EPSO update – the show must go on!

*Update 11.08.2023, September training offered by HR for those who passed written tests.* Original article: Firstly, our EPSO survey is still open: we eagerly await your responses. The more data we have, the clearer the picture we can paint of the exam experience and the more difficult it is to dismiss the evidence as not representative/urban legends/hearsay. Please participate! Now, onto the latest update on the ongoing EPSO issues. The bad news is that nothing has changed so far and everyone who should take action to address the problem has not yet done so. This in spite of the specific actionable issues raised by Generation 2004, all the trade unions and staff associations together (‘Common Front/Front Commun’) as well as the Central Staff Committee. Nevertheless, we do not give up: we continue fighting for your rights and for a robust, fair system that will work, ensure equal opportunities and not push the entire responsibility of known technical failings on the candidates.

What actions did we take?

The Common Front sent a note to the attention of DG Ingestad EPSO competitions issues: urban legend or cruel reality?  (EPSO – European Public Shame Office) copying all Commission staff to inform them and show that we continue to push on this matter. However, we have not yet received a reply from HR. The EPSO Director (in cc of that note) took the liberty to respond. In fact, we are happy to receive this letter as it is providing us with additional information we were not aware about.

From EPSO’s point of view, there were not so many complaints: that is why they decided to cancel the AST/22/154 competition. Let’s pass the responsibility to the EPSO Management Board members that were not satisfied. When someone is just not satisfied the best option is to throw everything out of the window, this time 300 000 EUR of taxpayers money. Retesting for the competition was not an option – apparently this would have been extremely costly and time consuming. What would be then the difference in terms of the costs and time between the option they chose and the one that would allow to retest? This is not mentioned/costed. Although EPSO state that the complaints serve to pave the way for improvement with their contractors, the testimonies and constant denial from the people able to take action on this does not appear to support this promise of learning from these events.

Additionally, we sent a note with additional testimonies to the Ombudsman at the level of Central Staff Committee where we are the driving force behind the EPSO-related activities. The aim was to bring this to the attention of the Ombudsman, even though EPSO claims everything is fine.

Additional evidence and our ongoing survey

Ya Semos Europeos conducted a survey among its clients, focusing on their performance in recent competitions.  The majority of respondents took part in the AD5 and AD6 competitions. A significant number of exam takers successfully completed both the multiple-choice question (MCQ) test and the written test.

The survey reveals that most participants not only met the challenges of these exams but exceeded the pass mark across all categories. This outcome is especially good, considering that according to the preliminary data of our still available EPSO survey, the majority of candidates encountered difficulties during the exams (e.g. technical problems). Respondents who faced difficulties reported, on average, higher levels of stress, suggesting that problems encountered during the exam are a major source of stress for exam takers.

Opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) on remote testing

It is odd that the EPSO Director was not aware of the EDPS opinion issued 5 October 2021 on case 2021-0747 related to data protection, data processing and risk of disclosing sensitive personal data in the context of online recruitment with remote invigilation/proctoring. The EDPS made several recommendations to update the Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) (from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)) and to indicate situations when a candidate should be video recorded.

Since EPSO is undergoing an EDPS audit, we are curious to know what will happen with all the personal data that is stored on the United States servers. We heard the justification that the tester, Prometric, had an office in Ireland, which is a requirement. We know how this works – probably a post box for receiving the framework contract!

On the so-called occasional dysfunctions

If the problems did not exist, nobody would really complain. However, the candidates affected were many and they were vocal. We observe that in public online groups, in the number of complaints we received and by the evidence: look at how many are determined to launch an Article 90(2) complaint and to go to court. Even people that passed the competitions still want to go through this process to ensure justice for the others and for the future, as they find this unacceptable. We would appreciate it if the EPSO stopped downplaying the problems – not calling them ‘urban legends’ or ‘occasional dysfunctions’. These are real issues that have an impact on people. Just try to imagine all those undesirable situations:

  • People having the only opportunity to pass a competition in order not to lose a job within the institutions but then the competition is cancelled and then they are out because by the time the new one is relaunched, their contract will finish.
  • Those that had to lock their kid or pet in the bathroom. If the animal escaped, they were out.
  • Candidates with a disability for whom reasonable accommodation was not made, largely due to poor/non-existent communication between the EPSO and the contractor (e.g. Prometric).
  • People having to wait for several hours (e.g. 6) without any water or food because this was not permitted during the testing/reconnecting each time going through the identification process.
  • A pregnant woman who was not permitted to reschedule because the date given coincided with the estimated dates for giving birth. (Even after such an event, everyone knows, new parents are sleep-deprived and physically exhausted: for the first 2 months they do not even know whether it is day or night! Are they to sit the test in this state?).

The EPSO monologue

Although EPSO insists that it is open to dialogue, to date we faced only a monologue, denial and inability to listen to our concerns. We have never called for preferential treatment for internal candidates, on the contrary, we call for a transparent and equitable process that would give equal opportunities to all candidates: the selection should be based on merit. We represent not only our colleagues in the institutions but also the greater European public out there  that might have a poor opinion of the EU as a whole after this experience. Lastly, to set the record straight: we have never asked for any preferential complaints handling.

Organise a social dialogue

If EPSO wants to make the new model more transparent, fair and inclusive, the staff representatives expect their voice finally to be heard and expect to be invited to a social dialogue: we’ve been requesting a social dialogue on this for several months. The various competitions are barely being discussed in the very same joint committees that are supposed to be consulted on them. No written overview is provided of all ongoing and planned competitions, (this was standard practice in the past) meaning that DG HR and EPSO take decisions without consulting all potential stakeholders and committees.

We do not want to go to too many details but in our opinion Enough is enough!  There are people that are politically appointed to deal with the management of these recruitments and should finally take political responsibility for the demonstrable failures.

The EPSO competitions attract thousands of candidates and remain quite selective. However, if EPSO wants to fulfil its purpose to attract more people, they should first remove barriers instead of adding them (particularly when those barriers do not affect everyone evenly) at the recruitment stage. Soon the institutions will face a huge wave of retirements[1], not mentioning that there are difficulties in attracting candidates from many Member States since the institutions are just not attractive enough as a potential employer. EPSO should listen to the evidence and to those who have worked with candidates in difficulty. We encourage you to complaint if you encounter any irregularities!

  1. Ask EPSO for a review (here’s a previous one to give you an idea of how)
  2. Appeal a negative decision
  3. Launch an 90(2) complaint(we can check your draft text)
  4. Join us for the legal action

Read also our earlier articles on this topic. If you need any advice on launching Article 90 complaint, we might not be able to get back to you quickly given the vacation period. You can find here our template Article 90 for those unable to change the order of their languages in sysper: you will have to adjust to your individual situation. Remember, the more individualised the complaint is, the better for you. Do not expect miracles, in most of the cases the complaint will be rejected.

Generation 2004 is actively involved in various working groups dealing with the competitions’ issue and is committed to fighting the injustice. We are here to support you.

At no point have we advocated for the cancellation of the competitions.

As always, feel free to contact us if you have questions: we’re here for you.

Generation 2004 is here to support you, do not hesitate to contact us, whether you need help with an issue or even just to share your thoughts.

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

The Generation 2004 team

[1] Potentially accelerated by the move to ‘dynamic collaborative space’, otherwise known as hot-desking in open spaces.

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