10.10.19

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EPO President Campinos is Just a Great Pretender With ‘Soft Power’ Skills

Posted in Europe, Patents at 7:39 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Soft power
Reference: Soft power

Summary: The Central Staff Committee (CSC) of the EPO has a new paper about its unfruitful negotiation efforts with the soft-spoken President

“Soft power” is a term increasingly used to describe Chinese foreign policy and to some degree domestic policy as well. It’s a relatively new term which may sound self-contradictory because power is, by definition, the opposite of “soft”. This is what makes the term rather clever or thought-provoking. The European Patent Office (EPO) was ruled by a vicious tyrant for 8 years (Battistelli era), but is António Campinos any better? The policies have been the same and arguably even worse. It’s like the sole goal is nowadays to prevent the staff from rebelling/revolting.

The EPO is trying hard to manufacture consent among the staff. EPO management tries to make people feel “proud” — as if pride can be derived from the achievements of people who don’t have anything to do with the EPO!

“Akira Yoshino, European Inventor Award winner, honoured with Nobel Prize” is the title of yesterday’s EPO publication (warning: epo.org link) that says: “The Japanese chemist Akira Yoshino, winner of the European Inventor Award 2019, has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year. Yoshino invented the first modern lithium-ion battery in 1983 and has continued to improve the technology throughout his extensive career.”

They are piggybacking other people’s accomplishments as if European Patents were the cause of their success! This guy isn’t even European! EPO management puppets now act as if they ‘own’ this success story, by virtue of throwing a piece of metal and some money at him. Isn’t that pathetic?

What does that all boil down to? Propaganda.

The Central Staff Committee (CSC) appears to have acknowledged that as well. “The battle of the communiqués” is the title of its latest publication. Another paper (full title “The President’s Update on Social Dialogue or The battle of the communiqués”) forms the basis of rather meaningless exchange between the EPO’s propaganda department and the rest of the staff — workers who are generally far too clever to fall for it.

“The President was getting good at publishing,” the CSC explains, “but it is publishing for publishing’s sake to give the impression to staff and Council alike that social dialogue is working, and working well at that.”

Notice that the last word of the publication (sort of) is “strikes” so there may be more EPO strikes some time soon. This is what CSC says, not SUEPO. CSC is like the “moderates”; SUEPO withdrew its call for a strike after Campinos had rushed to prevent it (just under a year into his tenure!).

Here’s the full publication:

The President’s Update on Social Dialogue

or

The battle of the communiqués

Dear colleagues,

On 27 September, before his bombshell Publication of Financial Measures, the President has published his Update on Social Dialogue on the intranet.

For the sake of clarity and in the interest of staff and constructive social dialogue we would like to set the records straight.

Where are we coming from

“Social dialogue takes many different forms. It can exist as a tripartite process, with the government as an official party to the dialogue or it may consist of bipartite relations only between labour and management (or trade unions and employers’ organizations), with or without indirect government involvement. Concerted search for a consensus can be informal or institutionalized, and often it is a combination of the two. It can take place at the national, regional or local level. It can be inter-sectoral, sectoral or at enterprise level.

Social dialogue institutions are often defined by their composition. They can be bipartite or tripartite. The tripartite actors are the representatives of governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations.”
© ILO

The ILO describes what constitutes Social Dialogue. As an Organisation in the heart of Europe we have a justified expectation to be treated in the same way other European citizens are treated „back home“. In our intergovernmental organisation, the organisation replaces the government and the state for the provision of labour and social regulations, thereby adding complexity. However, we expect all three parties, i.e. management, staff and Administrative Council, to emulate successful processes elsewhere to the benefit of all three parties.

The President often quotes the European Union institutions as a suitable benchmark for our working conditions and service regulations. In doing so, he picks his cherries, though. In the Working Group on Staff representation Resources and social dialogue (WGSR), a joint benchmarking study has been run with the administrations and organs of staff representation of comparable organisations. Both on social dialogue provisions and on resources awarded to bodies of staff representation the EPO compares very unfavourably.


90% information and explanation, 10% consultation, 0% negotiation

Social dialogue in the Office predominantly means being informed, or as VP4 put it: “We will make sure that you understand.” The General Consultative Committee’s (GCC) role is to consult staff, but we have seen only few occasions where comments of the CSC-members in the GCC contributed to a changed decision. In the Working Groups on Performance Management/Career, and Resources/Social Dialogue we receive factual information when we ask for it, we are able to file documents and proposals, but the management representatives have no mandate to comment, never mind converge on a useful regulation.

This begs the question why the President, who is unambiguous about he himself being the only one in charge of social dialogue, is not present in the working groups.

The President repeatedly states that he wants to reduce litigation. The best way to reduce the reasons for litigation is to negotiate agreements. This has not happened at the EPO for a very long time.

Monologue, bipartite or tripartite social dialogue?

The Administrative Council mandated Mr Campinos to put social dialogue back onto the rails. This is not happening. Delegating it to the President obviously does not work. The Administrative Council should also take its own responsibility, being the third party in the social dialogue for our intergovernmental organisation. Staff must be able to meaningfully interact with the person/body taking the binding decisions regarding the working conditions and social security in the Office. Merely engaging staff representatives in working groups, meeting for the sake of being able to report that meetings took place, simply does not work and cheats staff and Council alike.

It is in that light that we read the President’s update:

Meeting with Staff Representatives (16.09)

Resources of SR

Several meetings of the joint Working Group on Staff Representation Resources (WGSR) (i.e. adjustments to “Social Democracy 2.0″) took place, predominantly 90-minute video conferences. Our comments during the meetings and proposals from our side have not led to agreement, nor is one in sight. Staff and staff representatives now have to wait for the President’s near-final proposal and we sincerely hope that agreement can be reached before or at the GCC in December, although time is – by design -running very thin at this moment.

Concerning the right for Staff Committees to publish information on the intranet we welcome that the President now committed to publishing without delay or need for approval, and so far it works. But as the President’s update demonstrates, there is a continued inequality in communication means. Staff Committee communications may no longer be censored, but you still have to go looking for them unless you have activated RSS feeds. The President’s updates feature prominently, in your face, on the intranet, next to those of the Amicale.

Oh, and the Staff Committees are still not allowed to send e-mails to all staff, except for the announcement of General Assemblies of staff (limited to time, place and agenda). When we mention that to staff representatives of any other organisation we see complete disbelief in their faces. Our President alleges he dislikes mass emails, although obviously not for everybody.

Performance management system

The President describes the dialogue to have been constructive. We beg to differ. The WG meetings were 90 minute video conferences without proper agenda or minutes. The staff representatives in the Working Group on Performance Management (WGPM) (i.e. adjustments to the New career System) made oral and written proposals and asked for comments and/or (counter-) proposals from the administration. The atmosphere of the meetings was sometimes quite open and friendly. The Office representatives do not have a mandate to respond to our proposals. They always had to refer back to their superior(s), but replies were never forthcoming, even to our written proposals. We saw the same pattern as described above. We are waiting for the President’s near-final proposal for adjustments to the merit-based career, which he announced for within 4 weeks from the meeting. Looking at measures 5 and 6 we have to conclude that the time we spent in this working group was largely wasted.

The SR is opposed to changing the frequency of the performance management appraisals to shorter intervals. The current on-line management tools already provide real time information on the production and productivity of the individual staff member. This proposed change could lead to even more production pressure put on the shoulders of the staff.

We welcome the President’s commitment to opening the Harmonisation Committee, which is responsible for finalizing the reward process, to the attendance of a staff representative as observer. This step has not yet materialised and more steps will need to follow to provide transparency and to remove the arbitrary nature of the Performance Management system.

The WGPM also worked on defining an acceptable incompetence procedure with sufficient safeguards against abusive use. Like with the other activities of the WG, our proposals were never properly replied to or commented upon by the Office.

We appreciate the proposed measures to protect staff representatives during their mandate, but the procedure should be protecting all staff and consider all elements of competence in a balanced way.

Compensation and benefits

The proposed increase of +3.3% (+1.1% for staff and 2.2% for the Office) is substantial and is the result of an actuarial study. On the positive side it will avert the need to use the RFPSS fund to cover payments for up to a further 2 years. It can also be used as a further valid argument to invalidate the need of a reform of the pensions, since according to the actuarial study all future liabilities of the Office will be covered with this increase. On the negative side, beside the direct negative impact on our salaries, there is a further bias towards the higher grades impact on the SSP.

Again, we guess we were rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, now looking at measures 1, 2, 4, 7, 9 and 10.

Financial Study

“Staff representatives were informed [emphasis added] of the next steps in the Financial Study.” When the Financial Study was first published, the President and VP4 committed to involving staff representatives and to consider our input in the further stages of analysing the Financial Study and potentially necessary measures.

“SRs will continue to be involved throughout the process…”. Well, to date SRs have not been involved in the Financial Study, and we do not see our comments and recommendations reflected in the 17 measures. What constitutes involvement in the eyes of the President? Will we continue to be involved like we have been so far (not)? Since the bombshell any residual
optimism has evaporated. Meaningful involvement of SRs will only happen if staff forcefully
claims it loud and clear.

APC Appointments

At present, members of the Appeals Committees nominated by the Central Staff Committee must hold an electoral mandate. Clarifying the terms of mandate for appointees to the ApC when circumstances change by e.g. staff committee elections or resignation will be welcome. But that is only one solution, and not our preferred one. An electoral mandate does not necessarily qualify you for the meticulous legal work in the ApC. In the past the CSC nominated suitable non-elected staff to the ApC to ensure affinity, competence and continuity.

Meeting with SUEPO representatives (17.09)

We understand that SUEPO will publish separately on the further points of the President’s update concerning the meeting with SUEPO representatives.

Conclusion

The President was getting good at publishing, but it is publishing for publishing’s sake to give the impression to staff and Council alike that social dialogue is working, and working well at that.

He can no longer kid anyone after his 17 measures publication. For social dialogue to work we would need to see a change of mind-set in the MAC. If the Administrative Council had in mind to restore genuine and constructive social dialogue, all three parties have a long way to go.

In the absence of proper dialogue we indulge in a battle of communiqués to bring our points across to our audiences, staff and Administrative Council.

Communiqués cannot replace dialogue. Staff will now claim agreement-oriented meaningful dialogue in the forthcoming General Assemblies, demonstrations and, as a last resort, strikes.

Involving staff’s elected representatives is easier, Mr Campinos.

Your Central Staff Committee

There’s lots of stuff to ‘chew’ in there; we’re gratified to see that — even if 15 months too late — the CSC knows too well what it’s dealing with. It’s a lot like today’s China with its negotiation tactics that rarely involve military presence/action. One can be coercive and aggressive without firing a single shot. The effect is almost the same, sans the direct fatalities.

Maybe one day the Communist Party of China will issue statements to the tune of, at least we’re not as oppressive as the EPO in Munich (Bavaria, Germany, EU).

Please do note that over the past 50 days, in its public site at least, SUEPO published nothing but two links. Behind the scenes at the EPO quite a bit is happening…

SUEPO isn’t saying much, but will soon issue a statement (according to the paper above). As for epostaff4rights.org? The site has moved from offline/suspended status to no longer being registered. That’s some ‘soft power’ right there! Dissent being squashed.

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