Bonum Certa Men Certa

It Took EPO Management 3+ Weeks to Respond to a Letter About an Urgent Problem (Defunding of EPO Staff)

posted by Roy Schestowitz on May 26, 2024

Exchanges with the Administration on the Education Allowance

THE EPO, Europe's second-largest institution, is crushing its own staff illegally. This has gone on for quite some time. According to the following internal post, the António Campinos regime recognises that legal challenges are increasing again. In their own words, in 2023 there were "653 individual appeals" for less than 6,530 staff (so greater than 10%, sans overlaps or duplication). That sounds alarming. Here is what they wrote:

2023: 653 individual appeals

This matter was discussed some days ago in a communication with staff. To quote:

Exchanges with the Administration on the Education Allowance

VP4 answers SUEPO TH on proposals to reduce litigation

Dear SUEPO members, dear Colleagues,

The latest report of the Appeals Committee shows that in the last year the number of filed appeals is again increasing. A good amount of these appeals is a direct consequence of the Childcare & Education Allowance Reform and its implementation. We have warned the Administration several times that spiralling legal cases have the potential to bring the entire legal system to a halt.

Therefore, the SUEPO committee sent this open letter to the Administration pointing out a number of possible amendments to the reimbursement practice of the Education Allowance which could have a positive impact throughout.
We have received the reply of the Office, which can be read here. Please rest assured that SUEPO is keeping a keen eye on the matter. If you have any question or need assistance with the Education Allowance, please do not hesitate to reach out to the SUEPO committee.

Kind regards,
SUEPO The Hague

For transparency's sake we reproduce the open letter below (notice the date):

INTERNATIONALE GEWERKSCHAFT IM EUROPÄISCHEN PATENTAMT
STAFF UNION OF THE EUROPEAN PATENT OFFICE
UNION SYNDICALE DE L'OFFICE EUROPEEN DES BREVETS

Ortssektion Den Haag Local section The Hague Section locale La Haye

Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO)

Rijswijk 20.03.2024
su24003hl – 4.2.2/5.2

Antonio Campinos
PRESIDENT
European Patent Office

Via email only

Cc: employment_law_sec@epo.org, socialdialogue@epo.org

Executive Committee
SUEPO The Hague

Dear Mr President,

We would like to draw your attention to the fact that the introduction of the Education and Childcare reform has led to a proliferation of legal disputes causing strain on staff as well as on the administrative units treating the cases.

Unfortunately, a new round of litigation might be around the corner as the schools are preparing the invoices for the school year 24/25. We are afraid that if the current reimbursement practice is not amended, more and more litigation will inevitably arise. We believe it is in the interest of our organizations to foster a culture of dialogue and consensus wherever possible. We would therefore like to point out a number of feasible amendments to the reimbursement practice which will have a positive impact throughout.

1- Mandatory costs
With the adoption of the new Education and Childcare reform1 the total amount of the school tuition/enrolment fees is not reimbursed, in spite of it being classified as mandatory fees required to attend or enrol the child to the school. This contradicts Circular 411, which precisely describes these kind of costs as being direct and fully refundable according to the adopted ServRegs. Staff is therefore puzzled why certain deductions are being made, in particular in the Hague, thereby worsening an already tense situation.

We have highlighted this oddity several times2 to the Administration, but there still seems to be a misunderstanding on this aspect. The Administration argues that the

_____

1 See CA/D 4/21 and Circular 411 ServRegs

2 A tsunami of legal cases on the horizon, LSCTH, 28.06.2022 ; Education allowance below threshold - Request also ouderbijdrage via the portal, LSCTH, 29.06.2023; Education allowance portal - Instructions - reimbursement tuition fees, LSCTH, 08.06.2023


deducted costs from the tuition fees are linked to extra activities, for instance learning trips, and as such are not reimbursable. We disagree with this interpretation. Notwithstanding that in some cases the nature of the deductions is unclear, learning trips are integral part of the curriculum, and thus of the tuition fees. As a matter of fact, sometimes these learning trips do not even take place and are cancelled by the school for various reasons; e.g. sickness, meteorological conditions etc. Parents have no right to receive a refund if no learning trips eventually take place. It is for these reasons that these expenses are inseparable and embedded in the tuition or enrolment fees of the school.
It is worth noting that the amount of such deductions is in the range of 200 - 1000 Euros per child per year, thus creating meagre savings for the office that are vastly outstripped by the legal costs that they have introduced. Furthermore, as mentioned, the issue seems to be of local nature, penalising again the place of employment most affected by the reform. We believe that the reimbursement of all mandatory tuition/enrolment fees is unmistakably prescribed by the current set of rules, in particular by Article 20 of the transitional measures and by Article 3 of Circular 411.

2- Dutch Schools
Colleagues having their children attending national Dutch schools now face a new change in the reimbursement practice when compared to last year. This year, the reimbursement of the so called “Ouderbijdrage”, which has always been recognised as a direct cost, even under the new framework, has suddenly been revised. Parents are again left with no explanations on this unsupported sudden change in the reimbursement practice. Notably, these types of costs are strictly necessary for the proper running of the Dutch national schools. Schools cannot function without it, parents cannot afford not to pay it without endangering the school finances and community. On this aspect we would like to recall that one of the alleged aims of the reform was to extend benefits to nationals. Ironically the colleagues utilising the national schools are being penalised the most. These fees are often less than 1000 Euros per year, again an amount easily absorbable by the Office finances.

3- Siblings
The latest measure3 of the Office on this topic solved the situation for some families but left behind a handful of colleagues. The logic used to discriminate these few colleagues from receiving the additional benefit, seems cumbersome and illogical. We have, for instance, on one hand staff members eligible for the additional benefits for all of their children and having a salary well above the G10.5 salary threshold and on the other colleagues with a much lower salary being excluded from the additional measure. Again, the cost of including every child in this additional measure is minimal for the Office.

4- European School The Hague (ESH)
The parents at the European school in the Hague are now faced with a cost for the “Lunchtime Supervision” of the primary students during lunchtime. The reform had detailed ESH as a cost free school4. However, the Office had excluded this specific cost from reimbursement. This is at odds with other places of employment as, for instance, precisely this cost is financed (directly or indirectly) to the parents sending their children to the European School in Munich (ESM). The ESH is therefore a

_____

3 Education and childcare reform – Siblings

4 See CA/7/21 (e.g. page 11)


quasi-cost free school for the staff in the Hague. This anomaly should be corrected and the lunchtime supervision costs should therefore be fully refunded.

Conclusion
It is in the interest of all parties to solve these issues once and for all, so that staff can dedicate time to their work without unnecessary extra burden. We also indicate the areas of concern with an aim to relieve the load on the justice system. We therefore request that additional efforts are given to finding an agreeable solution to solve these aspects and restore trust with the staff, in particular in the Hague. We remain available to discuss these matters further.

Sincerely yours,

Isabelle Brandt

On behalf of the Executive Committee of SUEPO The Hague

It then took 3 weeks for the management to respond and it wasn't even the President replying but his under-qualified crony from EUIPO: (at the EPO, managers hire friends to manage, even if they lack the skills needed)

European Patent Office
80298 Munich
Germany

DG4 Corporate Services

Nellie Simon
Vice-President

Tel +49 (0)89 2399 - 4000
nsimon@epo.org

Date: 11.04.2024

Via email only: hague@suepo.org

European Patent Office | 80298 MUNICH | GERMANY

Ms Isabelle Brandt
Executive Committee SUEPO The Hague
Veraartlaan 8
2288 GM Rijswijk (ZH)
The Netherlands

Your letter dated 20 March 2024 concerning litigation on the Education and Childcare Reform

Dear Ms Brandt,

We refer to your letter dated 20 March 2024 concerning some aspects related to the implementation of the Education and Childcare Reform in The Netherlands. We appreciate you bringing these remarks in a constructive spirit and wish to highlight the following points.

A key aim of the education and childcare reform was to maintain high levels of benefits within a scheme designed to be easier to understand and to administrate.

To this end, the Office distinguished between direct education costs (encompassing enrolment, tuition and capital fees) reimbursed based on invoice, and other indirect education-related costs covered by a lump-sum. Hence, indirect costs are not reimbursed by the Office, regardless of whether they are invoiced by a European school, a national or international school. In that context, the Office’s position on the non-reimbursement of the school trips and lunchtime supervision costs has been consistent since the adoption of the reform.

With regards to the so-called “Ouderbijdrage” at Dutch Schools, it is in fact a voluntary parental contribution, covering extra-curricular activities as recently clarified under Dutch law and indicated on the website of the Central Government. Whilst these contributions were initially reimbursed, it has become clear that these contributions are paid voluntarily and thus do not qualify as direct education costs. As from the school year 2023/2024, the policy has been brought in line with the accurate qualification of the contributions.


Finally, the Office has repetitively showed its readiness to consider the situation of families with both older siblings benefitting from transitional measures as well as younger ones who are not. More specifically, the Office adopted a transitional measure of an additional year, considers individual situations of hardship, and broadened the scope of protection by a supplementary measure adopted in April 2023. This last measure alleviates the hardship of certain groups of parents by allowing younger children to benefit from the same support as their elder siblings who attend international schools.

If, despite all the measures taken by the Office to ensure a smooth implementation of the reform, exceptionally a parent would still experience a situation of financial hardship due to the school costs of the sibling, they may contact HR Services for an individual assessment of their situation.

Yours sincerely,

Nellie Simon
Vice-President DG 4
Corporate Services

The funny thing about it is that Nellie Simon expects examiners to work day and night (which is illegal) while she herself takes 3+ weeks to write a 1-page letter (or 1.5 pages) responding to staff representatives. What does she do all day anyway? Photoshoots?

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