Bonum Certa Men Certa

EPO Representatives Outline Latest Attacks on Staff

posted by Roy Schestowitz on May 18, 2024

New Ways of Working

A COUPLE of days ago the Central Staff Committee of the EPO published a 3-page document, which was further disseminated yesterday with the message: "Dear colleagues, The Office will present a New Ways of Working document to the Administrative Council in June. The administration invited the staff representation to discuss the topic in technical meetings. In a previous publication, the Central Staff Committee (CSC) already reported on the first and second technical meetings which took place on 10 and 18 April 2024. The third and fourth technical meetings took place on 24 and 30 April. In the Communiqué of 2 May 2024, the Office announced that the latter brought the row of technical meetings to a conclusion."

CSC members have long cautioned about this attack on the workers, mostly patent examiners. Here's their report as plain text, HTML, and GemText:

Zentraler Personalausschuss
Central Staff Committee
Le Comité Central du Personnel

Munich, 16.05.2024
sc24028cp

Report on the third and fourth technical meetings on New Ways of Working

The Office will present a New Ways of Working document to the Administrative Council in June. The administration invited the staff representation to discuss the topic in technical meetings. In a previous publication, the Central Staff Committee (CSC) already reported on the first and second technical meetings which took place on 10 and 18 April 2024. The third and fourth technical meetings took place on 24 and 30 April. In the Communiqué of 2 May 2024, the Office announced that the latter brought the row of technical meetings to a conclusion. This paper reports on the latest discussions.

Third technical meeting of 24 April 2024

The administration started the meeting by providing orally further data concerning the use of teleworking and on the benchmark with other International Organisations.

On the usage data

Usage data shows that:

− Non-nationals represent 75% of the EPO population

− Non-nationals represent 78% of the so-called hybrid working population

− 65% of non-nationals make use of teleworking from abroad (24.5 days on average)

− 25% of nationals make use of teleworking from abroad (18.9 days on average)

− A total of 55% of the EPO population make use of teleworking from abroad

− Nationals are more represented in the preferred teleworking personas

On the benchmark with the OECD

According to the administration, the OECD allows teleworking at the maximum frequency of 2 days per week (i.e. 3 days mandatory presence per week). There are two forms of teleworking, either regular or occasional. For each, the employee must sign a convention with the line manager. Teams have core days during which they must come to the premises. 80 days of teleworking from abroad are possible but with a very strict authorisation. The employee must sign a waiver that the organisation is not responsible for any fiscal or social security issue that may arise. Allowances are suspended for the period in excess of the regular 80 days of teleworking from abroad, the employee is considered liable for any risk of a fiscal or social contribution nature. Exceptions to go beyond the 80 days of teleworking from abroad were used by less than 1% of staff.

The meeting was then focused on the remaining points of the CSC letter of 5 April not yet addressed in the two previous meetings.


On virtual transfers and physical transfers

We pointed out that a number of colleagues for various reasons have requested a physical transfer since years. The administration replied that physical transfers were only foreseen for business reasons and for “hardship” cases. The administration considered that transfers being part of the Service Regulations, the policy on transfer could not be discussed in the context of the NWoW Circular. However, no date for a discussion on transfer policy could be provided by the administration We repeated our request that physical transfers should be granted again, not only, but definitely for colleagues who have accepted a virtual transfer to another site.

We noted that for colleagues virtually transferred to a team from another place of employment (POE), days spent on that POE, do not count for the quota of minimum presence as they are not covered by a duty travel. Such colleagues have to make use of their quota of teleworking from abroad. The administration admitted that the issue is known since a long time and recalled that the original plan of the pilot was to have a “one-Office concept”. They promised to report to senior management on the matter. The administration admitted that the duty travel policy would be reviewed and suggested to increase the number of times employees are allowed to travel to visit their colleagues.

On the right to disconnect

We argued that other International Organisations have added the right to disconnect in their regulations for the well-being of their staff. The administration replied that the EPO inter alia already suspended the core-time, maintained the accrual of flexi-hours and has the most “flexible” scheme among International Organisations.

We replied that the “right to disconnect” shall be seen as ability of people to disconnect from work and primarily not to engage in work-related electronic communications such as e-mails or messages during non-work hours. The flexibility of the scheme should not be misinterpreted as a flexibility at the disposal of the line managers. To the contrary, the Office has a duty of care towards the staff and should remind them of at least the minimum rest periods. As a concrete proposal, we suggested that the Working Hours arrangements are explicitly mentioned in the Circular on “New Ways of Working” in combination with a “right to disconnect”.

Follow-up on the points addressed in the previous meetings

The administration stated that they took note of our request for a pro-rata calculation of the quota of minimum presence taking into consideration all kinds of leave. They hinted at the possibility to base the quota on the number of so-called active days, and to hold a dedicated meeting on this point.

We emphasised again that feedback from colleagues showed that they were not aware of the possibility of exceptions to the quotas of minimum presence and teleworking from abroad. The term “exception” should therefore be added to the regulation. The administration replied that they dealt until now with exceptions representing at most only 1% of staff and saw no need to include a reference in the regulations. On the contrary, the administration believes that the addition of exceptions into the Circular would end up weakening it, and that unpaid leave, special leave, parental leave, or family leave should be taken instead. We replied that “exceptions” were mentioned around 200 times in the Codex without weakening it, and that since “exceptions” are under the discretion of the President, the Office would still have full control over them. We also stressed that by granting exceptions instead of asking staff to take leave, a significant increase of capacity would result and benefit the Office.

The administration said it had consulted PD 44 (General Administration) on the project “Bringing Teams Together” and re-confirmed that staff members intending to come to the office three days or more per week would be granted an “allocated workplace”. We pointed out that the Office should provide this policy in writing, for example, in an F.A.Q on the intranet. This would also prevent arbitrary decisions of managers not to assign any “allocated workplace” to any of their staff.


We requested again a limitation to the line manager’s discretion for granting teleworking (from abroad). The administration replied that the practice they observed did not require amending the rules. We insisted on the necessity of safeguards against the arbitrary revocation of working patterns of teleworking.

Fourth technical meeting of 30 April 2024

The meeting was dedicated to the Office’s proposal for a “New wording on minimum attendance days” on Article 4, Circular No. 419. The pro-rata calculation would be based on the number of active days in the sense of Article 4(2): each day an employee performs their duties, regardless of hours worked that day, and not any longer on the percentage of working time. It would, however, consider all types of leave, and not only part-time working arrangements.

Our first reaction was that we appreciated the willingness to consider all types of leave for the calculation, but pointed out that the new approach, based on active days thresholds, would lead to a reduced quota for some colleagues, whilst others (mainly colleagues working part-time) could see their quota increased. We reiterated our request for a true pro-rata approach. We explained that in order for staff to accept the new scheme, the circular would need to include improvements such as the ones we requested throughout the discussions.

What next?

At the end of the 4th meeting, we asked for an opportunity to be provided with the draft document for the new scheme to be able to discuss it within the working group before it was presented to the GCC for opinion.

The Central Staff Committee

Not much has happened recently in terms of industrial action, but that's for the staff to decide on. We shall try to accurately report on what goes on there while adding necessary context.

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