All at home! Will the Commission (again) close buildings?

*Update 10.05.2023 closing buildings announced as a great success success, but the figures are incomplete.**Update 14.12.2022 many buildings will be closed between Christmas and New Year. Here is a list. Here is  how to find and book a desk.* *Here’s our 30.11.2022 note to HR asking (again!) that the lump sum be paid.* Original article: In August 2022 we asked whether working from home could really be considered voluntary, given the general reduction in office space across the Commission and the closure of many buildings for several weeks over the summer as part of the Buildings Energy Saving Together (BEST) Action. Well we can now add to that list  the plan to lower temperatures in the buildings still in use. BEST was to save energy by powering down ventilation and air conditioning. The staff normally based in these ‘volunteered’ buildings (again, who volunteers each building?) could either telework 100% from the place of employment or find a desk in another building. We repeatedly asked for details on provision made for staff with specialist equipment e.g. those with disabilities or additional needs, but received no clear response on this other than that staff can work from home.

BEST-volunteered buildings

  • Brussels:
    • L-56 (Directorate-General for Communication (DG COMM))
    • J79 (DG Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD))
    • COV2 (Executives Agencies)
    • G-12 (DG Translation (DGT))
    • SPA2 (European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) and DG Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union (DG FISMA))
    • CCAB (DG Interpretation (DG SCIC))
    • W-910 (European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA))
  • Luxembourg:
    • LACC (DGT)

However, this initiative was neither shared nor discussed with staff-representative counterparts: the Central Staff Committee (CSC), Local Staff Committees (LSCs) (Luxembourg and Brussels) and the joint committees dealing with all matters of health and safety at work (CPPT (Brussels)/CSHT (Luxembourg)). Furthermore, in its reply to the corresponding CSC note, the administration points out that:

‘… this summer’s closures should be considered as a pilot-project. Building on this, further closures are to be expected in the future’.[1]

Will the Commission (again) close buildings? Yes, and lower °C in buildings in use

More specifically, it seems that even more buildings could be closed up to and including winter months, either for uninterrupted periods or for a number of days every week.

‘Looking ahead, the Commission will further decrease its own consumption … Other avenues will be explored such as making more efficient use of our buildings. This will allow the institution to further decrease the overall number of buildings to be heated or cooled.​’ (Save gas for a safe winter)

An email sent to staff on 28 September and signed by Ms Ingestad and Mr Becquet confirms a number of measures to reduce costs, especially those linked to gas consumption, e.g. the reduction of minimum temperature to 19°C in Commission buildings in Belgium (but not in Luxembourg, where the legal minimum is 20°C! And what about other sites?[2]). The heating will be turned on at 8 am and off at 5 pm – tough luck if you come early to the office or have to work late! Jokes apart, we will remain vigilant that the applicable norms are respected at all times, and that during the working hours established by the working time and hybrid working (WTHW) decision (Article 5) temperatures do not fall below the set minimum, in order to safeguard the health and safety of staff. It is in fact possible that in winter after 5pm, without heating, temperatures fall below 19°C. What if staff have to work until 7pm, and it gets to 16°C in the office?

We ask the administration to constantly monitor the situation and regularly report to the relevant bodies (CSC, LSCs, CCPT/CHST), and above all avoid any hazard for the health of staff.  We also fully agree with the corresponding questions asked by our colleagues in the European Parliament (12.10.2022):

  1. If the  heating is off from Friday 5pm how to ensure that on Monday at 9am the building meets the 19°C (20°C Luxembourg) minimum?
  2. Have you tested and confirmed that this is doable?
  3. Why not allow staff to work more from home, particularly at these times?
  4. What preventive and protective measures are set out for those who have to work while the building is below the minimum temperature, e.g. evenings and weekends?

Meanwhile, tests are already ongoing in some buildings concerning the reduction of temperatures, without duly informing the staff, their representatives in the staff committees (local and central) and the CPPT/CSHT. If you are feeling cold in the office, that might be the reason!

No personal heaters in offices

The Office for Infrastructure and Logistics in Brussels (OIB) warned that they will check the buildings to make sure staff are not using electrical heaters to compensate for the decreased temperatures. Given the evacuation of the BECH building in Luxembourg 07.10.2022 due to a kettle, OIL took the opportunity to remind staff of the rules on appliances:

‘In order to avoid this type of incident in the future, OIL reminds you that it is forbidden to use your own kettle / coffee makers or any other household appliances without formal authorisation from OIL.SST. In addition, household appliances should never be left alone while operating.’ (OIL email, 07.10.2022)

‘it is FORBIDDEN … to bring and use personal kettles/coffee machines or other household appliances without formal authorisation from the OIL SST OIL’ (p.10 HR, Your health, safety & well-being at work European Commission – Luxembourg)

What’s the next stage in the pilot project?

What testing, changes or (further) modifications are envisaged?[3] Generation 2004 asked to receive specific and complete information on the buildings that might be closed in the context of a so-called winter plan[4] to reduce energy costs and the specific measures for each phase of this plan, together with an impact assessment on the DGs involved in terms of specific jobs and of staff health and security, including mental-health (‘psychosocial’) risks. How will this project be evaluated? What are the criteria for success? We raised these issues in all possible forums and specifically questioned the OIB both in LSC and CPPT meetings.

While Generation 2004 is very well aware of the need to reduce energy consumption and welcomes initiatives in this sense, it appears that in summer in most cases staff were informed only at the last minute that their building would be closed, and every DG followed a different procedure. In some cases, the CSC was not even consulted, in breach of the provisions of the WTHW decision :

‘At the request of a Directorate-General or Service and after consulting the Staff Committee, DG HR may, for duly justified reasons, authorise telework for an extensive and uninterrupted period of time for all or part of a service or department.’ (Article 12.1, WTHW)

Generation 2004 calls on the administration to inform colleagues well in advance to allow for the necessary organisation at both professional and personal level and to consult the committees involved in the process in due time, by providing the necessary data and documents in a timely fashion. The staff committees (local and central) and the health and safety committees must always be duly consulted and provided with timely and complete information on all matters related to staff housing conditions and health and safety at work.

Why not make use of the available tools?

Additionally, Generation 2004 requests once more that the administration allow for more teleworking, including from abroad, to help staff better cope with this unprecedented ongoing pandemic situation: the links between mental and physical health are well documented.

‘Recently, the prevalence of loneliness has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated contact restrictions, such that the number of EU citizens feeling lonely more than half of the time has doubled to 25% (Baarck et al., 2021).’ The relationship between loneliness and health, JRC)

We also ask that the Commission give the lump sum provided for (but as yet unseen) in Article 13(4) WTHW at least to staff with low salaries to make some contribution to the skyrocketing costs of telework at a time when inflation is at its highest level in decades.

In fact, if the Commission needs to reduce its energy costs, and especially those linked to gas, because of the abnormal price increases seen in recent months, the same also applies to staff, and as usual those with lower incomes and more precarious contracts are affected the most. We know that many cannot afford to pay for a large flat or house where they could set up a proper office, or cannot afford to buy the same ergonomic furniture we enjoy at the workplace. With bills going through the roof, these colleagues will experience even more hardship and some might prefer to use their right to work in Commission premises to try and keep their energy expenditure under control.

‘… teleworking shall be performed on a voluntary basis and staff shall have the right to come to the office every day without prior authorisation, including when they are authorised to telework.’ (WTHW, Article 9(3))

Tell us your experience!

What do you think about the measures announced by the Commission to cut costs? Are you ready to work in other buildings – wherever workstations are available – if your building is closed? Are you having problems with the lower temperature in the workplace, as the air starts to get chilly outside?

How will you cope with sharp increases in energy bills? Will you go back to the office more often to keep utility bills under control or will you keep teleworking to reduce commuting costs?

Let us know what you think and what your plans are or make suggestions to face a cold winter with increasing energy costs (not only for the Commission, but also for staff at home!)

Are any of you who are able to work from home choosing to work 100% in the office? Are there any difficulties with this? Do you leave your laptop at work? Please share your experience! We will raise your points in the new WTHW committee.

As always, we would love to hear from you. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us or leave a comment below.

If you appreciate our work, please consider becoming a member of Generation 2004.

[1] Be wary of the word ‘pilot’ as used in the Commission. This word should normally be used for a programme or project that is still in a trial phase, but it was used erroneously to describe the Junior Professionals Programme (JPP) in all 9 of its (largely unchanged) editions and still after the  decision to make the programme permanent post-JPP5.

With this current building-closure/energy-consumption project, unfortunately, we are seeing the differences between the editions, at the expense of Commission staff.

[2] The Commission’s own Manuel des conditions d’hébergement (2e partie) (Section 1.1.2) (in FR only) specifies 20°C as the minimum temperature.

[3] Here’s a list of Commission buildings in Brussels and Luxembourg: which are likely to be volunteered next? The stages of the pilot project so far

  1. BEST (summer 2022):
    • close buildings to reduce energy consumption
  2. Save gas for winter (post-summer 2022):
    • close buildings to reduce energy consumption
    • reduce temperatures in still-in-use buildings
  3. The next stage in the pilot project
    • close buildings to reduce energy consumption
    • reduce temperatures in still-in-use buildings
    • ?

[4] Note that this project shows no sign of being specific to winter nor to a specific winter. The plan is about reducing consumption from now on, with no given end date. Here’s that quote again:

‘Looking ahead, the Commission will further decrease its own consumption … Other avenues will be explored such as making more efficient use of our buildings. This will allow the institution to further decrease the overall number of buildings to be heated or cooled.​’ (Save gas for a safe winter)

Leave a Reply