Bonum Certa Men Certa

EPO Management Still Treats EPO Workers Poorly, Even During Pandemic


Summary: A candid letter from the EPO's staff representatives helps shed light on how staff of the EPO feels, with particular focus on DG1 colleagues in Job Groups 5 and 6

THE Central Staff Committee (CSC) of the EPO, or elected staff representatives (for patent examiners for the most part), wrote to the Welsh outsourcer of António Campinos earlier this month ahead of a meeting scheduled to take place later this week. This Welsh Microsoft outsourcer isn't a by-product of Benoît Battistelli, but he's problematic nonetheless. He didn't net or secure this high-paying job to do what's right; he's at the EPO to serve the "alt-right" of the patent world -- the extremists who lack respect for science and facts.

"As for the EPO managers using buzzwords like “upskilled”, this is a codeword for companies like IBM to get rid of older (more senior, experienced, and well-organised) staff."Towards the end of last year concerns were raised citing “house arrest” (not the same as "house ban") and this has a lot of impact on the EPO's operations, not just human rights compliance and mental wellbeing of modest people. A bad EPO cannot attract the staff the EPC demands. Some days ago the CSC told staff: "In October 2021 we started meeting Job Group 5 and 6 colleagues to gather first-hand information on their concerns and their well-being status, and to ask them for their views on future perspectives for their Job Group and Job Profile. Amongst the colleagues we met were various Formalities Officers (FO) teams in The Hague. Their feedback will serve as a basis for our discussions with the Vice-President DG1, with whom we will meet on 24 February. We would like to share the letter we sent him."

Many members of staff received a copy of the letter, so why not reproduce it for members of the general public, including besieged programmers (who face threats from a wave of European software patents)?

Here is the full letter, which is dated 11 days ago (around the same time as the call for industrial action).


Dear Mr Vice–President, dear Steve,

In October 2021 we started meeting Job Group 5 and 6 colleagues to gather first–hand information on their concerns and their wellbeing status, and to ask them for their views on future perspectives for their Job Group and Job Profile. Amongst the colleagues we met were various Formalities Officers (FO) teams in The Hague.

It is their feedback which we would now like to share with you. We believe this should serve as a basis for our future discussions with you and your team so that we can best support our DG1 colleagues in Job Groups 5 and 6 by jointly working on proposals.

We received positive feedback about general access to teleworking and the delivery of necessary IT equipment. The possibility of working from abroad was welcomed as well as the flexibility in working hours. Staff that needed to be in the Office appreciated being allowed to do so. Regarding FO tasks, some colleagues explicitly appreciated the diversification entailed in their job and the possibility of working in projects.

There are, however, several issues which were reported to us, and which we would also like to bring to your attention (not necessarily presented in order of importance):

Organisational issues: Small teams find it difficult to properly organise holidays or cope with sick leave in their units. The obligation to take leave on enforced Office closure days is extremely unpopular, especially as the original intention of these closure days, to save heating costs, etc., is no longer valid when the Office buildings are not being occupied.

There are strong concerns about the upcoming reorganisation, the planning of which FOs feel that, once again, they were not involved in. Whilst this reorganisation is scheduled to happen in the second quarter of 2022, no clear information has, as yet, been made available. Our colleagues request to be properly informed about changes they have to prepare for.

IT Tools: FOs are exhausted due to the constant changes in IT tools in their area. They wish to be better involved in the development of any new IT tools in order that their needs are met. Changes are often perceived as unnecessary and are implemented in an illogical manner. FOs would like to have a break and time to absorb the changes. In addition, with the multiplication of channels of communication and knowledge sources a lot of time has been lost in searching for information.

Impact of (excessive) teleworking: Though there is still good social bonding in the teams from pre–COVID times, personal interactions and/or integration into DG1 and staff groups is strongly missed. Some colleagues report that they suffer from loneliness and demoralisation. Many report screen fatigue. Colleagues who come to the Office premises are frustrated that, without a canteen, sports facilities etc, they are not able to see and talk to colleagues in person.

Teams were merged shortly before mandatory teleworking started; therefore, members of the new teams have not had the chance to meet with their colleagues. This absence of face–to–face interaction is felt to be prejudicial to proper integration into new teams. Trainers and coaches report that virtual training is more challenging due to the limited possibility to detect and address difficulties trainees might have.

Future perspective: Our colleagues complain about the limited and fuzzy information they receive about their future work. They do not know whether they will continue to do what they did the last 10 years for another 10 years, or whether they will rather have to apply for a job in another department – this is frustrating and gloomy. The message from management that “no one will be left behind” is simply not enough. Several colleagues are considering early retirement due to this uncertainty. FO colleagues have a thorough knowledge of the complex and ever–changing patent procedure, most of them have been working for many decades – despite often obsolete and unreliable IT tools – to support and complement the work of Examiners. Yet, management considers that they need to be “upskilled”; this very term is perceived as disrespectful and adds to the general feeling that management do not know about FO work. In addition, our FO colleagues consider the loss of the LPS as very damaging to the knowledge transfer process, and for the accessibility and efficiency of procedural support. FOs need proximity procedural support and the work of SCAPES should be limited to 2nd level procedural support.

Career and rewards: According to our colleagues, the Salary Adjustment Procedure (SAP) is unfair, and the career system is broken. Several older colleagues, who are stuck in the last step of the last grade within their Job Group, do not have the prospect of any further salary progression. Other colleagues report that starting in a lower grade, and with the New Career System, it will be impossible to reach the last grade and step of their Job Group. There is no transparency regarding (pensionable) rewards and bonuses, and our colleagues ask what the functional allowances are about. There is a clear feeling that not all FOs receive adequate rewards. They also regret there was no reward for their achievements during the pandemic year 2021. In our colleagues’ perception, there is a lack of recognition from the side of management. Part–timers (most often mothers) feel discriminated against as they cannot be involved in projects and are therefore not equally valued.

In the meantime, we have received an invitation to meet you and your team on 24 February in order to further discuss JG 5&6 matters. We hope that the feedback raised by our colleagues can serve as a sound basis for this discussion and to help define the next steps. We are looking forward to a fruitful meeting,

Kind regards,

on behalf of the Taskforce JG 5/6 matters

Many people who work or have worked from home would be able to relate to some of the above sentiments. As for the EPO managers using buzzwords like “upskilled”, this is a codeword for companies like IBM to get rid of older (more senior, experienced, and well-organised) staff. You basically twist experience and seniority as a negative, a burden, a liability. Maybe Microsoft told Mr. Rowan that having no keylogger on your PC makes your skills "outdated".

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