12.16.15

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Unanimous Negative Opinion on the Proposal of Benoît Battistelli to Eliminate Basic Rights at EPO

Posted in Europe, Patents at 6:34 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Union busting high on the agenda at the EPO right now

Union busting

Summary: A look at the opinion letter of General Consultative Committee (GCC) members about the EPO’s latest effort to muzzle staff representatives, use financial sanctions against them (impacting legal defence), and ultimately sack them

THERE is a meeting today regarding Benoît Battistelli’s EPO and there is an opportunity to scrutinise it at the Council.

Just before it starts or ends we wish to post Annex 3 of an aforementioned letter because there are some bits there which merit comment (or emphasis in larger fonts):

ANNEX 3

Opinion of the GCC members elected by staff
on document GCC/DOC 15/2015 (CA/99/15)

Periodical Review of the Service Regulations
i) Amendments to Article 2 of the Service Regulations
ii) Amendments to Article 95 of the Service Regulations

“Under the trivialising title of “periodical review”, the President proposes radical cuts in the rights of staff and their representatives.”The members of the GCC elected by staff give a unanimous negative opinion on the proposal of the President to amend Articles 2 and 95 of the Service Regulations (ServRegs) for the following reasons.

Under the trivialising title of “periodical review”, the President proposes radical cuts in the rights of staff and their representatives. The Council would be ill-advised to approve such drastic proposals, which will bring into disrepute the Organisation, the Office, as well as the respective Contracting States. All the more so in a session where it has to decide on the further suspension of one of its appointees.

i) Amendments to Article 2 of the Service Regulations

“The Council would be ill-advised to approve such drastic proposals, which will bring into disrepute the Organisation, the Office, as well as the respective Contracting States.”The amendments allegedly aim to align the terms of office for appointments in statutory bodies (normally based on calendar years) with the terms of office of staff representatives (three years from the 1st of July to the 30 th of June). It also aims to improve stability, consistency and efficiency in the bodies concerned.

However, the amendments do not succeed in aligning the terms of office, because the extension will still be “within the limits of the terms of office of the Staff Committee members”, i.e. it will have to end on 30th of June and cannot be extended until the end of a calendar year. Furthermore, staff representation is already appointing in a stable and consistent way to the various bodies, not the least due to its scarce manpower and due to the need to gain experience, since external (i.e. not elected) experts cannot be appointed since the entry into force of “Social Democracy”. Thus the declared aims are not relevant.

The proposed Article 2(6) is so sloppily drafted that it encompasses the GCC itself (Article 2(1)(b) ServRegs) and the Appraisals Committee (Article 2(1)(g) ServRegs), which was until now not a joint committee. We are however ready to appoint to the latter Appraisals Committee as soon as Article 110a(3) ServRegs will be been amended accordingly.

“The proposed Article 2(6) is so sloppily drafted…”In actuality, the new regulation aims to avoid a new “call for volunteers” to sit in the Appeals Committee pursuant to paragraph 1(d) ServRegs, which was organised by the President of the Office regardless of any statutory provision in December 2014. By so doing, he intends to perpetuate a practice and a resulting composition of the Appeals Committee, which are regarded as illegal by the Staff Representation and is being challenged by appellants.

“By so doing, he intends to perpetuate a practice and a resulting composition of the Appeals Committee, which are regarded as illegal by the Staff Representation and is being challenged by appellants.”The amendments also conflict with Article 36(2)(a) ServRegs, which provides that the Central Staff Committee (CSC) alone shall be responsible for making appointments to the bodies under the Service Regulations. The President of the Office will resort to the proposed Article 2(6) to extend the mandate of staff representatives against the will of the CSC and/or to prevent the CSC from replacing staff representatives. It is also unclear whether the provision will prevent an appointee from stepping down from a statutory body on his own volition.

ii) Amendments to Article 95 of the Service Regulations

Pursuant to Article 95 ServRegs, the appointing authority may decide to suspend an employee if an alleged misconduct is so serious that it becomes incompatible with his/her continuing in service, for instance if continuation of service would be against the interests of the Office, would endanger the investigation process or even other employees. Suspension is not a disciplinary sanction: it is essentially an interim measure until the appointing authority decides on a disciplinary sanction following the completion of a statutory disciplinary procedure. Until then, the suspended employee is presumed to be innocent.

“A salary reduction is warranted if the foreseeable disciplinary measure would also have a financial effect, i.e. only in case of relegation in step, downgrading or dismissal.”The appointing authority may also decide to withhold part of the remuneration, up to half of the employee’s basic salary. A salary reduction is warranted if the foreseeable disciplinary measure would also have a financial effect, i.e. only in case of relegation in step, downgrading or dismissal.

Presently, Article 95(3) ServRegs is the only provision protecting employees against excessively slow investigation and disciplinary procedures: if no final decision is given within four months from the date of suspension, the employee shall again receive his/her full remuneration and the employee is entitled to reimbursement of the amount of remuneration withheld.

“It de facto negates the interim character of a suspension and turns a salary reduction into an illegal financial sanction and possibly a financial hardship for the employee.”Similar protecting provisions are included in the Service Regulations of other International Organisations, either in the form of a fixed duration for a suspension (e.g. non-extendable six months in the EU regulations), or in a more flexible form, with an advance written statement setting out and justifying its duration (UN and WHO). They aim to balance the interests of both parties in having speedy and expeditious investigative and disciplinary procedures.

After the abolition of Article 95(3) ServRegs the EPO would be the only international organisation that would have no provision in place for assessing the duration of a suspension, with or without salary reduction. Suspension (on a reduced salary) may go on for an unlimited, or disproportionately long, period of time, without the necessity for the appointing authority to justify it The amended Article will also have immediate effect on all suspensions ongoing on the date of its entry into force.

This is unacceptable because:

  • It tips the balance completely on the side of the appointing authority by removing any incentive for the President or the AC to investigate speedily the alleged misconduct and decide in a reasonable time.
  • It de facto negates the interim character of a suspension and turns a salary reduction into an illegal financial sanction and possibly a financial hardship for the employee. Such a disproportionate decision may in principle be challenged with the ILO-AT but the review is limited due to the discretionary nature of the decision and a judgment will be long to come.
  • The additional punishment resulting from a disproportionately long suspension is not foreseen in the exhaustive list of disciplinary measures pursuant to Article 93(2) ServRegs.
  • A disproportionately long suspension is against ILO-AT case law (e.g. Judgment No. 2698), which require a speedy procedure, and against Article 6(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights, which states that everyone is entitled to a fair trial within a reasonable time. It is a violation of the EPC, for much the same reason.
  • Applying it to ongoing suspensions makes it retroactive, thus contrary to recognised principles of law (ex post facto laws).
  • Extending the suspension until the date of re-appointment in the case of a member of the Boards of Appeal (most notably the member suspended by the Administrative Council in December 2014) will de facto amount to a removal from office and circumvent Article 23(1) EPC.
  • It may lead to court cases against Contracting States before the European Court of Human Rights.

According to the Office, the (investigative and disciplinary) procedure is presently normally completed with the time frame of four months. A more flexible time frame is thus desirable only in exceptional case. As a result, we recommend to maintain the time frame for suspension to a fixed period (e.g. the present four months) and make an extension possible only in exceptional cases, with the extension set and duly justified by the appointing authority in advance, as is the case in many international organisations (UN, WHO).

The GCC members elected by staff

Notice how much of the above is basically just devised in a timely fashion by Battistelli in order to crush the unions. Even one who is as blind as a mole can see it.

“Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.”

Samuel Adams

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