11.19.20

Inside the EPO During Corona: Sending Staff Home to Justify Cutting Their Benefits and Maybe Even Key Allowances

Posted in Deception, Europe, Patents at 11:19 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

‘Free stuff’ won’t silence people whom you rob at orders of magnitude more

Office chair

Summary: Questions linger and are being raised by the Central Staff Committee of the EPO, seeing that there’s no sign of standard EPO contracts being respected anymore

RIGHT now in November a lot of Europe is “locked down” (to some degree) in order to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Nobody would rightly blast the EPO for recommending home-working; the question is, on what terms? Also, how “essential” are pertinent functions, what goals should be set, and who gets to have a break (or when)? At the moment we see António Campinos (in photographs) failing to socially-distance and wear a mask; he’s defying his own orders and the laws of the country he’s in. We also see him deciding things unilaterally (another Benoît Battistelli) without involving staff, except symbolically.

“In later parts of the summer the Office pretended to be generous by offering a bunch of furniture (whose total cost is miniscule compared to salaries of staff and it’s a one-time thing).”Allowances are another aspect; with many kids now living with their parents inside the new ‘workplace’, is that sustainable at all? If kids don’t go to kindergarten or school, will the Office still offer allowances? What if the workers start working from their home country? Will international schools (or any schools at all for that matter) have fees covered by the Office)? Here’s a document in English [PDF] about “Education Allowance Reform” (which they describe as a “report on the first meeting of the Working Group”). To what degree can the pandemic be exploited to cut staff pay/compensation? We already saw that happening regardless of the virus (and predating it), so now this agenda will accelerate. SUEPO and the Central Staff Committee correctly foresaw the can of worms this would open, more so when representatives of the staff aren’t at all involved in decision-making. In later parts of the summer the Office pretended to be generous by offering a bunch of furniture (whose total cost is miniscule compared to salaries of staff and it’s a one-time thing). Imagine being paid like 100,000 euros a year and then the Office covers the cost of an ergonomic chair (about 200 euros) as a one-time thing for 5 years. What is that in proportion to the whole? And if allowance for child education (about 20,000 euros a year) is cut, what do all these ‘freebies’ even mean in the grand scheme of things?

Back in August the Central Staff Committee wrote:

Teleworking: Does new equipment mean long-term commitment for teleworking?

The Office has started supplying home-office equipment in large quantity and facilitating its ordering for staff (see “From survey to action”). We welcome the commitment to a more ergonomic workplace at home. Nonetheless, we all need to start thinking about possible consequences such a switch to home office might entail, before being confronted with a “fait accompli”.

That’s mostly (albeit beyond) the opening paragraph of the following August publication, which we reproduce in full below:

Munich 12.08.2020
sc20126cp – 0.2.1/1.2.2

Order new equipment = long-term irreversible commitment for teleworking?

Dear Colleagues,

The Office has started supplying home-office equipment in large quantity and facilitating its ordering for staff (see “From survey to action”). We welcome the commitment to a more ergonomic workplace at home. Nonetheless, we all need to start thinking about possible consequences such a switch to home office might entail.

In a dedicated forum of the Administration’s Staff Feedback Scheme, many of you recently expressed the desire to enhance teleworking in general and in particular from the home country. The President in his summer speech took this up, mentioned the “Strong Together” survey conducted in May and commented on the availability of home working equipment and furniture which has already been extensively made use of. He further announced the invitation of “all stakeholders” to shape the “New Normal” and the conduction of yet another dedicated staff survey in September.

While the efforts of the Office to improve ergonomics at home are laudable, your Staff Representation keeps addressing the President and insists on being meaningfully involved in the strategic discussions and further preparatory work around the so called “New Normal”. We want to engage in real social dialogue so that we can best represent the most important stakeholder – YOU, the staff.

Form for requesting home office equipment: simple survey or justification to reduce office space?

The form contains questions such as whether you plan to work predominantly / exclusively at home, predominantly / exclusively in your office or 50:50 at both sites. It very much looks like some kind of a forerunner for the “real survey” announced for September. Whilst the period should for the time being “at least” last up to the end of this year, chairs and desks might anyway only be available after the summer. Would it seem financially wise to equip hundreds or thousands of employees with expensive equipment for such a short period of time only?

Could the order form and survey information could be seen as a precautionary measure to fulfil legal requirements for appropriate home-office equipment for (mandatory) teleworkers in the host countries? Would this nicely go hand in hand with plans for reducing office space. It could definitely help create a “fait accompli”.

The two sides of the coin – have you thought of consequences?

Teleworking / home office comes with several advantages, e.g. no commute being needed, a lower carbon footprint, more flexible time planning, a lower infection risk in pandemic times, and others. With enhanced ergonomics at home, these advantages will be further sweetened. We are also aware that many of you would like to increase your share of work from home, up to the point of complete teleworking from home or even from abroad.

It is easy to imagine that the number of people who predominantly work from home have an influence on the EPO’s buildings plans presently under revision, as announced in the June 2020 meeting of the Administrative Council. How will the Office look like in future? Will you keep your single office? Will you have to book a desk every time you come to the Office? Which workplace will be assigned for a predominant homeworker? Will other facilities such as sports facilities or canteens still be available, at present and for the foreseeable future being kept at a very low level? How will Amicale club life be affected?

We should also try to figure out the consequences of a switch to unlimited teleworking, especially from the home countries. Would our salaries be adapted to the place of work? Would production targets be adapted? Would allowances be affected? What about home leave, annual leave, parental leave or other special leave? We have experienced also in the recent past that no rules or laws, even seemingly fundamental ones, are carved in stone.

More importantly so, how will staff’s health and wellbeing be affected? This topic remains the focus of our attention, communication aspects, teamworking abilities, manifold psychological and social aspects etc. need to be considered. Aspects as diverse as waning corporate identity, sense of belonging to a team or unit, isolation or plain loneliness. All aspects you might want to think about and which we definitely will address with the Administration.

Additional thoughts on our future workplace can be found in an earlier dedicated CSC paper.

Going further – some further reading

The world outside of the EPO already has “homeshoring” schemes for cost-cutting reasons, there
are numerous articles available on this topic. Trends are seen for reducing office space, other
articles draw attention to collateral damages resulting from low office occupancy, coffee shop
closures and building stoppages in office districts.

We have collected below several articles considering various aspects of teleworking, which you
might want to read during summer. If you miss the office surroundings, find consolation here.

- Workers’ information, consultation and participation”, a brief by ETUC regarding COVID-19 and its impact on worker-employer relations, ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) representing 45 million members from 90 trade union organisations in 38 European countries, plus 10 European Trade Union Federations.
- “Neue Studie: Ein Hoch aufs Homeoffice!”, Deutsche Welle Medien, 22.07.20, discussion of pros and cons of home office, includes the foreseen Siemens model (see below).
- “Prekär allein zu Hause”, an article in Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) of 04/05.07.20 [behind paywall], deals with homeworking, especially Facebook’s plans to have up to 50% teleworking, but with salaries adapted to the actual homeworking location, which needs to be declared by the employee in advance and is monitored.
- “Bleibt doch zu Hause”, an article in SZ of 16.07.20 [behind paywall], deals with ambitious plans by inter alia Siemens and Allianz (the German insurance giant). While Siemens will provide for two to three days of home-office per week at constant office space, Allianz will reduce it by one third.
- “Blow to Boris Johnson’s ‘back to normal’ drive as RBS tells more than 50,000 staff to work from home until next year”, an article from the Daily Mail online of 20.07.20, recites surveys that one third of Londoners would want to telework in the future, as well as that only a fraction of employees was currently present in their office facilities.This is similar to current on-premises EPO occupancy (about 1200 of 7000 across all sites before the holidays).
- “End of the office: the quiet, grinding loneliness of working from home”, an article from the Guardian, of
14.07.20.
- Télétravail ou bureau : sortir du débat stérile, Zevillage, 09.07.20, a further discussion of the pros and cons of teleworking with a focus on France and rich sourcing (studies, articles, surveys, jurisprudence), concludes that there cannot be a one size fits all approach but rather it needs to be adapted to the individual situation.

As usual, we will keep you posted on further developments taking place with a view to the “New Normal”. Needless to say that any input from your side is highly desired, we welcome discussion!

Your Central Staff Committee

I’d like to personally address the part where the Committee says: “We welcome the commitment to a more ergonomic workplace at home.”

Seriously? Do you know how small a ‘favour’ this is?

“Look at it another way: how about Campinos abandoning his hoax ‘study’ and instead assuring no cuts to staff’s salaries, benefits and so on?”That’s like buying an ice cream cone for your house maid.

I’ve worked from home since 2007 (sometimes hybrid) and a chair and/or desk for home cost very little compared to other expenses, especially for working parents who would likely spend up to a million euros on their children (without even counting higher education). If all that Campinos can offer is “free stuff” like a chair — whilst at the same time taking away basic rights like freedom of expression and association — what does that really say?

Look at it another way: how about Campinos abandoning his hoax 'study' and instead assuring no cuts to staff’s salaries, benefits and so on? That would cost the Office a lot more, wouldn’t it?

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