Latest on COVID: vaccines a little behind initial estimates

Commissioner Hahn said in his video message (16.3.2021) that ‘we are all impatient to be free again’. At this stage, please allow me to modify his message and stress that ‘we are all impatient to be finally vaccinated’ (at least most of us). After 1 year of teleworking at home we are all fed up with this situation and cannot wait to resume a normal life. While entering the third wave, we are facing yet another lockdown. As most countries begin to tighten the restrictions, the vision of going to visit our loved ones over the Easter period seems to be vanishing. The pressure is high, our workload has increased, some of us at the brink of burnout, digital overload is a hard reality and some of us are worried about our family members in other Member States, which are currently fighting for their lives.

Parental leave

Worries enough, without even going into detail about the parents that cannot even imagine spending yet another 4 weeks with their children at home with limited activities, home schooling and working at the same time. This is all understandable and you are not alone. Despite our pledge to push HR to introduce a COVID special leave for parents with children, the only option at this moment is to take parental leave, though HR has promised to look at making the associated rules more flexible: this at least is something. DG HR should be more flexible: as Belgium closes schools, Luxembourg opens them and vice versa; one size does not fit all! There are currently few typical parents and the conditions for typical parental leave do not apply in this case. There are always some extra sacrifices that parents must make in this period. Regardless your individual situation, we have the impression that at this moment, there are very few still coping well with these unprecedented circumstances.

Vaccination

Every day our inbox fills with messages from concerned colleagues asking for help on various matters, either directly or indirectly related to this pandemic. Many of you have been asking what is going on with the vaccination campaign and when we will all know more information about it.

From the 21st information meeting with DG HR (24 March 2021), we have some positive news to share: 23 March the European Commission in Brussels received 400 vaccine doses and the first shots are being administered to the lucky winners: those 65+, which in terms of those still in service amounts to about 119 colleagues (Commission only). We should not forget that our institution joined forces and will also offer vaccinations to colleagues from other entities (e.g. the European External Action Service (EEAS), European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and from Executive Agencies). The Commission has an obligation to report on any side effects.

The bad news is that the administration cannot provide us with any concrete timeline as the European institutions do not get a preferential treatment and cannot speed up the vaccination process, even for staff that might be deemed critical, such as our nuclear inspectors, many of whom are a little older and must still travel. We completely rely on our host countries to set the criteria and provide the vaccines (also, there are delays with the delivery of the vaccines beyond the deadlines the companies promised). For us, the preliminary plan to continue with the vulnerable groups from the beginning of April and the rest of the staff throughout May and June seems to be too good to be true. Let’s hope it will not become our ‘waiting for Godot’ as in the famous play of Samuel Becket, in which the main characters engage in variety of discussions while awaiting Godot who never arrives. Given the ongoing delays, our own best guesstimate is that approximately 70% of staff could be vaccinated by around September and the rest of the staff before the end of 2021 [1].

Option to go to the office occasionally and the new normal

However, if any of you cannot wait to return to the office (or you’d like to try out some old-style routine), you can already go on an occasional basis upon approval of your line manager. This possibility is, of course, only for limited number of colleagues who provide reasons e.g. isolation or another important reason. Apart from that, the reality of a new normal and vast changes such as increased teleworking [2] together with hot-desking will become a post-COVID reality in the name of modernisation. Additionally, many changes are yet to come for the sake of the environment while greening the Commission and further modernising and digitalising our workspace under the umbrella of the New HR Strategy. Climate change is one of the biggest threats of our lifetime, but we are also seeing how health and well-being as well as the working conditions of our staff are equally important day to day.

Teleworking equipment and costs

Very soon we might also have a teleworking home kit, which should facilitate our life, but so far, no flat rate has been endorsed to reimburse our additional costs while teleworking is the norm e.g. increased energy bills, internet and office supplies.

Teleworking from abroad

You might have already learned about the possibility to telework from abroad for 10 days until the end of 2021. This seems rather a symbolic gesture to possibly cover summertime without considering Christmas. We all hope that then, travelling will become easier after being vaccinated combined with the Green Digital Certificate that was recently proposed to facilitate safe and free movement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Check the latest teleworking guidelines (31.3.2021 p.7)

‘Staff may be authorised by their line manager to telework from outside the place of employment for a maximum of 10 working days until the end of the year 2021 (to be taken in whole or in parts), provided that the following conditions are met:

  • it is compatible with the interests of the service and the staff’s tasks can be performed remotely.
  • it precedes a period of at least 5 days of annual leave’

Feel free to contact us if you have any comments.

[1] Updated 29.03.2021: COVID-19 Commission vaccination campaign – (Brussels) provisional timeline

[2] 12.4.2021 DG HR Pulse Survey: New Work Environment is asking for your opinion on how much you would like to telework post-COVID.

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