CA Dossier: Is the current situation sustainable?

As mentioned in our communication sent at the beginning of April, Generation 2004 is disappointed by the outcome of the Conciliation meeting that took place on 6 April to discuss the General Implementing Rules of the Staff Regulations for Contract Agents. You might wonder why we give so much importance to these negotiations. After all, one could argue that they are only about implementing rules, not about the future of the EU civil service. However, we do see a direct link here, because we sense this is part of a silent revolution that replaces more and more permanent officials with Contract Agents so that according to our estimates by 2030 non-permanent staff with precarious contracts will represent more than half of all the staff of the institutions. The most striking data about this creeping change come from the annual reports of our sickness scheme (the latest one covering the year 2015 – available on demand).

Figure: Proportion of CA and EP assistants among the staff of the EU institutions. In 2015, this ratio reached 30%.

This constant rise in the number of CAs (EP assistants are lumped together with CAs as “non-establishment plan” staff in the sickness insurance reports, but their number is relatively small compared to the number of CAs so the curve above essentially reflects the rise in the number of CAs) is a direct consequence of the 2004 reform of the Staff Regulations that introduced the CA category of staff. The data from the health insurance scheme are confirmed by a qualitative analysis of recent recruitments: we reckon that about 80% of all new recruits in the recent past have been precarious CA3bs!

What will happen if the current trends continue? Not taking into account the first 2 years, 2004 and 2005, which obviously are transitional years, one sees that in 10 years, the proportion of non-establishment plan posts went up from 15% to 30%. Most of them are non-permanent staff since in agencies indefinite duration contracts can come to an end if the Agency is wound up or closed. Extrapolating this trend, one can anticipate that non-permanent staff will represent more than half of all the staff of the institutions sometime between 2025 and 2030. This is a conservative estimate since TAs, not shown in the graph above, often are non-permanent staff too (TAs in EU decentralised agencies do have some degree of permanency but in other institutions, they usually don’t). The direct consequence of this massive change in the staff distribution is that the “social contributions” to our health care system, but also arguably to our pension scheme, are going to radically change in the medium term: Well paid permanent officials will be replaced by more or less precarious staff paid a fraction of what permanent officials are currently paid. All this in a context of an ageing population of pensioners who will presumably draw more and more on the resources of our health insurance scheme. You can thus expect some difficulties with the health insurance to kick-in soon.

Moreover, the shift towards more precarious staff will imply a radical change in the culture of the institutions: less continuity and long-term planning, more bureaucracy in the form of hand-over files and provisions to ensure business continuity despite the staffing discontinuities.

Generation 2004’s position is that this silent revolution is a non-sense: permanent tasks must be carried out by permanent staff. This position is that of several Member States. Spain, for instance, is now releasing the pressure on precarious staff, the so-called “interinos”. The government of Mariano Rajoy, not known for its high level of interest in social issues, is putting in place a plan to reduce the number of precarious staff in the Spanish public service to below 10% (see for instance here). To be compared with the figure of 30% of non-permanent staff in the EU institutions! In the Spanish plan, open competitions will be organised in order to hire 280.000 officials. It is worth mentioning that this will be a zero-sum exercise (in terms of unemployment and budget). How? The large majority of these new officials will be taken from the huge army of precarious staff, as their prior experience and knowledge will be taken into consideration in the notice of competition (Dear DG HR: does it ring a bell? Talent management?). The recruitments will largely be paid from the savings achieved through contained increase in salaries for the best-paid staff (Dear Unions, does it ring a huge bell? 2004 reform? Equal job for equal pay?). What all Spanish unions have agreed upon is that whatever the cuts, they will have to be paid by everybody, without creating underpaid categories. The European Commission is going in the exact opposite direction, continuing to create and expand different layers of underprivileged underclasses in its civil service.

This brings us back to the issue of the General Implementing Rules for Contract Agents. One way to stop the social dumping currently taking place in the institutions is to improve the conditions of Contract Agents. The institutions will have reduced incentives to replace permanent officials by CAs, if CAs’ salaries and working conditions are brought up to a decent level. This is why Generation 2004 thinks that the negotiations on the General Implementing Rules for CA were important and why Generation 2004 is deeply disappointed that DG HR refused to change course during the negotiations.

We may have lost another fight for more sensible and equitable rules, but the battle is not over. It is highly probable that, using Brexit as an excuse, another “reform” of the Staff Regulations will take place soon. Let’s insist on concrete proposals to improve employment conditions for CAs in the next Staff Regulations. As a starting point, we propose that the next Staff Regulations should enshrine the principle of equal pay for equal work. In a recent survey of its members carried out by Generation 2004, the principle of equal pay for equal work came out as the top priority. Moreover, the survey confirmed that our members still insist on reducing the salary gap between pre and post-2004 staff, in full agreement with the equal pay for equal work principle. Obviously, this principle covers the many CAs who carry out the same tasks as permanent officials and who are also victims of the discriminations introduced by the 2004 reform of the Staff Regulations.

Interestingly, the Commission has also recently put forward the principle of equal pay for equal work in its recent communication on a social pillar for the EU in the context of gender equality. Generation 2004 believes that the Commission cannot preach one thing to the MS and do the opposite to its work force. It must enshrine this principle in the Staff Regulations (see also the equal-pay day article at the end of this newsletter)!

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