On Friday 24 March 2023 we had the last social dialogue (SD) meeting to finalise the revising of the first draft of the new Commission Decision on the prevention of and fight against sexual and psychological harassment. It’s been two intense months! HR shared the first draft of the new anti-harassment framework on 21 December 2022 (15:17 on the second-last working day of the year), with the corresponding SD starting 12 January 2023. The OSPs and the administration/HR had almost weekly meetings of around 2 hours to discuss this draft decision article by article.
In the SD we focussed on being constructive: making comments, giving examples and providing arguments on different aspects and provisions of this draft decision. Generation 2004 repeatedly asked for all stakeholders and users of the system to be consulted and for worked examples to be provided showing how any new set-up would deal with different types of situation (both those which are routine and the less common).
We were very pleased to see the Harassment Watch Network (HWN) included and could provide its detailed input (these colleagues are tireless!). We are watching to see how much of their experience and knowledge will be present in the final draft.
We want the paths through the new system to be compared with the paths through the current (2006) system, because if the new system is not demonstrably better, what’s the point?
The current situation
We remind you of the 2021 Survey on diversity, inclusion and respect at the workplace results showing very low levels of trust in the current system and high levels of harassment behaviours witnessed and experienced. Even our most recent Blue Book trainees Survey diversity & inclusion in the Blue Book observed and reported discrimination. These levels are far higher than the 2-5% of staff being involved in conflict at any one time (General activity report of the Mediation Service 2015, p. 11, Point 10).
How many of these risk factors can you spot at the Commission:
‘For harassment, risk factors include inequity of pay, previous perpetrators not being disciplined, […] lack of trust in reporting to HR and managers, and more. If one or more of these risk factors are present, harassment is more likely….For workplace bullying, risk factors include stressful environments like crazy deadlines, unmanageable workloads, internal competition, or constant change. Unclear roles and responsibilities, a workforce full of long-time employees, highly intelligent staff such as lawyers or engineers, bureaucracy and rule-oriented cultures, and previous perpetrators not being disciplined. Again, if one or more of these risk factors are present, bullying is more likely.’ Catherine Marrice, Handling Workplace Bullying (EU learn via LinkedIn Learning platform).
We asked for the new anti-harassment decision to be thoroughly tested with a representative selection of possible scenarios: you should be protected from bullying and harassment whether you’re a trainee, a probationer or a contract agent (CA) close to the end of your first contract: the process should be robust, transparent and fit for purpose. We spend a huge part of our lives working, we should not have to do it in a harmful environment and in fear.
We have managed to bring to the attention of the administration the need to:
- strengthen the confidential counsellors’ network,
- underline the importance of the need not to have at this stage the hard evidence (prima facie procedure),
- make the Chief Confidential Counsellor the main entry point for the informal procedure,
- have training for middle and senior managers and for all staff who manage others (e.g. team leaders), have the involvement of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) in the formal procedure, not only of the Investigation and Disciplinary Office of the Commission (IDOC),
- have guarantees and real possibilities to address the national court of law without being afraid that there will be retaliation actions,
- publish annual/trimestral reports and statistics regarding the sexual and psychological harassment cases that are brought to the attention of the Chief Confidential Counsellor,
- make an external evaluation of the decision implementation after three years if not sooner.
These are only few of the significant comments that Generation 2004 brought along the meetings with the administration.
Generation 2004 welcomes the increased offer of training (e.g. bystander training or mental health first aid) but recognises that there is much more to be done.
Well done to HR for addressing this long-overdue issue, we recommend that you update the HR strategy website to show not just the achievements of the past but also the planning for the future: let staff see and contribute to what you are doing!
The next step is that the administration will review all the written comments from the OSPs and stakeholders. A final draft will be made available when the text is ‘more stable’.
We trust that our efforts will pay off!
What is Generation 2004 doing?
We reviewed Mediation Service reports 2014-2020, their recommendations and noted the lack of follow-up. Together with HWN colleagues, we made a detailed evaluation with constructive suggestions via Central Staff Committee notes (01/02/2022(2022)740804). In December 2022, Generation 2004 organised two workshops on harassment. The purpose of these workshops was to explain to colleagues and offer a better understanding of this draft decision, but also to raise awareness of what exactly means harassment or inappropriate conduct in the workplace. We did a follow-up workshop in March 2023 where we also collected new ideas from colleagues.
We are planning to continue our events and actions to raise the awareness and explain the provisions of the new draft decision as well as to create the safe environment for colleagues to come forward with their particular cases and also to help those who need us.
What’s the situation like in the other institutions?
Unfortunately, the Commission is not alone among the EU institutions in having an out-of-date system for dealing with harassment and unequal access to it. The European Parliament already set out its instructions for what needed to change across all EU institutions in December 2021.
Outside the Commission: we saw that Spain (Cantabria) recognised suicide as a workplace accident, while this is not a first, it is rare. Belgium released a new tool (French only) where they make a clear link between mental health and workplace accidents. (Here is eTranslation)
What can we all do?
- DG HR, Combat inappropriate behaviour, promote inclusion: Bystander Intervention, 30.05.2022
- Harassment Watch Network, 2020, Deficiencies of the anti-harassment policy of the European Commission and elements of a true reform: Working papers of the Harassment Watch Network, Volume 1
- HWN, 2021, Abuse of the annual appraisal exercise (“CDR”) in the European Commission as tool of psychological harassment with recommendations how to prevent this and better protect the targetted colleagues: second analytical paper
- HWN, 2022, Expectations of the Harassment Watch Network with regard to a new Commission Anti-harassment Decision
- HWN, 2022, My Commission Calvary: Testimonies of harassment at the European Commission
- Hellemans, Dal Cason, and Casini, Bystander Helping Behavior in Response to Workplace Bullying, September 2017
- Myintracomm, Au Quotidien, Commission Mediation Service sees drop in cases: Annual report highlights impact of lockdowns, makes recommendations (see especially the comments below this article)
- Safe Work Australia, Dealing with workplace bullying – a worker’s guide, 2016
- World Bank Group, Ethics and business conduct annual report 2021
Please feel free to bring to us your cases so we can voice them (anonymously, of course!) to the administration. Also in case you know of such cases please contact us or our colleagues from HWN.
For any questions do not hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment below.
If you appreciate our work, please consider becoming a member of Generation 2004
 European Commission C(2006) 1624/3 Commission decision on the European Commission policy on protecting the dignity of the person and preventing psychological harassment and sexual harassment).