Trade unions and staff associations (TUs&SAs) representing almost three quarters of staff in Luxembourg but having a minority (30% of seats) in the current the Local Staff Committee (mandate 2016-19) are convinced: The electoral system must be changed towards a proportional distribution of seats. A proportional seat distribution is necessary to revive true discussion and consensus-finding among the plurality of opinions as well as the possibility to bring in new ideas to the Local Staff Committee (LSC) by all members.
On 11 June 2019, these TUs&SAs submitted a joint proposal to this end. The Luxembourg LSC has been requested to convoke a General Assembly (GA) for Commission staff in 10 working days the earliest but before end of June 2019. The TUs&SAs’ efforts to establish a new and fair proportional electoral system and request for convocation of a GA have been supported by staff members as required by the electoral rules .
Two weeks passed after this request without the LSC calling for a GA. On 25 June a plenary meeting of the LSC was organised, where the Board of the LSC announced that a French translation has been asked which would only be ready on 8 July. The LSC decided to convoke a GA for 9 July. Just after the closing of the school year at the European School. Exact time and place have not yet been fixed. A request of the trade unions to organise the GA via video-conference at multiple sites has been rejected by the Board of the LSC.
If you will be around, please, participate in the General Assembly so that your opinion can count! Please note that participating in staff meetings counts as working time!
In this article, after reminding you of the history of this seemingly endless discussion, we look at the current Statutes of the LSC Luxembourg and at the proposal that has been submitted by the TUs&SAs and compare them in order to help you make up your mind.
- The history of General Assemblies
The main aim of the assembly is again to decide on a possible change of the electoral rules. At the General Assembly (“GA”) that took place in Autumn 2013 the Local Staff Committee (“LSC”) was mandated to review the rules in order to improve proportionality. To this end, the LSC has set up a working group with the participation of three trade unions (USL, Solidarite Europeenne and Generation 2004). While Generation 2004 participated in this working group, our main objections against the current (still valid) electoral system were not taken on board. The working group’s proposal to change the electoral rules was accepted by majority in the LSC against the opposition of several members in June 2016 and was presented to the GA that took place on 14 July 2016.
In our view, the changes by the LSC proposal have been purely cosmetic, and failed to address the main problems. Therefore, Generation 2004 had decided to submit a proposal of its own, as did also two other unions. All three counterproposals had in common that they aimed to introduce a truly proportional distribution of seats in the LSC. The submission of each of them was supported by at least 30 colleagues.
But why have the Statutes of the LSC Luxembourg not been changed if so many colleagues have been longing for a fair proportional representation of staff interests? This is a difficult question. One reply, however, is more than obvious. Staff in Luxembourg did not accept to make purely cosmetic changes to the electoral system in force and did not approve the proposal of the LSC as they were aiming for more substantial changes. Unfortunately, three quite similar proposals establishing proportional seat distribution have been put to vote and it was all but obvious which one to choose among them. Therefore, after it became clear that in spite of some lip service, the Board of the LSC Luxembourg is not intending to fulfil the mandate of the GA from 2013 during the recent mandate of the LSC and propose new rules, the trade unions sat down at the table and worked out a joint proposal that should be put to the decision of staff in the upcoming GA.
Now, let us have a look at the current situation and the new joint proposal.
- The current system
The LSC is made up of 20 seats, which have to be distributed among candidates from different lists (a “list” means a group of candidates who run for office together – from the same trade union or a coalition of unions). A list has to be made up by at least 8 candidate pairs (candidate+alternate). You can cast a list vote or a preference vote. This distinction, however, is well-hidden since you always put crosses next to individual couples of candidates: if you put at least 8 crosses for candidates on the same list and no cross on any other list, then you have cast a list vote. In all other cases – such as if you put crosses for 8 or more candidates on one list and also a cross for just one candidate on another list, you have cast a preference vote.
Out of the 20 seats, 12 are distributed by majority according to preference votes and 8 are distributed proportionally to lists according to list votes. But here there is a catch: as list votes still consist of crosses for individual candidate pairs, they also count as preference votes! So, if you cast a list vote, your vote has an influence on all 20 seats of the LSC, but if you cast a preference vote, your vote influences only 12 seats. In effect, list votes are counted twice: first, the list votes are counted together with the preference votes, and the 12 highest-scoring candidate pairs are elected (majority principle); then, list votes are used again, this time to distribute the remaining 8 seats among the lists. In the end, this mechanism very effectively ensures that the list with just slightly more votes than the others (say, 26% in total), especially if these votes come from the “devoted followers”, gets an absolute majority in the LSC (e.g. 70% of seats).
A paradox of the system is that with increasing number of lists that participate in the elections, a lower percentage of votes may actually result in a higher presence in the LSC. The comparison of election results in 2013 and in 2016 demonstrates this paradox perfectly: between the previous two Luxembourg LSC elections (2013 and 2016) the most voted trade union list lost 11 percentage points in terms of votes (37% to 26%) but still gained one more seat (13 to 14) in the LSC.
Whenever we challenge this mechanism, we always hear the argument that only a majority ensures smooth running of the staff committee. However, this argument is false. Besides a philosophical standpoint – we are convinced that a plurality of opinions is necessary to have a truly “representative” staff representation – there are also very practical considerations. One of them is that with a majority position, no consensus needs to be found to set up the Board of the LSC. Anybody wishing to become a member of the Board of the LSC – including the president of the LSC – can be approved or voted down by a single trade union, which represents a minority of voters but holds the majority of seats and allows the attitude of: “I have the majority and I do whatever I want”. Another practical consideration is that the system actually hampers efficient running of the LSC. A plenary session can only be held if at least 11 people are present. However, even with 14 seats occupied by one single trade union, it still often happens that the quorum can only be reached “with the help” of members from other trade unions. Despite the fact that the winning list from the 2016 elections controls 14 seats – more than enough to achieve the quorum just by itself. So a majority is clearly not a guarantee of efficient operation.
There are other minor issues in the current electoral system that are worth updating, clarifying or simplifying, such as seniority in service and higher age criterion in case of equal votes, the representativeness clause, and French being the only authentic version of the electoral rules.
- The joint proposal
The proposal, jointly presented by Generation 2004, Union Syndicale Federale – Luxembourg, Save Europe, Solidarite Europeenne/R&D Luxembourg, U4U and FFPE aims to ensure full proportionality and fair representation. There is no double counting and no opacity. It also addresses other minor issues mentioned above.
Under the proposed system, seats are distributed proportionally with respect to lists. This is achieved in the following way.
Each voter has exactly 1 vote. This vote can be divided to a maximum of 20 candidate pairs. So, if a voter selects just one candidate pair, this candidate pair gets 1 vote. If a voter selects two candidate pairs, these pairs each get 1/2 (one half) of the vote. If a voter selects 20 candidate pairs – the maximum – each selected pair gets 1/20 of the vote. In the text of the proposal, these fractional votes are called “contributions”.
Next, the number of votes obtained by each candidate pair is determined by adding together all contributions (if any) for that candidate pair across all ballots. For example, if a candidate pair gets 1/2 of a vote from one ballot, 1/5 of a vote from the next ballot, zero from the next ballot, and 1/2 from a yet another ballot, the total number of votes for that candidate pair comes to 1.2 so far.
Next, the number of votes for each list is determined by adding together the number of votes obtained by each candidate pair on that list. The seats in the LSC are then distributed to the lists proportionally to the number of votes for each list. So, two lists who receive a similar number of votes will be assigned a similar number of seats. To avoid assigning fractions of seats, the d’Hondt method is used, and of course a list cannot have more seats than candidates.
Finally, to determine the actual people who will be sitting in those seats, candidate pairs within each list are ranked according to the number of votes received by each candidate pair, and the highest-ranking candidate pairs are elected. We emphasize that the ranking is done within each list, as the number of seats for each list has already been determined in a proportional way in the previous step – this is the most fundamental difference compared to the current system and its preference votes.
As the last step, there is a representativeness check. All staff categories – AD, AST, AST/SC, Other agents (CA, TA and LA) – must be represented in the LSC by at least one full member. If that is not the case, a substitution is made.
The proposed system opens the way also for individual candidacies. There is no minimum number of candidates on a list anymore. An individual candidate pair is treated simply as a single-pair list.
As far as the minor issues are concerned: in case of equal number of votes, there is no age or seniority criterion anymore and the situation is resolved by random draw; the representativeness clause (to ensure that not only ADs, but also ASTs, AST/SCs and Contract Agents are represented in the LSC) is clarified; and all language versions are made equally authentic.
Advantages of the proposed system
Most importantly, the proposed voting system makes sure that all ballots have the same power. Each voter influences all 20 LSC seats in exactly the same way independently of the number (between 1 – 20) and place of crosses made. And the system is strictly proportional – lists that receive a similar number of votes would also get a similar number of seats. No more of the current 26% votes – 70% seats-paradox.
Under the new system, your vote will always carry the same overall weight, regardless of how many candidates you select and from which lists. You do not need to struggle anymore to put crosses for people you know nothing about, just to “use up” all your possibilities. In the proposed system, 1 ballot always equals 1 vote, and this vote is evenly split among candidates that you select. So, a ballot with 5 crosses only, all for candidates on the same list, will have exactly the same effect in terms of the number of gained seats for that list as a ballot with 20 crosses.
The same goes for the lists. Once voters have understood the counting rules, there may be no more need to fill their lists with “mock” candidates just to increase their chances to obtain seats in the LSC. Theoretically, even an individual candidate pair can run successfully for the elections and obtain a seat. Begging you to do a favour to your friend/colleague/etc. and candidate even though you are not at all interested in working for the staff representation may also belong to the past! However, there is a limit on the maximum number of seats by the list, which cannot exceed the number of candidate pairs on the list. An individual candidate pair may comprise 50% of the total votes (contributions), still it will only obtain one seat and the other nine will be added to those distributed to the other lists.