07.15.21

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Staff Elements in Working Group on Teleworking Explain Lies From EPO Management, Which Isn’t Working (Only Robbing and Stealing From the EPO)

Posted in Europe, Patents at 12:46 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Looks like someone needs a little more bossing
Maybe there is a productivity “gap” somewhere…

Summary: A new document shows what sort of incompetent and aloof bunch of people run Europe’s second-largest institution; they lack empathy and they exploit COVID-19 to crush staff, mostly based on deliberate distortions and lies

The Central Staff Committee (CSC) of the EPO circulated a letter today and someone passed us a copy to study. They had met the King ‘Gap’inos regarding home working, seeing that the COVID-19 problem is far from over (nor is the Benoît Battistelli problem anywhere near over). The cynicism from the CSC can be understood in light of recent events. There is no sincere social dialogue and ‘Gap’inos did not prepare for this meeting. Maybe he thinks that just lying back, pretending to listen, can magically solve profound issues.

The meeting is very recent and so is the report. They probably wanted to get it out there as soon as possible. Here’s the whole thing:

Munich, 15-07-2021
sc21097cp – 0.2.1/4.4

Working Group on Teleworking Report on the first meeting of 14 July 2021

The meeting was the first opportunity ever for the staff representation to discuss directly the proposal for a teleworking scheme revealed in broad terms for the first time on 11 June 2021 in CA/38/21 (page 17). The administration had tabled neither an agenda nor supportive documents and presented themselves as being in listening mode. We decided to structure the meeting along the lines of our letter 1 of 22 June 2021 which was never answered.

1. Mandate of the Working Group

A teleworking policy for the mid-term
The administration intends to discuss a mid-term policy to be submitted to the Administrative Council meeting of December 2021 for implementation at the end of January 2022, essentially:

A maximum of 80% of the working time for working remotely within the country of employment, of which time a maximum of 60 working days from another EPC contracting state.

The possibility to work remotely 80% of the working time remotely from any other host state (hence among Netherlands, Germany, Austria or Belgium) was not on the table.

The administration explained that:

• the maximum of 80% of the working time was set in order to maximize coverage of teleworking patterns wished by staff according to the Willis Towers Watson survey results and that “extreme cases of full teleworking could not be taken on board”,
• the maximum of 60 working days from another EPC contracting state was set with the aim “to limit issues with the criteria of 6 months in most EPC member states for defining the place of residence if teleworking from another EPC contracting state were combined with other kinds of leave”

The mid-term policy would be optional for opt-in/opt-out (namely on a voluntary basis) and could take effect from January 2022. The administration assured however that the emergency guidelines giving more flexibility for teleworking would be extended “if the pandemic situation requires”. The administration did not specify which authority would be considered for defining the end of the pandemic for the EPO.

_____
1 “Preparation of the first meeting of the Working Group on Teleworking”, Letter of the CSC WG nominees to the President, 22 June 2021 (sc21082cl)


A review of the mid-term policy would take place after 1 or 2 years of implementation and should hence be seen as a “pilot” for comparing staff wishes with their actual behaviour.

Clear rules for opt-in and opt-out fully explaining the consequences?
The administration agreed that clear rules for opt-in and opt-out would be essential for line managers and their staff.

The administration assured that saving on office space and expenditure is not their concern ”in view of the very good results of the Office” and distanced themselves from the policy of the European Commission closing half of its buildings in Brussels2 : “We have no such constraints. Everybody would be free to come to the Office”. The buildings would however need to be organised to ensure that team members coming to the buildings are close together and not isolated as is currently the case: “Those coming frequently would keep their office, those coming less frequently would have to be flexible and won’t have a designated personal office.”

We warned that some line managers were putting pressure on their teleworking team members by threatening them to come back to their office. The administration assured that no arbitrary decision on teleworking should be made by line managers. We requested a fast conflict resolution panel for dealing with situations in which a colleague’s request for opt-in/opt-out is arbitrarily rejected.

Maintaining a sense of belonging in a hybrid environment
The administration explained that the frequency of presence in the Office should be both flexible and match the needs of the teams. Line managers will have to discuss with their team how and when they can meet in the Office on a regular basis. This opportunity will be given by the compulsory 20% of presence at work. Reference was made to the Boards of Appeals who consider that they should constantly be in Munich.

We warned that, if the administration were to impose a compulsory presence of 1 day per week in the Office, it would deter employees from settling far away from their place of employment. Such a frequency should not be left to managerial discretion. The administration rejected such a frequency for the time being and assured to find a sensible solution to the problem. Reference was made to the EU agencies who impose to link teleworking from the home country with annual leave.

Special challenge on health and safety of staff
We explained that teleworking in a virtual environment represents a special challenge for the Office on the health and safety of staff. The administration replied that any actual challenge is rather a consequence of the pandemic and should not be linked to teleworking.

We insisted that our only experience with massive teleworking may indeed be linked to the pandemic but the challenge after the pandemic should not be underestimated.

2. Content and outcome of consultation

Expectations management
The Willis Towers Watson survey proposed 5 teleworking scenarios one of them consisting of full teleworking from any EPC member state. Staff therefore expected that the mid-term policy would offer this possibility and some even started to sell their house and move to another EPC member state.

_____
2 https://www.politico.eu/article/european-commission-to-close-half-of-its-buildings-as-teleworking-
becomes-the-new-norm/


The administration replied that “such a decision is a major step and a pre-emptive action [...] it is not a smart way to put the Office in a situation where it is then asked to help”.

Consultation of member states
As announced in the report on the Administrative Council meeting of June, “[s]everal delegations [...] expressed caution over the scope for working from another member state” in particular the host states of Germany, the Netherlands and Austria.

The administration replied that the corresponding Ministries of Foreign Affairs were contacted and actually have no issues with the proposals: “there was a problem with the communication flow between the ministries and the delegates [...] this is beyond the reach of the Office”

The administration explained that DG5 is in discussion with Member States to clarify concerns on the length of stay in a country and taxation: “in most EPC contracting states a criteria of 6 months is used to determine the place of residence [...] a staff member may be considered to be resident in that other EPC contracting state and may lose some privileges.” The administration made it clear that “teleworking is a shared responsibility between the employee and the Office [...] the Office cannot take control of what staff does and just has the duty to inform staff about the rules applying in the country from which they telework”.

A new survey?
After almost 2 years of “emergency” teleworking, staff may have changed their perception of teleworking. We thus requested a new survey to obtain adequate feedback from staff on the now proposed mid-term policy. The results would help the Office to know whether the assumption of an average of 50% daily building occupancy is realistic (CA/38/21, pages 32, 33 and 35).

The administration rejected our request for a new survey and argued that “surveys can create confusion”. We consider that this is indeed the case only for surveys which ask an opinion on an offer (like full teleworking) which is thereafter not on the table anymore. The administration only accepted to consider the possibility of a new survey in 1 or 2 years at the stage of reviewing the mid-term teleworking policy.

For the time being, the administration invited us to give feedback from staff. We pointed out the inherent contradiction of this invitation in view of the fact that staff representation still has no access to mass-emails for this purpose. The Working Group on Resources for Staff Committee is still waiting for the revised Circular 356 with a “Memorandum of Understanding on mass-emails” which was promised for June.

3. Overview of the savings made by the Office under the “emergency” teleworking guidelines

On buildings
The “emergency” teleworking guidelines put in place on March 2020 in view of the pandemic together with a building occupancy rate capped at 15% significantly increased the number of staff members working from home (80% on average per day) compared to the Part-Time Home Working Scheme (13% on average per day). We referred to our letter pointing out that this led to significant savings made by the Office.

The administration argued it had a look at the figures and concluded that: “Part-Time Home Working did not bring real savings, the savings made now were solely due to the pandemic and they were even less than expected”.


Management referred to air conditioning which needs to be continuously switched on (to reduce potential virus concentration) regardless of the building occupancy and argued that there was an increase of expenditure in IT equipment and facility management.

In their view, no savings (or small savings only) are foreseen with the mid-term policy because all staff members may work from their office if they wish so. Along this line, the administration assured that no building would be sold and therefore the maintenance costs of these need to be considered into the calculation. In addition, this would be the most generous teleworking scheme among international organisations. Therefore, no compensation for staff working from home can be considered.

On sick leave
We argued that savings due to facility costs is only one aspect, savings due to increased production and reduced absenteeism cannot be neglected either. We cited as an example that sick leave decreased because staff does not register sickness if they work from home. This has a positive impact on both the office savings in general and our medical self-insurance.

Management again linked it to the pandemic (e.g. postponement of treatment) and pretended that PTHW had a minimal impact on sick leave registration. In their view, 2020 and 2021 are exceptional years which are not comparable.

On canteens
We requested a compensation for the unused subsidies caused by the closure of the canteens. The administration said it found “astonishing that EPO colleagues organize a crowdfunding action for a service provider whose employees are still employed3, but those EPO colleagues are not willing to pay one Euro more to ensure better food or working conditions to those employees [...] we don’t want to compensate cent for cent – this exercise would bring us nowhere.” (sic!)

The administration then closed the debate by replying clearly that: “teleworking is an offer to colleagues to work from where they work best [...] it is the employee’s decision and thus the employee shall entail the costs”.

4. Follow-up
For the next meeting foreseen in September, we expect the administration to provide us with a draft circular for a mid-term teleworking scheme.

The CSC nominees in the Working Group on Teleworking

_____________
3 To our knowledge, a majority of Genusszeit employees are either unemployed or under Kurzarbeit. The situation is worse for Leonardi employees who are mostly unemployed

The number of lies from Office management is astounding (and of very shallow/low quality). How can they look at staff with a straight face?

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