Harassment package: next steps

We provide an update on the new anti-harassment package. We had a political consultation with Commissioner Hahn on 12.07.2023, concluding the series of the social dialogue meetings (started January 2023 [1]) to draft the new decision on the prevention of and fight against psychological[2] and sexual harassment. This last meeting underlined the political will and the commitment to make a difference regarding the anti-harassment package, which text of which will now be submitted for decision.

Harassment has been a hot topic and is sensitive at the same time. We believe that together we have managed to have an improved document that will make a difference when comparing it with the previous one in what anti-harassment is concerned.

A Chief Confidential Counsellor?

There will be a single-entry point: a Chief Confidential Counsellor (CCC) who has the status of a director general and who is directly under the coordination of the Commissioner. This is given as proof of the importance given by the Commission to this topic. Staff representatives insist that the CCC has to be a person with clear integrity and ethical background and with an impeccable and clean record. For this reason, we appreciate that the administration accepted our suggestion to be included in the CCC selection process.

Moreover, stronger competencies are given to the CCC, who will have the right to contact the alleged harasser, of course in agreement with the target/victim, and also to contribute in the formal proceeding by being able to be called as a witness.

What is the Mediation Service role?

The Mediation service deals with all conflicts at work, it does not focus just on harassment cases. It should not be included in the decision since it is available to statutory staff only, leaving trainees, interims, national experts in professional training (NEPTs) and seconded national experts (SNEs) unsure of their options. Nevertheless, two services doing the same job and with overlapping competencies creates difficulties. Besides, this would not be a friendly approach towards the target/victim – who will have to choose between two options without knowing which one would be more appropriated in their circumstances, fact which can lead to even higher stress.

Which are OLAF’s competencies?

We salute the fact that OLAF was included in the draft decision and we appreciate that its role will be more clearly emphasised in terms of competences in order not to have overlapping tasks with IDOC. The different competences could be more clearly separated, maybe depending on the area of activity or the level of hierarchy involved in harassment cases. Of course, it is up to the administration to decide but it should be much better clarified in the package. We are looking forward to seeing how this will be integrated in the final form of the document.

What did we propose for the prevention measures?

Prevention is crucial to ensure a safe and inclusive work environment for all employees. The role of management is vital in establishing policies, promoting awareness, and enforcing preventive measures. The administration is open to offer training in the area of harassment to both newly appointed managers and those long established, but it is not clear whether it will be optional. Generation 2004 insisted on the inclusion of the Harassment Watch Network (HWN) in the drafting of the text in order to benefit from their substantial experience in this area. We also proposed to extend the harassment learning paths to include the possibility for staff to contact coaches from the Internal coaches network (ICONET) (already active in the Commission). We insisted on a revision of this new decision in 3 years in addition to periodical studies and staff surveys, in order to monitor and evaluate how effective the new measures are.

We also acknowledged that the guide and the action plan will be presented as a separate document from the anti-harassment decision in order to be easier updated and modified as needed.

We consider that this draft decision has the potential to provide the necessary framework so that colleagues will feel safer and that a better and more integer working place will be created. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how well this works in practice, how many managers take training and how well the Commission deals with accusations of bullying, given that its figures have been less than encouraging so far, in spite of acknowledging the damage bullying does to individuals and organisations. To put this in the wider context, the Commission:

  • for a long time already officially has a ‘zero tolerance to harassment’
  • has recognised only 2 cases of harassment in the last 15 years
  • estimates 2% of staff being involved in disputes with the cost (2008 figures) of a dispute put at €50,000, giving an annual figure of ‘ at least €30 million’. [4]

If you have any comments or need help, get in touch!

For any other questions, do not hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment below.

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

[1] 9 administrative concertation meetings +  3 technical concertation + 1 political concertation. We would like to thank to you, our members and colleagues who contributed with ideas, suggestions and personal examples. Also to our colleagues from the Harassment Watch Network (HWN) who were very committed and issued many valuable contributions regarding this entire package.

We would like to show our appreciation to our peers, our colleagues from the OSPs with whom we have spoken on this topic and we have shared our views and opinions too.  We would also like to acknowledge the commitment of our colleagues from the administration who really did their best in negotiating the anti-harassment package. It was a truly successful social dialogue, and we are looking forward to receiving the final documents with our comments, suggestions and recommendations taken on board.

[2] Also called ‘mobbing’ or ‘workplace bullying’.

[3] ‘Saving resources: The 2008 activity report of the Mediation Service pointed out the non-existence of figures and studies which would enable it to quantify the cost to the institution of conflicts in professional relationships and stated:

“The Mediation Service is aware of this, but proposes that reference be made to the figures published by the Justice Ministry of one Member State. According to its figures, in any organisation between 2 % and 5 % of staff are involved in at least one dispute a year, with the cost of a dispute put at €50,000.

Although we must be careful when making an extrapolation for an Institution with a staff of over 30,000, we can advance the estimate that the annual cost to the Commission as a direct consequence of staff disputes, based on a 2 % dispute rate, is at least €30 million”.

It is enough to multiply the estimated cost of a dispute (€50,000) by the number of cases resolved to see that the activities of the Mediation Service save the institution millions of euros annually. However, it is not the short-term savings that matter most but the recovery of human resources in the long term.’ (2015 Annual Mediation report , p. 10, point 10)

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