Hot-desking: do not mistake the finger for the Moon!

In the COVID information meeting of 30 April 2021, the Director of Office for Infrastructure and Logistics in Brussels (OIB), Mr Marc Becquet, accused trade unions and staff associations (OSPs) of spreading fear and discontent among staff by sending too many messages and tracts on hot-desking and workplace arrangements.

If you remember the famous story about the finger and the Moon, you know perfectly well that when the finger is pointing at the Moon, what really matters is the Moon, not the finger! Although without the finger one might not see the Moon…

This is exactly what is happening in this case. Do we need to remind Mr Marc Becquet and all concerned of the countless news items on all media all over Europe and the rest of the world on the risks of COVID-19, especially in closed spaces where several people gather? Or do we need to remind anyone of the articles in the press [1] on the Commission plans  to change the building policy and have staff in hot-desking/open space environments? Or maybe the scientific studies showing the downsides and risks for health and productivity in hot-desking/open-space environments? [2]

Or should we simply limit ourselves to remembering in all meetings with staff (town-hall (‘all-hands’) meetings and others) that there is no time for discussion or negotiation, that the decision is already taken and staff will return to the office to find that that it’s already hot-desking. All this while they are at home (since March 2020), with travel restrictions in place, a pandemic ravaging the world and dangerous variants of COVID-19 spreading far and fast. And, above all, without a clear date for a safe return to the office and in the absence of even the minimum clarity on the rules for the so-called new normal.

What is even more unacceptable, is the blatant disregard for the consultation with staff and their representatives (‘the social dialogue’): all decisions concerning the new workplace arrangements are taken behind closed doors and behind the back OSPs, in spite of our repeated requests for the rules to be followed and for OSPs to be included in this decision-making process. We contrast this current situation with that of 2019 where Ms Souka, the then Director General of DG Human Resources and Security (HR), involved OSPs closely in the discussion and negotiation on the Commission’s Communication on the future working environment. That decision harvested a wealth of details and drafted reasoning, coupled with a more balanced approach and different treatment for different jobs and needs, while respecting the role of OSPs, staff and directors-general of the different DGs. That approach seems now completely vanished, replaced by dry communications of faits accomplis and decisions made without OSP input. As an example, there was no alternative to the current move to hot-desking proposed by the Office for Infrastructure and Logistics in Brussels (OIB) or in Luxembourg (OIL) in their building policy: there was no analysis of risks and benefits presented, just one single working environment for the future. One size fits all, with a completely top-down approach, no consultation on colleagues whose workstation might require adjustments (e.g. those with mobility issues and specific needs): all on the pretence that there is no time for dialogue with OSPs and staff. So much for the democratic principles we preach in the EU and for the Commission’s willingness to spread a culture of trust and a more human approach to human resources!

In this context of denial of social dialogue and appropriate staff consultation, it is our role and our duty to inform colleagues and to collect their questions, their worries, their fears and to fight for their right to be heard and for their issues to be addressed. All staff have a right to a workplace and working conditions that are appropriate for the European public administration and which respect the applicable laws and obligations in terms of health and safety, in line with the duty of care of the employer.

We are part of the common front on this issue and signed the letter to the President:

‘All Trade Unions and staff associations (OSPs) together with the Central Staff Committee (CSC) wish to share with you their serious concerns about the implementation of the new open space/hotdesking working environment at the European Commission.’ (12.05.2021)

As always, if you have questions or comments, feel free to contact us.

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[1] European Commission to close half its buildings in Brussels by 2030
La Commission européenne va quitter la moitié de ses bâtiments
Bruxelles menacée de désertification
Bruxelles : quand le télétravail bouscule la politique immobilière de la Commission européenne

[2] The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration
Open offices can lead to closed minds

 

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