11.30.15

Željko Topić Tries to Do to EPO Staff What He Did in Croatia, Now Crushes Staff Assembly in The Hague

Posted in Europe, Patents at 9:55 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The poetic irony in The Hague, home of the ICC where a person who is accused of crimes does not relent but persists with bad behaviour

The Hague International Criminal Court
The International Criminal Court (ICC). Author/photographer: Vincent van Zeijst

Summary: Reminder to European Patent Office (EPO) staff that the EPO’s management has a history of union-busting and serious violations of the rules; a call to join protests later today and later this week

THE management of the EPO is once again going to witness the ‘horrifying’ — to managers — sight of its very own staff protesting against the management and the institution under current management. The staff does wish to destroy the EPO, it is pursuing a fix. Anyone with some common sense can see that a fix is sorely needed at many levels and in many areas.

The EPO scandals now make the mainstream media in Europe and it’s even in English for a change (this was published some hours ago). Well, my jaw was on the floor when I read a statement from the EPO saying: “As a European public organisation the EPO fully respects freedom of the press as a core value of an open society” (there are other funny statements like “the EPO has a duty of care for its staff, who are its primary responsibility” or “all necessary measures to protect its staff and their families”). Ladies and gentlemen, let’s pick up our collective jaws and carry on… Eric Arthur Blair must already be turning in his grave.

“Anyone with some common sense can see that a fix is sorely needed at many levels and in many areas.”A staff protest is imminent. The protest is going to take place later today. We strongly encourage all staff to attend the protest in order to discourage union-busting and also media SLAPP-ing. Over the weekend we showed why it was really just shameless SLAPP (see our responses to legal letters) and a war for silencing reporters or critics (a long-held tradition at the EPO). We are not trying to take away from the focus (or steal the thunder) of protecting staff representatives, just to cover an additional angle. See this thread in IP Kat, in particular comments further down* which refer to SLAPP against Techrights and say “In the past it seems that he has had much better luck in other jurisdictions … ” (alluding to the Croatian affairs)

From what we can gather, Željko Topić most likely demanded an ‘apology’ (before he lost his court case) — the very same thing that the EPO tried to get out of me, under legal pressure and threats. Later on Battistelli linked to this (quite likely forced) ‘apology’ as ‘proof’ that Topić was innocent, as we covered here many months ago. This is a familiar modus operandi after what Techrights experienced.

“Later on Battistelli linked to this (quite likely forced) ‘apology’ as ‘proof’ that Topić was innocent, as we covered here many months ago. This is a familiar modus operandi after what Techrights experienced.”Why do we mention Topić again (other than him being mentioned in new comments)? Well, Vice-President Topić, with his dubious legal status, several criminal charges (in Croatia) and previous efforts to crush EPO protests (in the name of ‘security’, as if pushing people to the side of the road would make them any more secure), refused to give authorisation for a General Assembly of EPO staff in The Hague (that’s not today but last week). What was coined “Balkan standards” is now coming to The Hague then?

Remember how the EPO was trying to characterise (in the media at least) the latest massive staff protests as violent? Well, here we go again. We are gratified to have obtained details of how Topić was attempting to crush last week’s peaceful assembly (if not today’s protest too). Here are the raw details.

“Remember how the EPO was trying to characterise (in the media at least) the latest massive staff protests as violent?”“For your information,” our source told us, correspondence, was leaked. “Controversial EPO Vice-President Željko Topić,” we’ve been told, “recently refused to give authorisation for a General Assembly of EPO staff in the Hague which was scheduled to take place on 24 November 2015.” [that's last week]

More details can be found below.

“Mr. Topić had already made quite a name for himself as a “union-buster” back in 2007 in his then role as Director-General of the Croatian State Intellectual Property Office.”

Here is a translation of an article from Croatia, showing Topić’s extensive ‘experience’ attacking staff (emphasis in yellow is ours):

TRADE UNION OF STATE AND LOCAL OFFICIALS AND EMPLOYEES OF THE REPUBLIC OF CROATIA

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

STATE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY OFFICE: Bullying of “unwanted” civil servants

(SDLSN, 20 November) During the last month, staff at the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) have addressed a number of petitions to the various Government bodies and staff unions, accusing Mr. Željko Topić, M.Sc. of bullying and other unlawful and arbitrary actions.

Jadranka Oklobdžija
Staff union representative, Ms. Jadranka Oklobdžija warned that Mr. Topic neglected to carry out an assessment of his subordinates for three years in a row, thus denying them the rights arising from their assessment.

The reason for such a reaction on the part of civil servants and the representative of the local branch of the staff union SDLSN, Ms. Jadranka Oklobdžija, is the manner in which Mr. Topić is running the Office. The last straw was the decision on the establishment of an “expert working unit” tasked with the design and implementation of the SIPO project entitled “The selection and storage of non-administrative mail” at a separate location remote from the Office headquarters in Savska 118.

The civil servants and the local branch of the staff union accuse the Director of having established this “expert working unit” in breach of the provisions of the current Regulation on the Internal Organization of the SIPO, where there is no mention of any such units. They also question the appropriateness of this ostentatiously named project, because despite the fact that the new unit has been set up to deal with archive materials, it is located at a site remote from the main office where the archive materials are stored.

That there is something wrong with this project of Mr. Topić is indicated by the fact that, according to its head, all of the people appointed to this “expert working unit” (10 in total) are “from other sectors and departments, mostly people against whom Mr. Topić bears a personal grudge for whatever reason or those who have been on sick leave for longer periods.”

The members of this “punishment battalion” are afraid that it is being used as a way to remove them from their current positions for which they still have valid civil service appointments. They fear that “Commandant” Topić’s plan is to declare them redundant which could result in the cancellation of their civil service status.

That their fears may be justified is evidenced by the fact that Mr. Topić has submitted an amended Regulation on the Internal Organization of the SIPO, which provides for reduction of positions by about 15 percent, to the Central State Office for Administration for prior approval.

Željko Topić
Mr. Topić came up with an original method for getting rid of “unwanted” civil servants – assign them to a pointless project and isolate them from the State institution until they can be disposed of.

However, at the same time as these “unwanted” civil servants isolated in inadequate working facilities at a site remote from the SIPO headquarters are waiting to see what will happen to them, the SIPO Director seems to be in the process of recruiting new employees in the area of documentation management, i.e. the very task for which the “expert working unit” was formed. Two new prospective employees are due to be assessed on 22nd November, i.e. this Thursday.

Apart from the violation and complete disregard for all the applicable civil service regulations, Mr. Topic is also in breach of the provisions of the Collective Agreement for civil servants which expressly prohibits the transfer of a staff union representative to another position within the same Government body and imposes an obligation on the management of State bodies to engage in prior consultation with local staff unions in relation to the adoption of any regulations affecting the labour rights of civil servants, such as the Regulation on the Internal Organization of the SIPO.

In view of the above issues, the staff union intends to report this violation of the Collective Agreement to the Joint Commission responsible for monitoring application of the Agreement which has an obligation to inform the Government about the adoption of such regulations, and, if the violations of staff rights continue, to file a criminal complaint against Mr. Topić.

In the meantime, the inspectorate of the Central State Office for Administration should conduct an administrative audit of the SIPO in order to clarify the situation from the perspective of the competent inspection body.

The staff union is also urging the Croatian Government not to accept the amendments to the Regulation on the Internal Organization of the State SIPO until all the relevant facts regarding the legality of the actions of Mr. Topic and the exercise of his functions as Director of the SIPO have been established.

Notice from the above how similar it is to what the EPO is currently doing, with some variations here and there. It makes one wonder if Battistelli’s recruitment/addition of Topić to his team was like an acquisition of staff-crushing assets. Here is the E-mail exchange with Mr Topić concerning SUEPO’s request to hold a General Assembly in The Hague on the 24th of November, 2015.

It starts as follows:

From: ….
Sent: Friday, November 18, 2015 6:43 PM
To: VP4 OFFICE; Zeljko Topic
Cc: ….
Subject: RE: general assembly of staff in The Hague

Dear Mr Topić,

Please be informed that the SUEPO Committee of The Hague intends to organise a general assembly of staff on Tuesday 24 November 2015 at 11.30 in EPO premises (room to be defined), in particular to allow staff in The Hague to express solidarity with their Staff representatives.

We look forward to your answer,

On behalf of the Committee of SUEPO‐TH

A… R…

Chairman

PS: I have copied (Facility Management) for information

Remember that was the time shortly after the crushing of staff representatives.

Here is a relatively sensitive response from the man who many people internally refer to as “Putin”:

From: ….
On Behalf Of Zeljko Topic
Sent: Thursday, November 19, 2015 4:24 PM
To: ….
Subject: RE: general assembly of staff in The Hague

Dear Mr R…,

I take note of your request, sent to me in your capacity as Chairman of SUEPO The Hague. May I ask you to please clarify the agenda and purpose of this all staff General Assembly, which, you are hereby reminded, can be held for topics of general interest to all staff and not to discuss specific ongoing individual procedures.

Željko Topić
Vice‐President DG 4

Reply was as follows:

From: ….
Sent: Friday, November 19, 2015 4:51 PM
To: VP4 OFFICE; Zeljko Topic
Cc: ….
Subject: RE: general assembly of staff in The Hague

Dear Mr Topić,

The general assembly is intended to:
‐ Show solidarity of staff with their Staff representatives (as already mentioned)
‐ Report about the latest changes planned at the EPO (eg tax adjustment reform)
‐ Possibly adopt a resolution of SUEPO members

We look forward to your quick answer,

On behalf of the Committee of SUEPO‐TH

A… R…

Chairman

PS: I copy (Facility Management) for information

Although nothing insensitive was said, two days have passed and not a word, so then comes another message:

From: ….
Sent: Friday, November 20, 2015 2:40 PM
To: VP4 OFFICE; Zeljko Topic
Cc: ….
Subject: RE: general assembly of staff in The Hague

Dear Mr Topić,

We are at a loss to understand why it takes so long to authorize our general assembly. Could you please answer this second reminder before 15.30. Should the EPO refuse to allow the meeting, SUEPO has to organise it outside the EPO, with associated costs and a need to book a big room.

Thank you for letting us know before 15.30 today whether you authorise the General Assembly.

Regards,
On behalf of the Committee of SUEPO‐TH

A… R…

Chairman

PS: I copy (Facility Management) for information

Now comes rudeness:

From: ….
On Behalf Of Zeljko Topic
Sent: Friday, November 20, 2015 3:43 PM
To: ….
Subject: RE: general assembly of staff in The Hague

Dear Mr R…,

May I begin by drawing your attention to the fact that I do not appreciate you imposing any ultimatum on me, especially considering that in both your emails you fail to provide the requisite clarity.

What you have provided to me so far does not appear to fulfil the requirements for a General Assembly for all staff, which can be approved for topics of general interest and for all staff (not SUEPO members only) and should certainly not turn out to be a full on demonstration held on the premises of the Office.

You will understand that I must exercise proper duty of care in this respect and evaluate all possible safety and security issues, also taking into account the experience of violent demonstrations organised in The Hague in the recent past. Finally, I reiterate here that any affair concerning an individual staff member or specific administrative procedures, is subject to strict confidentiality and the Office has a duty to take all measures to protect the Office’s and the specific staff member’s interests alike.

Given these circumstances, your request cannot be approved.

Željko Topić

Vice‐President DG 4

See the pattern again? He speaks of “experience of violent demonstrations organised in The Hague in the recent past.” These have nothing to do with EPO and probably have more to do with fairly radical causes. Perhaps that’s where the bogus allegations of “violence” come from. It’s imaginary.

Here is a prompt reply (just half an hour later):

From: ….
Sent: Friday, November 20, 2015 4:26 PM
To: Zeljko Topic; VP4 OFFICE
Cc: ….
Subject: RE: general assembly of staff in The Hague

Dear Mr Topić,

I do not appreciate your disingenuousness and lack of courtesy. I have made a request according to the rules, in good time, so as to be able to hold a General Assembly next Tuesday. It is your duty to answer within a reasonable time so as not to frustrate our right of peaceful assembly through inertia.

This was not an ultimatum. It was a second reminder, and implied an expectation that you, too, follow protocol. You now refuse to allow a legitimate Union, SUEPO, to gather peacefully for its own purposes. You seem to ignore or wilfully to breach the fundamental rights involved in the freedom of association, which is enshrined even in Article 30 of our Service Regulations.

This is yet another act of censorship that is duly noted and will be presented in Court. Further, you will have to justify yourself before the Administrative Council, who will be informed forthwith of your decision.

With consternation and determination,

On behalf of the Committee of SUEPO-TH

A… R…

Chairman

This is rightly being called an “act of censorship” (one of many in the EPO) and people need to remember the history of Topić's war against the legitimacy of a widely-supported (by a lot of staff members) union.

“We hope that many people will attend these protests to make the management aware that it is vastly outnumbered in this war.”Several protests are coming to different cities. We hope that many people will attend these protests to make the management aware that it is vastly outnumbered in this war. We will write about protests and translate articles afterwards, to the extent that we can.

“Actions continue at the European Patent Office,” SUEPO’s site said on Monday, revealing that “The next demonstrations will take place on:

  • Tuesday 01 December, starting at 12:00, In front of the Dutch Ministry of Economy in The Hague.
  • Friday 04 December, starting at 12.30h in front of the Isar building in Munich.

“With these demonstrations staff protests against the persistent attacks on its staff representatives, culminating in the suspension of and disciplinary procedures against 3 Union officials in Munich.”

“Please attend to defend staff because this attack on representatives is an attack on everyone.”So there is a staff protest starting at 12:00 today. We have known about it for a while, but decided not to spoil the element of surprise, which makes it hard — strategically — for EPO management to derail it. Please attend to defend staff because this attack on representatives is an attack on everyone. It’s a classic 'decapitation' strategy.

Here are some more details about these protests, especially the first one. A protest of all staff is to start today at midday, not to be confused with the General Assembly planned for Tuesday the 24th of November at 11:40, as initially planned (at “De Broodfabriek”, situated in Volmerlaan 12, Rijswijk). Here is the message published at the time:

Dear SUEPO members, dear Colleagues,

Following the recent events described in our earlier paper “Witch hunting against SUEPO officials and Staff representatives” we timely requested from Mr Topić, VP4, the authorisation to hold a General Assembly in the EPO premises, in accordance with the rules in force in the EPO “social democracy”. On Friday afternoon, after two reminders, VP4 finally turned down our request, shamelessly breaching the freedom of association of staff.

We have thus booked a large meeting room outside the EPO, “De Broodfabriek” one block away from the Rijsvoort building, at about 10 mn walking distance from the other EPO buildings. Address: Volmerlaan 12, 2288GD, Rijswijk (map below). On the agenda:

  • Feedback about the above mentioned events
  • Solidarity with your Staff representatives in The Hague & Munich
  • Legal actions from our lawyers
  • Forthcoming demo in The Hague
  • AoB

The GA is taking place outside block time (10:00-11:30; 14:00-15:00) to allow for your safe participation. It should end around 12:30 at the latest, but we will remain available for discussion and questions after that time.

GET INFORMED & SHOW SOLIDARITY !
COME IN NUMBERS

That was about a expression of dissent (not protest) which was effectively postponed by one week (when time is precious because people are already suspended). The document cited in this statement says the following in order to provide some background to the uninitiated (the names of the people were already named in the media and there is no danger of retaliation, given that unions are already under attack):

Witch-hunt against SUEPO officials and staff representatives

Dear SUEPO members, dear colleagues,

Yesterday we informed you about the events that, last Friday, caused Jesús Areso and Laurent Prunier to fall sick. Their respective physicians have confirmed the illness. Apparently not content with the result, the Office yesterday had the audacity to send a “medical controller” to their respective homes; they are now both summoned for a visit with the Medical Adviser. As if Jesus and Laurent were pretending to be sick. After making them sick, now they question whether they are sick? Or maybe the Office does not trust its own OHS? It is not yet clear who initiated this process, but it is a disgrace, and intolerable. We are informed that the lawyers are already “on it”. Laurent and Jesus are very grateful for the expressions of solidarity and offers of support.

Meanwhile, in Munich, all hell has broken loose. No less than 3 staff reps/union officials (Elizabeth Hardon, Ion Brumme, Malika Weaver) have been suspended on what we understand to be vexatious grounds, notwithstanding the President’s propaganda. The security guards are receiving orders in real time to prevent colleagues to hang out posters and to remove the ones that have been already hung up. In actual fact, we have from very reliable sources that the Office is already contacting the press to launch a PR campaign.

Why this, why now? The timing is suspect. This week, the Board 28 gathers to discuss the social aspects of the EPO – read: the famous “social study”. An honest social audit would be disastrous for Battistelli. He MUST someway create waves to block it. Going on the offensive, attacking those that gave cause to the Council to consider the audit, is his strategy.

If you are outraged, scared or feel sick, you are normal. Time has come to give Battistelli and his crew a clear message: enough is enough. This management by “fear, isolation and punishment” has to stop.

What are YOU going to do? You can write personally to your country’s representative in the Council, urging them to take responsibility for the governance of the Office. You can address your hierarchical line with clear demands to be channeled upwards (it is about time Directors take some responsibility). You can create or join support groups. You can prepare actions to support your staff reps who risk being sacked. Just use your imagination, act – and let us know what you did.

Your SUEPO Committe The Hague

We now know more about the media campaign that we heard about last week. External media people are co-opted and there is propaganda in the making, regardless of the staff’s widely-held views, even in the Central Staff Committee [1, 2]. It’s not just SUEPO and its members. It’s almost everybody, except perhaps people who are too afraid to show solidarity for their colleagues. Nearly a week ago someone sent us the following petition, stating the legal basis for supporting the unions. It’s a petition in support of staff representatives Elizabeth Hardon, Malika Weaver, and Ion Brumme, who according to the petition “have been suspended on Tuesday 17 November 2015 and will be subject to a disciplinary procedure soon.”

The petition states:

We fail to understand how the misconduct(s) alleged against them could be of a nature incompatible with their continuing in service (Article 95 ServRegs). They seem to have been targeted because they are very committed staff representatives and also prominent SUEPO executives.

We, the undersigned, consider the decision to suspend them utterly unfair and undemocratic. We hereby request that their suspension be lifted and any disciplinary procedures against them immediately stopped.

The likes of Topić want to destroy good people as part of their 'decapitation' strategy. See how even illness is used — if not shamelessly exploited — as a pretext for crushing staff in both cases (compare to the aforementioned article from Croatian media). Topić has experience from Croatia and later this month we will show more EPO exploitation of illnesses (if not deaths in the family) to crush unions. If the representatives are not successfully defended, it will only increase fear and enable the management to crush people further down the chain. Remember that the EPO contracted some union busters from England. These people are ‘professionals’. But it doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable. Making the staff actually believe that the staff is powerless and unable to resist is perhaps their strongest weapon.

“Making the staff actually believe that the staff is powerless and unable to resist is perhaps their strongest weapon.”The newest stuff that we’ve gotten a hold of includes further information about today’s protest. It follows some other recent actions. “Yesterday,” it says, “a massive General Assembly took place in The Hague: due to the Administration ban, it took place at 10 minutes walking distance from the Office, in a kind of concert hall which looked very packed with 800 to 1000 participants. Besides the acclaimed speeches a remarkable number intervention came from the floor calling for more concrete actions to support our colleagues. The call from the floor for a symbolic ONE DAY strike with maximum participation was greeted by a massive and unambiguous show of hands.”

The petition above too was mentioned: “As announced last week, a petition is circulating in Munich. The petition will be handed out to a notary to protect signatories from the risk of retaliation. Staff from all POEs are invited to join in and help collecting the signatures…”

Those who are interested will know where to drop the forms.

Under “Enemies everywhere” we too are mentioned, as noted here before. Examples are also mentioned as follows:

1. In the past months, the EPO President has made it abundantly clear that the EPO has many internal Enemies: potentially any staff members – hence the surveillance -, the Staff representation institutions – hence the limitations – and its representatives – hence the investigations and the disciplinary procedures.

2. In the past weeks, it was made clear that the EPO has enemies in the interested circles: Member States Delegations of the AC seem to have been threatened of consequences for their actions by the President. The exchange of letters last week has shown that elected national Parliament Members, like Mr. Le Borgn’, allegedly represent a threat to the organisation. This is new for the whole EPO history.

3. Since yesterday, it is becoming also clear that the enemies are everywhere, in the media and elsewhere: accordingly bloggers and even lawyers receive the same treatment of legal threats and intimidations…

One can wonder what the next step will be?

Now that the protest is imminent it is safer to publish details of today’s protest:

TUESDAY 1 DECEMBER – LUNCH TIME – TRAVEL BY BUS

DEMONSTRATION

In front of the Dutch Ministry of Economy – The Hague

Dear Colleagues,

The social situation at the EPO keeps deteriorating. Mr Battistelli and Ms Bergot are attacking and determined to crush Staff representatives and SUEPO Officials. Three are suspended in Munich and are risking dismissal. Others are being targeted by vexatious acts to such extent that their health has suffered.

1000 staff members have already shown their support and solidarity on 24 November by gathering in a General Assembly outside the EPO premises (since Mr Topić had forbidden it
inside the Office). Staff in The Hague has sent a clear message to management. We must now continue to raise awareness with the Dutch authorities. The Netherlands are a country renowned for its Democratic tradition. The totalitarian practices now spreading in the EPO cannot be tolerated on Dutch soil.

We demand:

•Removal of all threats to all Staff representatives. Those suspended should be reintegrated at once;

•Urgent labour inspection of the EPO by the Dutch Arbeidsinpectie, or other agency accredited to the Dutch government, in conformity with the Art. 20 of the EPO PPI (Protocol on Privileges and Immunities);

SUEPO in Munich will organise also a demo on 10 December, a few days ahead of the Administrative Council December meeting.

In The Hague, on Tuesday 1 December from 12:00, we will demonstrate in front of the “Ministerie van Economische Zaken”, Bezuidenhoutseweg 73, close to the Central Station, see map overleaf. EPO partners and pensioners are welcome to join!

Authorisation by the local authorities is in process. Gathering/starting point and detailed route are being finalised. We will keep you posted.

The logistics of it are probably known to many, so we shall omit them from the above. Techrights strongly supports these actions and hopes that this long articles helps convince more people to attend without assisting Team Battisteli in retaliatory actions.
_____
* There is also an update there regarding Mr. Van der Eijk, who was the subject of rumours and speculations.

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    There's hardly any illusion left that the patent system in Europe is supposed to serve the public; instead what we're seeing is an office that lost sight of its purpose and is instead trying to make law firms and their largest clients richer


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