Grange childcare: loss of trust!

The European Commission has many sites, some bigger ones, like Brussels, Luxembourg and Ispra, some smaller ones like the smaller JRC sites (Karlsruhe, Geel, Seville) or the satellite site in Grange, Ireland (technically part of Brussels) – home to directorate F (‘Health and food audits and analysis’) of DG SANTE and some colleagues from DGT – not to forget the support staff from the different offices.

In total, around 200 colleagues work in Grange, surrounded by nature. Of course, working in such a place means that colleagues there have to rely on Commission services more than in other places: for some services, there simply is no replacement available via the private sector (because there is no private sector).

It came as a big surprise to staff in Grange when DG SANTE informed staff in Grange that the on-site childcare facilities would be closed at the end of October 2023.

This is having a profoundly negative impact on staff morale and overall motivation!

First of all, President Santer guaranteed in 1999 that the working conditions in Grange would be equal to those in Brussels (last we checked, Brussels still had a crèche or two available for EU staff). President Prodi consequently confirmed this commitment as well as the Directors General of DG SANTE and DG HR during their social dialogue with the Brussels Local Staff Committee. This was a political commitment without legal value: the colleagues cannot base a court case on it. But if the words of not just one but two Commission Presidents have no value anymore, we might as well close the Commission immediately: why should any international partner trust us if the Commission no longer honours such commitments vis-a-vis its own staff?

Furthermore, the lack of transparency surrounding decision-making processes and communication has only exacerbated the situation. Staff members feel abandoned and left alone in finding alternative solutions for their children in an unreasonably short timeframe (October 2023). Meanwhile, the Commission itself has tried and failed to find a viable solution due to the Irish childcare market crisis. Therefore, the Commission knows that this is a very difficult problem to solve. Its solution? ‘Let’s drop it on the individual staff!’

How can the public trust an Institution that acts along the lines of ‘it is too difficult a problem for us as an Institution to solve, therefore we drop it on individual staff members’?

This not only undermines the trust staff have in the leadership of the Commission, but also puts the institution’s reputation at risk.

The problem of childcare facilities is not a new problem: it was already a main point of concern when the Commission accepted the move to Grange more than 20 years ago. Besides this, similar moves targeting childcare facilities already happened in Brussels, too. Not to mention the promises made to our DGT colleagues to convince them to move to rue de Génève in Brussels, including a creche, a canteen etc. Guess what? A few years down the line they are all closed!

It is obvious that the most vulnerable colleagues are disproportionately affected: people with low salaries that cannot afford alternative childcare, parents with small children, lone parents, colleagues who are not close to their family network etc. In general, given this change, the attractiveness of this site to young people who might already have or might want to start a family becomes close to zero. Let’s not forget that few years ago Grange was chosen as a location for DGT so as to attract Irish language translators: as they are difficult to find, offering them the chance to remain in their country seemed to be a good idea and a way of making the Commission more attractive to them

In light of the above aspects here, it is worth mentioning that the Brussels Local Staff Committee wrote a letter in July to DG SANTE and as a result there will be a social dialogue meeting 08.09.2023 to take place with the representatives of DG SANTE hierarchy, colleagues from Grange and of course the staff representatives from different trade unions in the Commission. Moreover, also the President of the Central Staff Committee took a very active role in this matter, and he was also invited to this social dialogue meeting. We would like to see DGT express its concerns too.

  1. Who decided about this closure and based on what facts?
  2. How were the services that will be impacted by these changes consulted?

In the same idea, having in mind that there was no previous consultation and no social dialogue or at least an information session for our colleagues in Grange, the Brussels Local Staff Committee together with its members invited the colleagues from Grange 05.09.2023 to understand better the situation. There was a very impressive participation, almost 60 colleagues from Grange took part and, on this occasion, we found out that there were other broken promises, like a transport shuttle which is no longer functioning, there were other several facilities for children which don’t exist anymore and now the creche is targeted. Moreover, the creche closure is not affecting only few families as it was presented by the administration, but all the families that have kids between 0 and 12 years old, as it is also about the afterschool activities that were taking place in the same facility.

At first, the administration argued that there are security reasons for the closure of the creche and then when it became clear that these were not the real reasons, the economical cuts are invoked… What is next? The school?

Generation 2004, which is actively involved in all these actions, strongly urges a sincere effort to fulfil the promises previously made and to formulate and communicate alternative plans to the staff in a transparent and timely manner. In the same way we want to see the clear numbers and the analysis that lead to the decision of the closure of this creche. We hope that this Friday there will be a constructive and fruitful social meeting that will help our colleagues in Grange. Savings cannot and should not be made again and again at the expense of staff.

Communication with staff is paramount: transparency in all changes!

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