The Contract Agent petition is still open: you can still register and sign!

The European Parliament (EP), accepting our petition No. 0117/2021 on the contract agent (CA) precariat in the European Commission, asked the Commission for more explanations on the CA work situation. We’ve received a surprising reply with standard arguments (see ‘notice to members’). As a result, we want to relaunch our petition now, showing our reasoning, making our arguments even more specific than ever before!

To remind you of the context, our petition on CA working conditions was made with all CA types in mind. The original Generation 2004 petition via EUSurvey closed 27.11.2020 with 1415 signatures. Since the EP does not allow for the transfer of signatures, even those who had signed the original petition had to register and sign the new petition at the EP (we understand your frustrations).  Many of the arguments, feelings and frustrations we raised coincide with those addressed by the Court of Auditors (ECA) in their Special report no 15/2019 Implementation of the 2014 staff reform package at the Commission – Big savings but not without consequences for staff.

The CA petition text, point by point

‘The petitioner criticises the 2004 and 2014 reforms of the EU Staff Regulations, which created a system in which the date of recruitment is more important for career development than merit, qualification, and professional expertise. The Commission has continuously replaced permanent officials with contract agents (CAs), with CAs currently representing over 22 % of the Commission’s workforce (…)

In 2021 CAs were 23% of Commission staff and that figure continues to increase. Using the ECA calculation method of officials, temporary and contract staff only (Figure 14, ECA Special report no 15/2019) CAs were 24% in 2019 (Point 43, ECA Special report no 15/2019) and are now 25% of Commission staff. [1]

(…)  Although contractual staff is only supposed to perform “non-core tasks”, (…)

The issue of staff performing tasks beyond their grade or pay is widespread in the Commission. The ECA report makes particular mention of this in the case of CAs: it specifically states that CAs in each and every function group ((GF) I-IV) perform their tasks ‘under the supervision of officials or temporary staff.’ (Annex III, ECA Special report no 15/2019).  Nevertheless, ECA makes recommendations regarding a mismatch between tasks and staff categories.

‘Recommendation 1 – Develop a workforce management plan To improve the way it manages its workload, the Commission should establish a workforce management plan with a particular emphasis on: 1.1 Identifying which tasks are carried out by which categories of staff, so that it can better align its HR policies and practices with its institutional needs and identify which roles contribute most to its objectives …’ (p. 46, ECA Special report no 15/2019)

To take this to its logical conclusion, since the overall number of staff at the Commission has remained constant while the number of CAs increases (Point 43, ECA) this ostensibly means that more time and effort has to be spent supervising, in addition to that spent training staff who, by design, will have to leave at the end of their contracts. Where are staff finding the time for all of this additional work supervising the increasing number of CAs?

(…) they do the work of permanent officials without being recognised accordingly.

Recognition is not just about money, we know, but this is the most tangible and measurable of rewards, so it’s our focus here. Did contract staff really ‘know what they were signing up for’? How many of any of us knew what that first payslip would contain really (and not just roughly)? Throughout their time at the Commission, CAs will earn less than others doing the same job.

61 As the use of contract staff becomes increasingly common, there has been a corresponding increase in the diversity of status and pay of the Commission’s workforce. For example, GFIV contract staff meeting the same minimum recruitment requirements (education and experience) as junior administrators may earn 28 % less than the latter. Currently around 6 % of staff, all of them GFI and GFII contract staff, earn less than the lowest paid official (AST/SC1, with a basic yearly salary around €32 400). Another third of staff (across all categories) earn up to twice that amount. (Point 61, ECA Special report no 15/2019)

How is that likely to affect motivation and morale? Note also that the money issues outlined here are in addition to those affecting all staff lower in the salary scales (increasing utility bills, additional teleworking costs and the Council request for the Commission to reduce staff costs). [2]

Moreover, there is an increase in harassment cases associated to tensions between permanent officials and CAs. The petitioner therefore demands the elimination of structural unfairness and the implementation of the principle of “equal pay for equal work”. To this end, she proposes a series of measures to improve the working conditions of CAs, including permanent contracts for those working on permanent tasks, fair reclassification rates, better access to the EU institutions internal job market and preferential recruitment over external applicants.’ (Petition No 0117/202)

The Commission response to the CA petition

Let’s take the arguments the Commission uses in its response (‘notice to members’) one at a time:

In accordance with the [Conditions of Employment of Other Servants] CEOS and types of duties defined thereof, contract agents do not carry out the same tasks as officials and work under the supervision of officials.

Really? This is your reality; CA colleagues, do you really not carry out the same tasks as your permanent official colleague? Please let us know! We would be grateful if you could provide us with examples from your work environment … Perhaps the Commission is not aware of what is going on in the DGs…

Furthermore, the Commission has at its disposal a robust and comprehensive harassment prevention policy, which implements the ban on harassment set out the 2004 reform of the Staff Regulations. This policy is based on two pillars: 1) prevention and 2) support and follow-up. Staff members who feel victim of harassment may address the matter informally or initiate a formal procedure.

By creating staff categories with different rights and rules it makes it difficult for colleagues to know what their rights are, far less exercise those rights. With no structural job security and depending completely on hierarchy there is enormous potential for bullying and harassment. An increase in harassment cases has been clearly associated to tensions between permanent officials and CAs.

Let’s check the real-life example: if you are a manager with a big ugly task to assign to someone and a staff member reliant on the (perhaps annual) renewal of their contract, it’s a match made in heaven, right?  How on earth can CA colleagues defend their right to not be connected at midnight, to not have to work at the weekend with no compensation when they need that contract to be renewed?  This is a situation that is ripe for harassment; if someone dares to speak out or to stand up for themself is their contract likely to be renewed?

Contract agents engaged under Article 3a of the CEOS work in specific services (administrative offices, Commission Representations and Delegations) as well as EU Agencies. They are entitled to get an indefinite duration contract (…) Due to the potential length of their contract, they benefit from annual reclassification possibilities (promotion to the higher grade in their function group).

We remind you that promotion does not apply to CAs! Of course for some CAs there is an annual reclassification exercise (CA3a) and for the others (CA3b) there is only an appraisal with no outcome  (yes! we also fail to see the motivation in this).

In addition, look also at the incredibly slow rates of reclassification (slide 10) which might be even slower in practice than those of the lowest (and newest) function group of officials, AST/SC. Very motivating when you have to wait 10 years to be recognised!

Contract agents engaged under Article 3b CEOS have a limited duration contract of maximum 6 years, so by definition, their career within the institution is more limited.

While SR mentions a 6 years maximum contract it does not mention for example that good CA colleagues might still be offered less than the maximum of 6 years and that there are restrictions on where these colleagues can work afterwards. not even be offered a contract for the time remaining of the 6-year limit because it’s considered to be too little time to merit the time and energy investment in training and bringing the new colleague up to speed before they must leave.

Another aspect of this type of contract from recent example during the COVID-19 period; Contract agents who leave the Commission before 5 years have passed, counting from the date of the reimbursement, are also expected to repay some part of the (partial) reimbursement made available during the pandemic (11.11.2020) for the purchase of a screen and chair for teleworking. Whereas a general director with an AD16 salary (€19 000/month) who retires in 2 years can just keep the money.

Moreover, in October 2020, the Commission extended the eligibility criteria of the Junior Professionals Pilot Programme to cover all contract agents irrespective of their function groups, thereby providing enhanced learning, development and mobility opportunities to contract staff.

Of course on paper, CAs (only group IV) are eligible for the Junior Professionals Programme (JPP) and can then perhaps participate in the internal competitions (but not COM/AD/02/21 (AD5), for example), but in practice they are often excluded from the JPP as they have too much experience.

At the same time, the Commission has regularly organised a Junior Professionals programme (JPP) ‘pilot’ (9 since June 2018) to recruit externally. (Note that we use inverted commas for ‘pilot’ since HR already decided to make the JPP permanent in October 2020, rendering any further ‘trials’ (JPP6-9) in no sense tests). In contrast, regular internal competitions open for CAs have been too heavy from the budgetary point of view. What a frustration for talented and skilled staff who have already proved their worth!

However, since the Staff Regulations reform in 2014, both categories of contract agents can participate in the internal competitions, which can be exceptionally open to contract agents after 3 years in service. Since this participation was allowed, two sets of such competitions have been organised by the Commission in AST/SC, AST and AD function groups, allowing the recruitment of contract agents as officials.

And now onto the other hot topic, that of internal competitions open to CAs colleagues. Where to begin?

Of the 4 most recent internal competitions published, 3 of them excluded CAs and one was a very specialised competition, which was probably the reason to open it to everyone. Look at this:

Right now, all CA colleagues are waiting for the publication of 6 planned internal competitions open for contract staff (3 competitions planned in the 4th quarter of 2022 and 3 in the 2nd quarter of 2024).

For more information on CA concerns and these internal competitions, attend our series of events.

All staff members working in the Commission, irrespective of their type of employment or the length of their contract, deserve a motivating and rewarding career. (…) In collaboration with the other Institutions and Agencies, an EU inter-institutional job portal should also be set-up advertising all contract agents’ vacancies.

While we find such a portal available for officials, the sites available for CAs are much more limited in reach and in no way interinstitutional (see Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI) or MyIntracomm Job market). Do any of you know of any other job sites/portals? Send them to us and we’ll add them here, otherwise it’s time for us to send note to HR to ask where they are on this.

Point 3. Careers – Giving staff the support, training and perspectives for their careers to thrive… Career prospects for all staff (Coordination and leadership functions for non-permanent staff, regular cross-function groups internal competitions)… Performance management… Early identification of talent (DG HR promises in the New HR Strategy, 21.10.2021)

What now?

We thank everyone who took the time to sign the original petition and ask that you register and sign that same petition at the EP! Your effort is very much appreciated! Please also  take part in our collective action and attend our series of events otherwise it’s likely we will see more beautiful words and still be looking for any corresponding, tangible improvements.

As always, we would love to hear from you. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us or leave a comment below.

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


[1] July 2022 total of 32233 is reduced to 30073 on removal of staff in category ‘others’ (2160).

Function group (FG) Number of staff
I 710
II 2011
III 1417
IV 3419
TOTAL 7557
Year CA staff as a percentage of Commission staff (officials, temporary and contract staff only)
2013 20
2018 24
2022 25

[2] There is financial assistance/flexibility available for those who are struggling to make ends meet. Check out:

Do you know of any more sites/help? Let us know and we’ll publish them here!

 

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