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Newly Abnormal: A Crackdown on EPO Staff and Labour Rights in ‘Survey’ Clothing (Willis Towers Watson)

Posted in Europe, Patents at 4:29 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Only Fools and Horses… (or Donkeys) trust the EPO’s management


Summary: In a very characteristic fashion, with zero consultation/input from staff (or staff representatives/union leaders) EPO President António Campinos proceeds to implementing illegal ‘reforms’, assuring any remaining non-sceptics that he’s just another Benoît Battistelli

THE past few weeks at “the Office” (Europe’s second-largest institution, not the TV programme) were much of the same; the ‘European’ Patent Office doesn’t seem to understand — or want to understand — that any patent office without qualified staff is pretty much worthless.

Office management not only crushes staff (financially, morally and so on); it actively breaks a lot of laws, hoping that “Pandemic!” is somehow an excuse for just about anything. Sorry, it doesn’t work like that. The EPC did not contain a section that voids all the rules in case of war or pandemic. If you cannot obey/follow the EPC, then do away with the EPO. No nation signed up for some arbitrary, lawless institution to suck up money, gamble money, and then claim diplomatic immunity. If current EPO management does not understand this, then flush this management down the toilet, hold the crooks accountable, then start afresh (the examiners can stay; the bosses need to go).

“This is ‘Tobacco Industry’ kind of pseudoscience…”Both the EPO’s union and the representatives (more internal in the latter case) have strongly condemned the latest plot to crush staff. As usual, or as might be expected based on the past decade, the Council goes along with whatever Office management asks for. No wonder 0% of surveyed EPO staff trusts the Council. It’s little but a rubber-stamping operation of and for the Office President.

It should be noted that this glorified Office President is no achiever. No background in science, no accomplishment other than photo ops. “Like all dictatorships,” someone told me yesterday in a similar context, “they prioritize loyalty & obedience over competence.”

The litigation ‘industry’ likes Campinos because he’s serving the patenting and litigation ‘sector’ while oppressing actual scientists. Even if/when that sector is American, not European. Sure, it has some branches and operations in Europe, but those operations are inherently parasitic.

Staff that practiced science and exercised patent examination for years if not decades very well understands what Campinos is up to and who he’s serving. It’s not science. The regime is deeply unscientific and at times anti-scientific. It gets hoax ‘studies’ from Donald Trump allies that sponsor the far right; it’s doing bogus ‘surveys’ where the sole goal is to justify some predetermined outcome. This is ‘Tobacco Industry’ kind of pseudoscience

Now, for actual material and evidence regarding this matter…

At the start of last month several letters were circulated, leading up to last week.

In its own words:

The Central Staff Committee (CSC) raised the crucial issue of involvement of all stakeholders on the “New Normal” in an open letter to the President…

Here’s the letter dated October 14th:

Reference: sc20154cl – 0.3.1/4.6
Date: 14.10.2020

European Patent Office | 80298 MUNICH | GERMANY

Mr António Campinos
President of the EPO

ISAR – Room 1081


Constructed urgency and deconstructed social dialogue

Dear Mr President,

On 6 May 2020, you launched a survey by Willis Towers Watson (WTW) entitled “Strong together – working during Covid-19”. No follow-up of this survey took place, in particular with respect to the evolution of the health of staff. The Central Staff Committee (CSC) was left out in both the preparation and the evaluation of this survey.

On 16 September 2020, you launched a further survey by WTW on the so-called “New Normal”, rushing into a new reality without checking on the health of staff. The CSC has again not been involved at all in elaborating the content of the survey.

The consequences of any decision on these matters will affect the EPO both in fulfilling its mission as in the mission statement, and the daily lives of every staff member. Some changes could even be irreversible, which asks for a prudent, timely and fully concerted approach involving all stakeholders. In that respect the CSC has sent a letter to the Administrative Council1. Staff had to cope throughout the year with the exceptional circumstance of Covid-19 and now the EPO is set to quickly engage in far-reaching reforms.

The CSC has repeatedly requested an improvement on the consultation process, the last time in an Open Letter2. The CSC was shocked to observe that results of the survey on New Normal appear to have already been provided to HR and that presentations are being made, but the CSC has not received this information. This approach lends to the spread of rumours that do not facilitate the active interaction between yourself and the staff.

1 Letter to the AC, 02.10.2020
2 Letter to the President, 24.07.2020

In the meeting of last GCC3 you mentioned that the administration had already drafted a document on the New Normal before the results of the survey were known. Such changes to the current working conditions entail numerous risks and require an impact study. There is no need to rush any reform.

Please take the advantage of building the future of the Office on the most diverse base possible. This should include the preparation of an informal discussion in the Administrative Council (possibly foreseen already for the December meeting).

Not informing the CSC on (preliminary) results of the survey constitutes a lack of transparency and lack of honouring obligations towards the CSC to which you committed4. In line with your commitment to promote a culture of dialogue that focuses on mutual understanding, we urge you to ensure that the CSC is fully informed on the (preliminary) results of the WTW survey without further delay.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Sampels
Acting Chairman of the Central Staff Committee

3 Report on the GCC, 01.10.2020
4 Social dialogue, undated

Two weeks prior to it, on October 2nd, the so-called ‘bosses’ of Campinos were briefed on this matter. As the Central Staff Committee put it:

A broad and early debate is necessary to first set the course for the future and secondly address all aspects of “New Normal” which will influence the working conditions of staff as well as the content and the quality of their work for years to come. “New Normal” as management sees it even questions the institutional principles of immunity and centralisation on which the success of the Organisation was built.

Why offer immunity for those who repeatedly break the law? Why is the Council tolerating this? What does that say about the Council?

“In this open letter to the heads of delegations of the Member States,” said the introduction to the letter signed by the Chairman of the Committee, “we appeal to their sense of responsibility.” [sic]

They never had any real sense of responsibility; this is why 0% of the surveyed staff said they’re trustworthy.

Here’s the full letter:

Reference: sc20147cl – 0.3.1/1.3.1
Date: 02.10.2020

European Patent Office | 80298 MUNICH | GERMANY

To the Chairman and
The Heads of Delegations of the
Administrative Council of the European
Patent Organisation


Setting the course for the “New Normal”

Dear Mr Chairman,
dear Heads of Delegations,

The President has recently announced that we are approaching a critical point in the history of our Organisation1 and management is in the process of concretely shaping the “New Normal”:

 The President has offered a temporary scheme for teleworking, which allows staff to work from any EPC country, i.e. far away from their usual places of employment. Many staff members confronted with the pandemic are using it.
 The pandemic has also made the previous scenarios in the building investment programme completely obsolete. We suspect that management is presently working full steam ahead on formatting even worse scenarios about the future use of EPO buildings, up to selling them2. We are also concerned about excessive staff depletion in some places of employment.

Recent experience teaches us that we, the Staff Representation, will be informed and consulted too late, when the policy decisions are close to being implemented3. It is also presently unclear how late the Member States will be informed, and how great their involvement will be in shaping those plans. In any case, there has been no discussion on which course would be most desirable for our Organisation.

1 See the President’s announcement to staff: “Shaping our future”
2 Selling Pschorrhöfe Bauteil 7 in Munich seems now certain; as in document CA/43/19 Rev.1, page 35/39.
3 We were not even involved in the drafting of the staff survey, contrary to the practice in the past.

If we are indeed approaching a critical point in the history of our Organisation, as the President surmises, then a broad and early debate is necessary to first set the course for the future and secondly address all aspects of “New Normal” which will influence the working conditions of staff as well as the content and the quality of their work for years to come4. “New Normal” as management sees it even questions the institutional principles of immunity and centralisation5 on which the success of the Organisation was built.

All this cannot be achieved by “business as usual”, i.e. the late involvement of the stakeholders and “faits accomplis” policy. Instead, one would expect the President of the Office to start discussions with all stakeholders.

We count on you, the delegations of the Member States, to remind the President that all stakeholders must play a part commensurate with the challenges ahead.

Yours sincerely,

Alain Dumont
Chairman of the Central Staff Committee

4 Seven months’ experience of “New Normal” type working does not mean we now have enough knowledge to extrapolate the long-term effects, e.g. on corporate culture, ergonomics, psychosocial aspect, collaboration within (Examining) Divisions, etc.

5 As anchored in the Protocol on Privileges and Immunities and in the Protocol on Centralisation

Having written letters addressed to the President and to the Council (above), the Central Staff Committee also wrote to staff and said: “The only urgency is to resume with human relation” (examiners are human).

The introductory text said that “the Office should not rush into defining a so-called “New Normal”. Instead, it should properly involve all staff and in particular your elected staff representatives in defining the necessary next steps on this journey. It is the time to step back and take a good look, not to rush things beyond any point of no return.”

Here’s the full letter:

Munich, 23.10.2020
sc20162cp – 0.2.1/4.6

New Normal staff survey results

It is urgent to wait!

Dear colleagues,

By now, the first survey results have been presented to us all and it seems that the Administration is willing to use these results to define a so-called “New Normal” at fast pace. We, the Staff Representatives from all sites, would like to support you, our colleagues, and the Office to plan for a future which guarantees the long-term sustainability of our Office.

On a positive note:
- More than three quarters1 of us all would like to continue teleworking to a greater or lesser extent.
- More than three quarters of us all would like to continue using Office premises to a greater or lesser extent.

We appreciate the diversity of your answers. Beyond the plurality of views on teleworking, it is obvious that the great majority – whilst wanting to enjoy greater flexibility – acknowledge the value of proper collaboration, of meeting colleagues face-to-face and also making use of e.g. the canteens2 and Amicale facilities. Vastly more colleagues working in the core business feel that their work has become more difficult than easier3. There seems to be no wish for decentralisation or a closing of sites therein. All of us think that a sense of belonging is important for the future of the Office.

Some further preliminary remarks:
We are still in the middle of a pandemic, i.e. in some kind of an emergency state. The survey conductor Willis Towers Watson (WTW) admitted that it was the first survey of that kind for them. In the absence of any precedent, we beg to ask how reliable these results really are, in their entirety.

It is too early for us to elaborate for now on the survey in detail. However, we wonder, with regards to the methodology used, whether the standard survey criteria (reliability, objectivity, validity) have been followed.

Importantly, it remains to be seen whether the feelings of staff and long-term psychosocial aspects have been adequately caught by the questions and reflected in the results

1 See in particular slides 24 and 31
2 See in particular slides 45 and 46
3 See in particular slides 21 and 22

presented so far, or whether they would be more fittingly deduced from the numerous comments (over 40’000) given by staff. An in-depth evaluation of these is still due.

The Office should not rush into defining a so-called “New Normal”. Instead, it should properly involve all staff and in particular your elected staff representatives in defining the necessary next steps on this journey. It is the time to step back and take a good look, not to rush things beyond any point of no return.

The only urgency is to resume with human relation

Your Central Staff Committee

Lastly, after intervention from the Central Staff Committee, the union (SUEPO) weighed in as well. That was earlier this month when SUEPO wrote to members that “Mr Campinos has invited SUEPO to a meeting on 18 November. Since the beginning of his mandate, social dialogue has remained painfully slow on all fronts. The present pandemic led to a new working environment and following the latest survey by Willis Towers Watson on the “New Normal”, the SP2023 plan is being adapted to a “New Normal” situation – all without any input from the social partners. Our position in nearly all outstanding matters (in particular Career System, Rules for Strike, Memorandum of Understanding) has consistently been to follow the EU model. Staff deserves to know clearly the position of the administration on these issues.”

Here’s the full letter, which was presented 10 days ago regarding a meeting that took place 4 days ago (Wednesday):

10 November 2020
su20035cl – 0.3.1


Mr António Campinos
President of the EPO
ISAR– Room 1081

Meeting President/SUEPO

Dear Mr Campinos,

Thank you for your invitation to a “President/SUEPO” meeting on 18 November 2020. We agree with you that it is high time to engage in genuine social dialogue for the benefit of staff and the Office, and as such a calendar of topic-specific meetings needs to be established urgently.

The present pandemic has led to a new working environment and following the latest survey by Willis Towers Watson on the “New Normal”, the SP2023 plan is being adapted to a “New Normal” situation – all without any input from the social partners. The career is in urgent need for a thorough review, not some mere quick fixes1 – the reform of the education and childcare allowances ought to be discussed in depth rather than stalling and focusing on transitional measures with an undefined final destination.

It is high time to truly engage with the social partners in finding the best way forward for staff and the Office, and each of these items warrants a calendar of topic-specific meetings. We would like to propose a series of meetings once every 6 weeks, each meeting dedicated to a single topic only. The meeting currently planned for 18 November 2020 could be used to draw up such a mutually agreed calendar.

In parallel, we are aware of some recent far-reaching opinions of the Appeals Committee, notably relating to the SUEPO facilities (incl. access to mass emails), the excessive strike deductions over weekends, and the “house arrest” under the health & sickness provisions2. Any meeting with SUEPO only makes sense if there is a clear and explicit willingness from your services to implement the necessary changes to the ServRegs as mandated by these

1 “Input for the Working Group Performance Management”, CSC letter of 08.07.2019 sc19095cl
2 “Urgent amendment of Circular 367 and immediate suspension of ‘house arrest’”, CSC letter of 30.10.2020 sc20165cl

opinions. Without such a statement, any meeting with SUEPO remains a mere checkbox-ticking public relations exercise and risks to be a waste of time for all involved.

Also remaining on our agenda, where no tangible progress can be reported:

- The settlement of sanctions on former SUEPO officials and other Staff representatives;
- A review of the Rules for Strike and progress on a Memorandum of Understanding, where we are still looking forward to receiving a reaction to our proposal as submitted on 25-04-20153;

We can only observe that social dialogue has remained painfully slow on all fronts since the beginning of your mandate. Our position in nearly all matters (in particular Career System, Rules for Strike, MoU) has consistently been to follow the EU model – and staff deserves to know the position of the administration on these issues. We are not able to explain to staff why such reviews are delayed and why staff should be treated differently – and poorly – in comparison with staff in other EU agencies.

Genuine social dialogue should be our shared goal: working together we can arrive at agreements that foster social peace and prevent further litigation.

Yours sincerely,

Joachim Michels
Chairman of SUEPO Central

Copy: Mr Josef Kratochvíl; Chairman of the Administrative Council

3 “Input to the WG on Union Recognition” – su15182cl – which includes our draft proposal for a MoU as submitted earlier on 05-02-2014 (su14020cl) and copies of agreements between the European Commission and the trade unions

The bottom line is, staff is still not being consulted and COVID-19 is gleefully exploited by management to do illegal things, retroactively justifying those things with bogus surveys and statements saying those things “have been broadly welcomed by the patent profession” (which is like saying that a war was “broadly welcomed by the military contractors”). The EPO’s staff deserves better than this anarchical management, which is defended by corrupt officials further up the chain.

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