New decision on working time and hybrid working: only Generation 2004 said no!

If you wonder what happened with the new Decision on Working Time and Hybrid working (WTHW) [1], here is the reply: all trade unions and staff associations (OSPs) except Generation 2004 accepted what is in the current draft and did not agree to continue the negotiations with the administration!

Generation 2004 was the only one among all OSPs to request Commissioner Hahn open a conciliation phase, the last possible option OSPs have in any negotiation with the administration [2].  This is a formal request to continue negotiations: there are too many points of disagreement still.

However, according to the interpretation of the rules given by the Legal Service, in order to use the provision on conciliation, the request must be submitted by all OSPs in unanimity!

Had all other representative OSPs also requested conciliation, a further phase of negotiations would have been opened. Based on the fact that during the many negotiation meetings that were held – including with Commissioner Hahn – several positive advances were made, we are confident that a new round of negotiations would have brought further changes to the decision, in the best interest of the institution, the staff and the people we serve.

 What is Generation 2004 asking for?

 In particular, we requested to continue negotiating on three main chapters:

  1. Teleworking from outside the place of employment/anywhere/abroad (TWA): it should be allowed on a larger scale for staff to better reconcile work and private life. We remain convinced that offering 60 days per year and a possibility for ad hoc needs would help colleagues in time of need while having a minor impact on the functioning of the whole organisation. The Generation 2004 proposal takes into account also the interest of the service. Staff could choose to telework instead of taking leave (e.g. on personal grounds (CCP) or other types) to tackle personal or family needs, thus increasing staff availability and ensuring maximum business continuity. This would in turn offer more flexibility to hierarchy in terms of managing staff and reducing the burden that leave places on other colleagues. This progressive and balanced approach would thus result in a win-win situation for staff, the administration and the people we serve.
  2. Teleworking from the place of employment: Generation 2004 asked for a right for all staff to 2 days of teleworking per week, given that in the draft decision working in the office and teleworking “are considered as equivalent” (recital 4). The last version of the WTHW states that only 1 day is a right and the remaining days are to be negotiated with line managers (in the past this resulted in different interpretations of teleworking rules);
  3. Health, safety and well-being: It is a basic duty of the employer to protect the health and safety of workers, and the Commission is very much committed to fostering well-being. However, new risks for health and safety are emerging in connection with longer hours spent in front of a computer or other devices — including psychosocial risks such as stress and burnout — and an environment that is not designed to be a workplace, namely our home. It is therefore essential to set out clear rules to define ‘work-related accidents’ in the context of teleworking, and to adopt further measures to prevent accidents, illnesses and a general degradation of staff health and well-being in relation to teleworking.

 What can we do now?

 We regret to tell you that major changes to the decision are not possible without an additional negotiation round. In fact, if a conciliation phase is not opened, the decision will be approved in its current form. However, in the interests of all the colleagues who trust us, Generation 2004 remains open to a close collaboration with the other OSPs on all the phases of the process, including the drafting of the guidelines for the implementation of the decision.

That is why we made a key contribution to the joint note sent by all OSPs to Ms Ingestad, Director-General of DG Human Resources and Security, tabling a number of request for consideration in the drafting on the guidelines.

In fact, some steps forward can still be made through the guidelines that DG HR will have to put in place for the implementation of the decision and other elements that still need to be further clarified, including the scope, mandate and mission of the future Joint Committee on Flexible Working that the administration agreed to create. We requested to be closely associated also to this phase, so as to ensure that the implementing provisions go in the direction that we discussed during the previous phase of negotiation with the administration and in the direction that you have told us you want.

 What are the positive outcomes of the negotiations so far?

 During the last months, our deeply committed team was busy negotiating changes to the original proposal made by the administration on the WTHW decision. Here are some important improvements obtained since the first draft was presented, through many hours of meetings and countless days spent analysing the proposals, their implications, and the huge feedback we received from many of you.

  • Days of teleworking from abroad are not conditional on taking any days of leave (after all, teleworking has nothing to do with leave, right?)
  • Teleworking and working in the office are considered as equivalent.
  • A provision was introduced to allow for the reimbursement of teleworking-related costs.
  • Teleworking will be possible on any day of the week: yes, Mondays and Fridays are no longer excluded!
  • Working in the office — even 5 days a week if you wish so — is established as a right.
  • The right to disconnect is formally recognised in the decision, pending further clarifications on how it will be implemented.
  • DG HR and business correspondents (HRBCs) will have a stronger coordination role to avoid (as far as possible) diverging implementation of rules by different DGs or even units.
  • A joint committee on Flexible Working — made up of 50% members from the administration and 50% staff representation (OSPs) — will identify and redress abuses and misinterpretations of the new rules

What are the remaining issues?

In spite of the progress made, several challenges and risks remain. To list just a few:

  • In spite of all our requests, no impact assessment has been made, neither on the decision, nor on the effect it could have on staff, their health and their productivity.
  • The WTHW decision is linked to a building policy of reducing office space, implementing open plan and hot-desking [3]. This can only work if a large number of staff work from home. Please note also that this massive change was put in place without the necessary consultation during the pandemic, with potentially very negative consequences on health, well-being, motivation and the attractiveness of the Commission as an employer.
  • As a result of the decentralised governance (leaving decisions to line managers) set in the WTHW decision, the risk of a divergent and even contradictory implementation in every DG/service/unit is still present — although somewhat reduced by the results underlined above.
  • It is still unclear how the desired culture of trust will materialise and be measured, except for the statement that training will be provided.
  • Although a provision on the reimbursement of costs related to teleworking was introduced, we are told that the budget does not allow for it. Given the huge savings made in two years of teleworking, we reiterate that it is urgent to put in place measures to compensate the costs shifted by the Commissions to the colleagues, especially in lower grades [4].

We are collecting evidence of the hidden costs of teleworking in relation to teleworking. Please participate in our survey!

We urge the Commission to do the right thing, be fair with staff and contribute to our additional costs.

As always, we are eager to hear from you, let us know how this affects you!

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[1] This link is to the last version available online, but this article refers to an as-yet-unpublished version.

[2] The rules for this can be found in the Framework Agreement of 2008.

[3] Open space: also called ‘open plan’, ‘collaborative space’ or ‘flexible’ workspace/environment. There is normally a choice of area according to activity e.g. office desk/workplace/work station generally within an open area (no individual offices), project area/meeting room, silent zone or quiet room. Dynamic: non-assigned desks in a flexible environment (also often ‘flex-desking’): more commonly called ‘hot-desking’ outside the Commission.

[4] ‘The new legal provisions are also likely to change the way the costs of teleworking are shared between employer and remote worker. Previously, when teleworking was not mandatory, this was rarely discussed. However, there is now a growing consensus that employers should contribute to the cost of teleworking (e.g. in terms of covering Internet and electricity fees, rent, etc.) (Popescu, 2020).’ (European Parliament, 2021, The impact of teleworking and digital work on workers and society, p. 45)

‘The positive effects on cost-reductions are … proven. Employers may reduce direct capital, energy and maintenance costs, which may be shifted onto teleworkers.’ (European Parliament, 2021, The impact of teleworking and digital work on workers and society, p. 119).

‘We would like to stress that, in accordance with the survey’s conclusions, teleworking should: … receive support from the employer, so as to ensure that decent working conditions are established and that the associated costs are shared equitably’ (Permanent Delegation of Translators (DPT) note, 22.04.2021)

‘Everybody has had to find some space at home to telework and many people complained that it seems as if the Commission aims at saving money on offices by transferring the cost to its workers … People had to set up their “office” in their bedroom or kitchen; some even had to move to a bigger flat/house.’ (DPT teleworking survey, April 2021 p. 5)

 

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