentally, this morning SUEPO posted the following message about “the social situation of the European Patent Office”:

In the report of the 145th meeting of the Administrative Council (AC), the Council announced its decision to initiate a review of the social situation at the European Patent Offce and to continue the exercise aiming at union recognition talks.

In a letter to Mr Kongstad, Chairman of the AC, and Mr Battistelli, President of the Office, SUEPO reminds that the initial talks were interrupted because, at precisely the same time as the talks were starting, the Office Administration considered it appropriate to initiate an investigation with the help of Control Risks against staff representatives and/or union executives.
The closure of this investigation and any other investigation or disciplinary procedure targeting staff representatives and/or union officials – without prejudice to the accused – is a condition sine qua non for recommencing the talks.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

This, in turn, links to a letter (in PDF form) which states:

Review of the social situation at the European Patent Office

Dear Mr Kongstad,
Dear Mr Battistelli,

In the report of the 145th meeting of the Administrative Council that appeared on the external website of the EPO you informed the public that:

The Council decided to initiate a review of the social situation at the European Patent Office after five years of reform setting and implementation.

Several measures could contribute to a possible progress in this context:

- continuing the exercise aiming at staff union recognition, despite the difficulties met

- aiming at the elaboration of a negotiation strategy preserving all the results already obtained

- launching an independent external social study, in close co-operation with the President

SUEPO agrees that after five years of reform setting and implementation, a review would be appropriate. We also fully support the notion of an independent review. In view of the latter, a close co-operation not only with the President but also with the staff representation would seem necessary.

We are equally open to continue the union recognition talks. We remind you that the initial Union recognition talks were interrupted because, at precisely the same time as the talks were starting, the Office Administration considered it appropriate to accuse Staff Committee members and Union officials of harassing a colleague in the staff representation. These accusations of harassment, levied not by the alleged victims but by Ms Bergot, Principal Director Personnel, are clearly vexatious and entirely without merit. The closure of this investigation and any other investigation or disciplinary procedure targeting staff representatives and/or union officials – without prejudice to the accused – is a condition sine qua non for recommencing the talks.

Finally, we are somewhat surprised by the statement that the negotiation strategy should “preserve all the results already obtained”. If preservation of all the results is the aim, that would render both the review and the negotiations futile. We understand that you mean “all the positive results”. We can obviously agree with that aim but it may be judicious to point out that opinions may differ on what can be considered positive results. We are looking forward to discuss these points with you at the earliest possible opportunity.

Sincerely yours,
SUEPO Central

To summarise, witch-hunting of staff representatives needs to stop and an independent review by an external entity is still desirable because instruments of power inside the EPO are assumed to be part of the conspiracy to defend the higher management, hence crush the union/s and cover up institutional abuses. There’s something truly rotten at the EPO and we know — at least roughly — where it started.

A fish rots from the head down: “When an organization or state fails, it is the leadership that is the root cause.”
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