03.29.21

After Crushing Dialogue With the Union (SUEPO) the EPO’s President Does the Same to Staff Representatives

Posted in Deception, Europe, Patents at 8:38 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: We examine the outcome (or lack thereof) of the latest General Consultative Committee (GCC) meeting at the EPO

The Central Staff Committee (CSC) of the EPO had a ‘meeting’ with António Campinos, the ‘wunderkind’ (or agent of cover-up) for Benoît Battistelli.

“…it seems that Campinos is totally inadequate for proper social dialogues. He no longer speaks to the union (SUEPO) and now he’s sort of gaslighting staff representatives (not external to the Office).”For those who haven’t seen it yet, IP Kat has finally (for a change) written about the assault on the EPO's tribunals by Campinos (he’s no better than Battistelli!) and the comments are worth reading closely. The comments are always more informative than AstraZeneca’s word-mincing take. The headline is far too polite; they’re breaking the law! In any event, it seems that Campinos is totally inadequate for proper social dialogues. He no longer speaks to the union (SUEPO) and now he’s sort of gaslighting staff representatives (not external to the Office). These representatives (CSC) have just published their “[r]eport on the GCC meeting of 24 March 2021,” focusing on “[g]uidelines for rewards” (lack of them).

They’ve explained to their colleagues, whom they represent: “On 24 March 2021, we had the first GCC meeting of 2021, with only one document on the agenda, namely the General Guidelines on Budget allocation and rewards distribution for 2021. The CSC members of the GCC could only give a negative opinion on this document. The remaining time was used to briefly address some other matters, essentially: the building occupancy levels; the education allowance; the targets in DG1.” (a.k.a. Microsoft clown computing)

“In this publication,” they have noted, “you will find more details, including the written opinion that we sent to the President after the GCC meeting.”

Somebody has sent us a copy, so we’ve decided to reproduce it here as HTML. Our concluding words will follow at the bottom.

Zentraler Personalausschuss
Central Staff Committee
Le Comité Central du Personnel

Munich, 26.03.2021
sc21042cp

GCC meeting on 24 March 2021 – A short meeting

Guidelines on Rewards 2021

On 24 March 2021, we had the first GCC meeting of 2021, with only one document on the agenda: General Guidelines on Budget allocation and rewards distribution for 2021. Last year’s Guidelines can be found here.

The administration went to great lengths to demonstrate the merits of the 2021 Guidelines. We referred to our earlier publication (“Strong Together” but 30% of staff excluded”) on the 2021 rewards, and asked some questions during the GCC:

- The document still mentions incomplete steps, whereas by now everyone should be at full steps, the transition period from the old career system should have passed already. The administration gave no answer, except to say that some 150-160 staff members will fall under the ‘catch-up mechanism’ through which a staff member who didn’t receive a pensionable reward since four years would now receive one (compared to the 430 colleagues who received a “catch-up” step last year). We also learned that the automatic catch-up mechanism would be maintained in the years to come.
- We also questioned how the calibration process of the reward distribution at VP or PD level can work: what criteria will be used to deviate from the proposals of the line management. We received no answer, though the President stated that every staff member is entitled to know why they were not considered in the reward exercise and that line management should be able to explain this to their staff;
- The document misses any detail on functional allowances (which for the first time have been removed from the rewards budget). According to the President, functional allowances should not be linked to the rewards because they are not based on merit but are part of particularly difficult or complex functions. Examples given were ‘management’ (sic) or ‘BIT staff’ which now have to deal with the spaghetti structure. The budget for functional allowances amount to €2.3m per year.

We stated again that the fundamental flaws of the career system are not being addressed: 40% of staff are lagging behind, receiving less than one step every three years. The new Salary Adjustment Procedure (SAP) resulted in huge savings for the EPO in 2020, (a bit) more of these savings could have been put into the rewards envelope – still within the limits set by the Administrative Council – such that everyone could have been rewarded. We reminded the President of the burden on parents and our colleagues in BIT. In 2021, 30% of colleagues will not receive a pensionable reward, despite their efforts and despite the exceptional situation due to the pandemic. To this, the administration answered that Staff Representation were dogmatic, and that the EPO could not afford to give everybody a pensionable reward.

Clearly, the CSC members of the GCC could only give a negative opinion on this document (see the annex).

Any other Business

The remaining time was used to briefly address some important matters.

Concerning the New Normal document, we learned that there would not be a New Normal Working Group (we must have misunderstood so before), but that Staff Representation would only be involved if and when there are new policies and regulations to be discussed. We might be invited for the aspects of teleworking – once the proposal is finalised.

Concerning the building occupancy levels, currently set at 15%, we wondered whether the continued isolation of staff at home does not lead to more psychosocial risks, whether stress would not be alleviated if staff had the possibility to come to the Office more often. The President replied that we are the only International Organisation that didn’t have any casualty due to Covid-19, and that the rules have remained the same throughout the pandemic, offering legal certainty. We should not expect any change in occupancy until after Easter.

Concerning the education allowance, we again questioned why this reform is taking place during this pandemic, putting parents and young families under additional stress. We reminded the President of the three promises he made: a cost-neutral reform, site-specific measures and negotiation with staff representation. Instead we have a cost–saving reform (please note that the overall education budget is negligible vs. the EPO yearly budget), with no real site-specific measures (with a lump-sum only approach instead, disregarding the costs actually incurred by the parents), and with our proposal unceremoniously wiped off the table because it is “too expensive” – despite the declining demographics of our population. We insisted that Staff wondered why this is happening, and why now. The administration only replied that all would be sorted out by long(er) transitional measures, during which there would be no savings.

Finally concerning the DG1 targets, although the absolute production targets are indeed decreasing, production is achieved with fewer and fewer staff, resulting in an overall net productivity increase again (on average +2.2% vs 2020). The DQA statistics for one sector now show that one in three grants is not compliant with under Article 54 EPC – read: the subject-matter of the granted claims is not novel. This is what happens when staff is under more and more time pressure. Also, some of the timeliness objectives are exaggerated: the composition of the divisions is sometimes changed if one of its members is absent due to sickness for more than three days, just so that the dossier does not stay on the Patent Workbench for too long.

The administration replied that the production targets have been decreasing year by year (but they seem to keep on ignoring that it’s done with fewer and fewer staff and productivity has been on the rise year by year), and that individuals who have problems with their targets should approach their line manager. We maintain that this is not a problem to be solved on an individual basis, but it is a general, global problem in DG1 The administration should finally realise that it is not a matter of playing at the individual level.

As a closing remark, the administration said that they have been meeting lots of individual staff during 2020. VP1 added that, in his meetings with DG1 staff, he never heard any complaint about production pressure, about the SAP1 or about the education allowance2.

In view of this collective amnesia, we can only encourage you to continue to make you voice heard, also by continuing to send emails to senior management (president@epo.org or vp1@epo.org) to let them know how you feel about the production pressure, the SAP, the education allowance… Please feel free to keep us in copy.

The Central Staff Committee

Annex: opinion of the CSC members of the GCC on GCC/DOC 1/2021

_______
1 conveniently forgetting that well over 1000 staff members filed the Request for Management Review recently
2 again conveniently overlooking the swaths of emails that staff have sent to the administration


Opinion of the CSC members of the GCC on GCC/DOC 1/2021

President’s Instructions on Rewards for 2021

The CSC members of the GCC give the following opinion on the President’s Instructions on Rewards proposed in GCC/DOC 1/2021.

The document defines the annual budget envelope and reward types, the eligibility and criteria for rewards and the process and timeline.

On the consultation

Since the implementation of the New Career System in 2014, the President’s Instructions on Rewards were submitted each year for information only to the General Consultative Committee (GCC). In essence, the document could not be submitted for vote. The CSC members of the GCC argued each year that such instructions on rewards should be submitted for consultation in compliance with Article 38(2) ServRegs stating that the GCC shall be consulted on “any proposal which concerns the conditions of employment of the whole or part of the staff to whom these regulations apply”.

Back in 2016, Ms Bergot (PD4.3) rejected our arguments and replied (GCC/PV 5/2016, paragraphs 34 & 37) that “discussions about rewards should take place with recognised unions [...] In this context, SUEPO had been re-invited to discuss the signature of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which would lead to its recognition as an EPO union and enable its participation in said discussions.” The GCC members expressed their surprise that union matters could be discussed in the GCC and explained that it was a statutory right of GCC members to be consulted on the instructions on rewards. Nevertheless, Ms Bergot (PD 4.3) maintained her line of argumentation the years after (GCC/PV 4/2017, paragraph 104) and the topic remained for information on the agenda. After his entry into service in 2018, Mr Campinos preferred not to deviate from what he considered to have become the Office’s practice.

For the first time under the New Career System, the President’s Instructions on Rewards were submitted for consultation, in the GCC meeting of 24 March 2021, and Mr Campinos invited the GCC members to send their opinion in writing. Ms Bergot explained this change of practice by a recent opinion of the Appeals Committee (ApC) recommending that the Instructions should be submitted for consultation from now on. At the time of drafting the present GCC opinion, the CSC members of the GCC are still not aware of the exact content of the ApC opinion. Although the change of practice is welcome, it is regrettable that only legal action convinced the Office to comply with its own Service Regulations. Furthermore, it was long overdue after six reward exercises and it shows once again the flaws of our internal justice system as well as in the consultation process.


On the merits

On the pensionable rewards

In the GCC meeting, the administration repeated the arguments exposed in the Intranet publication of 25-02-2021, namely “in view of the efforts of staff to ensure business continuity under the challenging pandemic conditions, up to 70% of staff will be able to receive a pensionable reward. This marks a 10% increase versus the reward cycles of the last 3 years.”
This communication exercise is not convincing. A careful look at the past, shows that Mr Battistelli’s reward exercise in 2015 already defined that up to 70% of staff may receive a pensionable reward (GCC/DOC 12/2015). The subsequent exercises in 2016 (GCC/DOC 11/2016) and 2017 (GCC/DOC 16/2017) were slightly below at 65%.

This should be furthermore put in perspective with the fact that “[s]taff falling in the category of the catch-up mechanism 2021 as described in Annex II are included in the 70%.” (section II. 2. 1) whereas the catch-up mechanism 2020 was under a separate budget1. Therefore, the announced “10% increase” is not “generous” as the administration is trying to say.

The document in ANNEX 1 mentions: “With regards to career progression, the baseline scenario of the Financial Study 2019 corresponds to granting a step to 60% of eligible staff. Every 5% increase in quota increases the coverage gap with around EUR 160 million.” It gives the impression that staff is more of a liability than an asset. In the meeting, Ms Simon (VP4) stressed that the 70% should be seen as “a very generous offer which bring strain on our finances in the long run”. Management should actually not worry about the financial consequences of their “offer” which is not even generous. The last reported values in 2020 for the EPO funds (EPOTIF and RFPSS) prove that they performed EUR 3,9 billion2 better than foreseen by the baseline scenario. While management is running out of convincing arguments, the EPO continues to make surpluses of up to EUR 310 million3 in 2020.

We consider that a purely competition-based career system excluding 30% of eligible staff is not fit for purpose and we would be ready to discuss within a Working Group a performance-based system defining a minimum career, an average career and a fast career. Regrettably, in the GCC meeting, Mr Campinos simply reproached us for having a “dogmatic” position in favour of automaticity. When the reward statistics4 actually show that 40% of eligible staff got less than 3 steps in 6 reward exercises, it is high time to come to a pragmatic revision of the New Career System.

On the budget
In the GCC meeting, the administration presented the available budget for pensionable and non-pensionable rewards of EUR 22,600 million in 2021 as an increase over the last years: EUR 21,300 million in 2019 (GCC/DOC 4/2019), and EUR 22,000 million in 2020 (GCC/DOC 11/2020).

However, one should compare budgets if they are of the same nature. The budget for 2021 includes a catch-up mechanism which will apply to 150-160 colleagues. But the above-cited budget for 2020 did not include a catch-up mechanism. The catch-up

______
1 “One-off measure”, President Communiqué of 13-01-2020, “this one-off measure has been decoupled from the next reward envelope. The sum will be taken out of the 2019 budget and will not come from, or affect, the funds available for the next rewards exercise.”
2 “Virtual Floor Meetings – Why 1 day strike”, page 29, LSCMN publication of 11-12-2020 (sc20022mp)
3 CA/56/20
4 “Virtual Floor Meetings – Why 1 day strike”, page 13, LSCMN publication of 11-12-2020 (sc20022mp)


mechanism 2020 of EUR 861.000 applied to 437 colleagues came from a separate budget5.

The overall budget for 2020 of EUR 22,861 million was therefore higher than the one Mr Campinos offers in 2021 for the work of staff during the pandemic.

In preparation of the meeting, the Central Staff Committee already explained6 how the 2021 budget for rewards was reduced by EUR -3,6 million compared to the one in the draft budget 2021. This cut came on top of massive unexpected savings of EUR 18 million made on the salary mass because of the disastrous application of the salary adjustment procedure 2020. It shows that, contrary Mr Campinos’ promise after the Financial Study 2019, when the Organisation makes more savings than expected, these are not redistributed to staff.

On the lack of transparency: functional allowances

Until now, the budget for functional allowances was mentioned in the President’s Instructions on rewards. In the 2020 budget, they amounted to EUR 2,3 million. This year, no figure is communicated yet, besides the estimated percentage of 0,3% on the basic salaries referred to in CA/D 1/20 (page 144) which would amount to around EUR 3 million. In the meeting, Mr Campinos explained that functional allowances relate to the function rather to a reward and should thus mentioned elsewhere. But where? No more clarification was given in the meeting.

Initially, functional allowances were meant to compensate employees in Job Groups 4-6 for temporarily taking on tasks above and beyond what is in their job description. This is for instance the case for Team Managers. Obviously, this did not apply in the beginning to managers in Job Groups 1-3 since the New Career System awarded them an increase in salary for higher responsibilities.

With GCC/DOC 7/2017, management amended Article 12(2) ServRegs to open up the possibility of getting a functional allowance also to … Management. Concomitantly, the functional allowance was increased from a maximum of “an amount equivalent to two steps in the current grade” to “two monthly basic salaries per year”.

The Office stated that this was justified for “the sake of efficiency and flexibility”. Annex I to the new Circular 364 indicates that duties and constraints deserving a functional allowance are for “functions of high responsibility (…) organizational and technical change management etc.” One can easily suspect self-service and how the trend will continue if the award of functional allowances remains untransparent and not submitted to statutory consultation. After having opened the cookie jar to help themselves, management is now hiding the cookie jar. We wonder whether management will ever increase the functional allowances for Team Managers in DG1 as it was only adjusted once since its introduction, harmonizing the amount given to Team Managers in different grades.

On the lack of transparency: performance criteria
The criteria for granting a reward still consist of a broad non-exhaustive list which is interpreted differently among directorates and teams.

______
5 “One-off measure”, President Communiqué of 13-01-2020, “This one-off measure will take effect as of January 2020 and represents a total investment of around EUR 861 000.”
6 “Reward exercise for pandemic year 2020 “Strong Together” but 30% of staff excluded”, CSC paper of 22-03-2021 (sc21040cp)


For steps, one of the criteria is the “achievement of the expected objectives and competencies corresponding to grade, seniority and job profile” and for promotions “proven performance and expected objectives corresponding to the grade continuously achieved over a long period of time.” However, such expectation levels are not defined and the so-called corridors of “production/productivity” applied in DG1 continue to be deliberately hidden from staff.

Colleagues are hardly ever given reasons as to why they have or have not received a reward, and how they should perform to get one in the future. The fact that appraisal and reward are not linked do not contribute to transparency either. Only the few who dare to file management review start to have the beginning of answer which raises even further questions on the arbitrariness of the exercise.

On the lack of transparency: calibration by PDs and VPs
As in the previous years, “[w]hile performance is a pre-condition, it may not be sufficient to warrant a reward in view of other elements taken into account for its attribution such a comparison with peers, collaborative behaviour, priority of the Office and contribution to the Office’s achievement”.

This broad statement allows management to exclude anyone at PD or VP level from the reward exercise during the so-called calibration process in an arbitrary manner. The term “peers” is not substantiated by any document: are the peers from the same team? from the same grade? from the same directorate? from the same technical field?

On the collaborative bonuses
In the GCC meeting, Ms Simon (VP4) explained that “this year, the Office will put much more emphasis on collaboration to go to a one Office concept and therefore half of the EUR 10,5 million bonus budget will reward collaboration”. The criteria for defining collaboration again lack transparency.

The word “collaboration” appears to be a communication exercise designed to hide the fact even during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Office decided to maintain in a morally questionable way a competition-based system that goes actually blatantly against the values of cooperation. The collaboration bonuses appear to be a fig leaf on the actual exclusion of 30% of eligible staff from a pensionable reward. Such a regressive and non-inclusive policy is impossible to reconcile with the “Strong Together” message the Office is trying to convey.

Conclusion

The many pitfalls identified by staff and their representation over the last six years of application of the New Career System still remain unsolved. The reward exercise is still a lottery which is unique among International Organisations.

For the above reasons, the CSC members of the GCC give a negative opinion on document GCC/DOC 1/2021.

The CSC members of the GCC

From the above, one is left to conclude that the Office management simply isn’t listening to staff at all. It’s just milking the institution, doing loads of illegal things, and nobody will be held accountable for that.

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