Bonum Certa Men Certa

The EPO's Central Staff Committee (CSC) on New Ways of Working (NWoW) and “Bringing Teams Together” (BTT)

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Apr 24, 2024

New Ways of Working

THE Central Staff Committee (CSC) of the EPO has sent a report. It was sent out around yesterday afternoon (or less than a day ago). It mentions a notorious programme of António Campinos - one with controversial legal basis, much like the UPC, which is basically an illegal kangaroo court (there are new comments to that effect this week at IP Kat; they try to bypass real patent courts in order to allow all sorts of illegal patents, including European software patents). Of course Annsley Merelle Ward is still shilling the same illegalities that she did at Bristows, but that's a story for another day...

For those who don't know what the programme is (or does), consider reading prior coverage or even some concise memes [1, 2]. It's just another attack on EPO workers. If you attack the workers, you attack the workers' work; in due course, the work will fail to meet basic standards and workers will abandon the Office. This is why we end up with so many fake patents and illegal kangaroo courts made to tolerate this.

The latest publication about the programme was introduced to staff in the following message:

Dear Colleagues,

The Office will present a New Ways of Working document to the Administrative Council in June. The Central Staff Committee (CSC) published [reproduced here] mid-March 2024 an overview of the administration’s plan to transform the New Ways of Working pilot into a permanent scheme. An open letter [reproduced here] followed on 5 April 2024 raising questions and forwarding proposals on the topic. The first two of a row of technical meetings between the administration and the staff representation took place on 10 and 18 April 2024.

This paper reports on the discussions.

The Central Staff Committee - CSC

Here is the text of the paper:

Zentraler Personalausschuss
Central Staff Committee
Le Comité Central du Personnel

Munich, 23.04.2024
sc24024cp

Report on the first and second technical meetings on New Ways of Working

The Office will present a New Ways of Working document to the Administrative Council in June. The Central Staff Committee (CSC) published1 mid-March 2024 an overview of the administration’s plan to transform the New Ways of Working pilot into a permanent scheme. An open letter2 followed on 5 April 2024 raising questions and forwarding proposals on the topic. The first two of a row of technical meetings between the administration and the staff representation took place on 10 and 18 April 2024. This paper reports on the discussions.

First technical meeting of 10 April 2024

The administration provided a copy of the “New Ways of Working Intermediate Report” which was part of the “Presentation given at the 178th Administration Council meeting on Office’s activities report” (CA/30/24) (slides 31 to 42). As the presentation was essentially tailored for the Administrative Council, we refrained from discussing the slides on productivity and quality but asked for more detailed information and data on the usage of New Ways of Working (NWoW) before the second technical meeting to prepare the discussions.

In particular, we questioned, whether the decrease of part-time work and parental leave during the New Ways of Working pilot (slide 36/42) coincided with the policy observed in several units (e.g. DG1) discouraging or disallowing staff from taking parental leave, family leave, or part-time, and with part-timers being requested to return to full-time (see CSC paper3 of 15 February 2024). The administration answered that HR was not enforcing any policy to reduce the freedom of staff.

We also recalled that the project “Bringing Teams Together” caused dissatisfaction among staff who were deprived of an “allocated workplace” and forced to use a “workplace-for-the-day”. The administration re-confirmed that staff members intending to come to the office three days or more per week would be granted an “allocated workplace”.

The administration was not yet in the position to comment on the letter sent by the CSC on 5 April. They however announced that they were considering to broaden the scope of the pro-rata calculation for the minimum attendance.

Second Technical Meeting of 18 April 2024

Only during the meeting, the administration provided us with explanations and some figures as requested during the first meeting. They also referred to the presentation of the staff survey results. We were unfortunately not provided with any data in written form which would have rendered the meeting more efficient.

______

1 "New Ways of Working: From pilot to permanent?", CSC paper of 14-04-2024 (sc24015cp)

2 “Technical meetings on New Ways of Working – Kick off”, CSC letter of 05-04-2024 (sc24020cl)

3 "Capacity push for 2024 More work for less staff", CSC paper of 15-02-2024 (sc24012cp)


We will still need to be provided with the detailed data on the usage of the NWoW and the full survey results to draw conclusions from it. There were, however, some interesting aspects. Almost a quarter of all colleagues have only spent the mandatory 60 days in the office. Only about 4% of our colleagues have used, to full capacity, the 60 days working from abroad. For younger the colleagues, a larger number have made use of teleworking from abroad. The administration also reported that there are currently 135 cross-site teams out of 638 teams in the Office, and that 80 staff members are physically located at a different site than all the rest of their team.

The remaining time of the meeting, we received first reactions to the CSC letter of 5 April.

On teleworking from abroad and minimum attendance

In the Working Group meeting, we repeated our request to be provided with a copy of the legal assessment, which had been used back in 2021 to justify the limitation to 60 days of teleworking from abroad due to taxation and social security issues. The administration unfortunately was not prepared to share the legal assessment with us and replied that a legal assessment was privileged information, and that no legal assessment could anyway guarantee that there would be no risk.

The administration confirmed that the President had the possibility to grant exceptions on the quotas of teleworking from abroad and minimum attendance. They, however, saw no need to amend the regulations to that respect. We noted that a first benchmark among other International Organisations showed that some have codified in their regulations the possibility of exceptions. We maintained our request that for EPO staff to be informed that exceptions were possible, the Circular should reflect this and therefore be amended accordingly.

The discussions then focussed on the minimum attendance. Currently, the Office follows a pro-rata calculation of the minimum attendance for part-timers (Article 4(2)). The administration explained that they were open to broaden the pro-rata approach to other situations. For instance, for newcomers entering the Office in the middle of the year or colleagues retiring in the course of a year. We welcomed this approach but explained that full-time sick leave was not considered when re- calculating the minimum attendance, while reduced working time for sickness reason was. We requested that the pro-rata approach should be applied to all types of leaves such as sick leave, maternity leave, adoption leave, parental leave, unpaid leave, etc.

On occupational health accidents

The administration mentioned that despite massive teleworking there had been very few cases of accidents reported, which had occurred while teleworking and that they did not see the need to change the regulation. We insisted on the importance of a legally sound scheme, and recalled that this aspect was already a point of contention at the time of the start of the pilot. In our view, no distinction should be made with regards to occupational accidents for colleagues working in the office or teleworking, and that the topic should be re-discussed in the COHSEC.

On costs borne by the employee vs savings made by the Office

The administration argued that the huge savings on office space, canteens etc. had to be set off with the huge investments, which the Office made during the Covid pandemic to provide staff at home with chairs, screens and desks, and also with the significant maintenance costs for the VPN connection. We requested to be provided with the calculation of all savings and extra costs so far. The administration declined our request and replied that the “New Ways of Working” were about flexibility and not about saving costs. We reminded them that the provision of working equipment at home had taken place to ensure business continuity when staff was forced to work from home during the pandemic.


The administration re-confirmed, on our request, that staff members intending to come to the office three days or more per week would be granted an allocated workplace.

On line manager responsibilities vs employee rights

We reported on cases where line managers were withdrawing or at least threatening to withdraw teleworking (from abroad) if the performance was considered too low.

The administration argued that line managers should be consulting HR before revoking teleworking and that this provision ensured protection against line manager arbitrariness. The administration also explained that only few cases were escalated to HR, where the line manager and the employee had disagreed, and that the number of management reviews was limited.

In our view, the timeframe of a management review is inapt for conflicts such as a refusal of a request to telework from abroad, and we re-iterated our request to set up a fast conflict resolution panel for such cases and to provide our colleagues with the necessary safeguards against e.g. withdrawals at short notice.

What next?

A third technical meeting is foreseen on 24 April. We will continue to discuss the remaining points of the CSC letter (right to disconnect and virtual/physical transfers) and intend to follow-up on some discussions which we have already initiated, taking into account the data provided and the available survey results.

The Central Staff Committee

Well, 24 April is today, so there will probably be a follow-up.

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