Assistants (ASTs) FAQs

Here is the presentation from today’s meeting with assistants (ASTs)  and below you’ll find an extended version of a frequently asked questions (FAQs) based on the questions asked.

If there’s something here you can add to, you’d like more information on or that you’d like to challenge (we’re open to all input!) then please get in touch: we’re here for you !  Thanks very much to all who attended!

Feel free to ctrl+f and search for keywords, you don’t have to read the whole thing !

Role/function group

  1. Where can I find which tasks belong to which function groups?
  • All
    • European Court of Auditors, 2020,Special Report 23/2020: The European Personnel Selection Office: Time to adapt the selection process to changing recruitment needs. Indicative tasks p.45
    • European Court of Auditors, 2019, Special report no 15/2019: Implementation of the 2014 staff reform package at the Commission – Big savings but not without consequences for staff. Indicative tasks p.50
    • Vacancies>Actions>View vacancies (right hand menu) Check out those descriptions and keywords.
  • Assistants (ASTs) and secretaries and clerks (AST/SC)
    • Staff Regulation Annex ITypes of posts in each function group, as provided for in Article 5(4)
  • Administrators (ADs)
    • Official Journal C177A 05.2019 NOTICE OF OPEN COMPETITION EPSO/AD/373/19 — ADMINISTRATORS (AD 5) p.9
    • From sysperII appraisal certification tab
      • Strategic analysis
      • Policy analysis
      • Economic analysis
      • Policy development
      • Personnel policy planning
      • Policy monitoring
      • Policy coordination
      • Managing legislation
      • Representation and negotiation
      • Project /process management
      • IT service management
      • Technical analysis and advice
      • Management and planning
      • Human resources management
      • Internal coordination and consultation
      • Inter-service coordination and consultation
      • Horizontal coordination
      • Information, communication, publications
      • External communication
      • Internal communication: drafting of information reports and design of information meetings (for unit members, management, Commission members, etc.).
  1. Are AST and AST/SC in the same function group?

No, while they share part of a name (‘AST’) they are completely separate. There are 3 function groups: AD, AST and AST/SC.

  1. So, indeed where is the main difference between AST/SC and the rest of Assistants ?

Tasks (see below, though, as with ASTs this is often not so strict in practice), certification (exclusively for ASTs), salary,  promotion speed, career perspectives (the top of the scale is AST11 and AST/SC6 respectively) and (see question 30) since this function group was created in 2014, AST/SCs accrue  pension rights at the lowest rate (1.8%).

  1. Can you move to a different function group?

AD: where would they go?

AST: yes, you can do an EPSO competition or go for certification to become AD.

AST/SC: yes, via EPSO competition (to become AD or AST), there is NO certification or equivalent.

  1. Can an AST/SC who reaches the top of the scale (AST/SC6, roughly equivalent to AST5) move to a an AST6 role?

No, see question 4, movement between function groups is via competition (or, for ASTs only, certification).

Mismatch between function groups/tasks

  1. Can ASTs find themselves doing administrator (AD) work?
  • Yes, this happens and the only place for it to be recognised/compensated is via the promotions system. There the criteria are for promotion are:
    • merit (how good your career development review (CDR) reports) are
    • languages used at work
    • responsibility (especially for people or money)
  • Yes, in the certification process your line manager has to estimate how much of your time is dedicated to AD tasks. From sysperII certification tab (visible only from AST5 onwards):
    • Has the Jobholder performed tasks belonging to the administrators’ function group?
    • Please state which tasks were performed by referring to the list of tasks mainly carried out by administrators
    • Proportion of Jobholder’s activity devoted to the tasks (as a %)
    • Quality of the Jobholder’s performance in carrying out these tasks
    • Do you consider that the jobholder has the potential to become an administrator ?
    • If so, on which occasions?
  1. Can ASTs find themselves doing AST/SC work?

Yes, we all do some. This is not an issue unless the role is reclassified as an AST/SC role.

i.e. an AST/SC staff member is recruited via an AST/SC competition, while an AST ‘in transition’ (see qustion 13) can occupy an (enforced) AST/SC position.

  1. So an AST might do tasks from all different groups?

From meeting : Most AST vacancies published are secretary/administrative assistant/ IT/statistics. Very little policy/programme. Even when policy/programme vacancies are published the vacancies and/or job descriptions include typically secretarial tasks – ARES, filing/eDomec, even mentioning back-up to secretariat.

Not mentioned in the meeting, but important to note: taken to an extreme,  this can fall within the definition of bullying/harassment: ‘not being allocated any task corresponding to the job description or systematically being given tasks which do not meet their profile’ (MyIntracomm)

  1. Can an AST become an AST/SC?

No, see question 4, we do not move down the function groups:  it is not the person who changes function group. Often it is the role that changes function group.

  1. Roles can change function group?

Yes, they can and do: why pay an AD for something you can get an AST or an AST/SC to do? A Generation 2004 member has opened an official complaint with regards to a job which jumped down the function groups until it became an AST/SC role with almost no change in the job description!

Mentioned in the meeting: some of the competitions are AST level for a job that should be AD (e.g. AST3 for buildings, where you have engineers and architects, with a masters degree). This can lead, understandably, to difficulties with recruitment.

What is a little less normal is that the role changes function group while it is still occupied. But on 01.01.2014 this happened to many ASTs with no big announcement, it was a little opaque: see question

  1. Where can I check the my function group detail?
    • My function group: sysperII>career history>career summary: Type of post of person: Assistant in transition
    • My job’s function group: sysperII>job>job description:e.g. Position: ASSISTANT or AST/SC (see question 12)
  1. What happens if my job function is AST/SC and I am an AST?

HR says that it changes nothing: ‘Promotion is the result of a comparison of merit, and account must be taken of the responsibilities held (the new wording of Article 45 of the Staff Regulations). The fact that certain posts have been designated AST S/C does not in any way alter the situation that existed before 1/1/2014 (the job description “position” was already in place and the jobholders are still doing the same job with the same level of responsibility). Therefore, the fact of having designated certain posts AST S/C changes absolutely nothing as far as an analysis of comparative merit is concerned.’ (AST S/C posts)

We have heard of colleagues finding it difficult to show their merit in the CDR (question 6) we wonder whether this will impact certification application (question 6) and we are also aware of how this reduces the pool of AST vacancies and of how some people are stuck.

  1. Being an AST in an AST/SC posts means you can be promoted up to AST grade 6 and not to AST 7 grade, right?

No, you are an AST as normal and can progess to AST9, unless you are were recruited pre-2004 as C secretaries and clerks  Or D those carrying out manual roles e.g. ushers or drivers. Those groups are limited:  ex-C (AST 1-7) ex-D (AST 1-5). Check out the section ‘Words versus action’ section in Stated aims and reality: AST/SC for more details. The role remains AST/SC.

  1. If you are AST and not AST/SC and you get to AST6 grade and you are on AST/SC post and you wish to be promoted to AST7 then you need to move to AST post, right?

This should be the same answer as question 13, but if any of you have experience of this happening then please get in touch!

Also, the top of the AST/SC scale is AST/SC6 which corresponds (roughly) to AST5, why would there be a limit of AST6?

  1. How you move from AST6 to AST7? They could at least organise a sort of ‘internal contest’?

This should happen via standard promotion after an average of 4 years. Please let us know if this is not what you are seeing.

  1. I did AST1 competition in 2008 and now on AST/SC post. until which level can I be promoted?

This should be the same answer as question 13, but if any of you have experience of this happening then please get in touch! Look at the promotion speed: it might take a long time for you to hit the AST9 limit.

  1. AST/SCs are bloced at AST/SC 6, ASTs in transition are blocked at AST 7, ASTs are blocked at AST 9, right ?

Yes, the AST/SC scale stops at AST/SC6. ASTs (all of them except ex-C and ex-D) are limited to AST9 unless they find a way to become a senior assistant.

But, all pre-2014 ASTs are ‘in transition’ and weI am unable to find a limit of AST7, have any of you heard of this? We find no evidence of this, please send us details.

Transition

  1. What is ‘in transition’?

With the 2014 Staff Regulations reform, the Commission relabelled all AST staff recruited pre 1.1.2014 as ‘in transition’ (this is an exceptionally opaque term: in transition to where?) as part of a project to identify and reseparate what HR considers to be secretary and clerk roles (pre-2004 this was function group C).

  1. Does it matter that I am in transition?

HR says it makes no difference, but then why do it?

‘.. the designation of the post has no impact on the designation of the function group of the person occupying it. The Commission considered that this approach would allow transparent management of posts without any negative consequences for staff.’ (AST S/C posts)

  1. How do I leave transition?

You have to change job through a formal recruitment process. If there is no formal process then this is ‘cuisine interne’ and you remain in transition.

Attestation/certification

  1. What is attestation ?

This was a now-obsolete way for pre-2004 staff  in C and D function groups to change function group. It was replaced by certification

  1. What is certification?

Certification is a way for AST5 staff to change function group and become ADs.

  1. How many certification places are there and how likely am I to pass ?

It is not set in stone, it is calculated based on how many AD posts are expected to be available. Currently there are 50 places each year, but those in the JRC, for example, do not have the expected success with this process.

The future

  1. The reduction in numbers/gradual phasing out: are they trying to make the AST function group disappear?

The numbers are falling yes, but people are not losing their jobs. HR is using non-replacement of those retiring and non-recruitment of ASTs (see question 10, roles might be relabelled AST/SC). There is no question here of removing the ASTs already recruited.

  1. Overqualified for AST and doing AD tasks : “you did accept the position”, is that all there is ?

We’ve heard that often also, ‘you knew what you signed up for’ : a more constructive approach makes better use of our skills and experience and also improves morale.

‘…62 % [of recently recruited administrator officials] were over 40, which makes it likely that they already had at least 10 years of professional experience when they joined the institutions, more than what is usually required for the grades of the competitions.’ p.19 (Special Report 23/2020) this is for AD ‘entry level’ : this ‘juniorisation’ is visible among ASTs and other function groups too

  1. Internal competitions, why are they restricted to people already in that function group when I meet the criteria ?

There is no good reason to restrict internal competitions by function group.

  1. Why not to abandon AD/AST and open a truly fair and competitive market and career path for everyone?

See question 26, to a certain extent the other institutions (but not the Commission) have done this by openin their internal competitions to anyone who meets the criteria, without function group restrictions.

  1. Why are there so few internal competitions ?

There is no good reason given for this, particularly when we see so many experienced non-permanent staff leave the institutions because they reached the limit.

  1. The limit for non-permanent staff is changing with the new HR strategy, right ?

Yes, this has been suggested, but for us it just makes the problem bigger : those leaving now leave with even more knowledge and experience than before. Hiring ADs externally makes limited use of internal talent, often of staff members who have been working on AD tasks for years. Check out our manifesto where we mention this.

General

  1. Are pension rights changing?

Here is the pension calculation: it changed in 2004 and in 2014 and the staff regulations are due to be reopened in 2024 so the pensions may change again then:

  1. How does this work with the Junior Professionals Programme (JPP)?

The Central Staff Committee has written on this and expressed the frustration from all trade unions and staff associations at this project becoming permanent.

  1. How does the JPP fit with the diversity and inclusion part of the HR strategy ?

This is a good question and worthy of an article on its own. We will check it out.

  1. How many trade unions and staff associations are there ?

Currently 17, here’s a list of all the trade unions and staff associations and links to their webpages

  1. Can I be a member of more than one ?

It is like if you were a member of two political parties. Each have different values and programmes. Therefore, you should only be a member of one union / staff association.

35. How does the staff committee work?

There are 17 trade unions and staff associations (OSPs) [organisations sindicales et professionelles] which stand for election to the 8 local staff committees (LSCs). This is a bit like political parties being elected to regional parliaments. The LSCs then send delegates to the central staff committee (see slide 3 of  this presentation), This is a bit like a national parliament: it covers all sites.

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