The practices must change – Standby duty & use of private phones for business purposes in Delegations

After we exposed that the European Commission was infringing data protection law, many colleagues, particularly in Delegations, contacted us to share their experiences. They were not only ‘encouraged’ to use their private mobile phones for work purposes, also their standby duty tasks were going too far.  Before taking action, we wanted to verify if these were occasional problems or a widespread phenomenon. To this end, we launched a survey in March 2024 and discussed its results at a conference with Delegation colleagues on 22/04/2024. The event also helped us to get further evidence from the participant’s testimonies.

The participation to the survey was outstanding as 718 colleagues from both EEAS and the Commission replied to the questionnaire, including a wide spread representation of all staff categories.

The results, based on the replies received, the written comments and the direct feedback by our colleagues, are quite eloquent:

Concerning the use of private phones:

  1. The institution is at security risk by relying on private phones for business communications on often sensitive subjects.
  2. The Commission and the EEAS may be breaking the law or at risk of doing so since there is no legal basis to request these actions from staff, as acknowledged already by the DPO. In addition, the practices seem in direct contradiction with EU data protection legislation (64% of the respondents were not even informed of their right to decline).
  3. While staff is loyally filling in an institutional technical vacuum (83% of the respondents), often under pressure (56% of the respondents), they are not comfortable in exposing their privacy by using their private phones for business purposes.
  4. The Commission and the EEAS are shifting costs to staff, who has to use private phone devices and private communication services to perform their daily business. This is particularly inadequate taking into account that staff have to pay their private calls when using office phones.

  Regarding the standby duty (“Permanence”):

  1. There is as well an institutional security risk by assigning to unqualified staff security tasks (91% of the expats replying the survey are subject to the stand by duty). In diplomatic services these tasks are entrusted to specialized law enforcement and/or security services.
  2. A concerning high number of colleagues (16%) have been exposed to security risks while performing their standby duty. Under the current global political circumstances, personal physical risks are likely to increase. In addition to immediate personal risks, 62% of the expats who replied find challenging to perform these duties for personal reasons, such as single parents leaving children alone at home to check a fire alarm at the Delegation.
  3. Again, the Commission and the EEAS are maybe breaking the law or at risk of doing so since there is no clear, public or substantiated legal basis to request these actions from staff. Indeed, most actions (64% according to the respondents) performed under standby duty are not related to its main goal: to be able to reply to urgent requests from the headquarters.

As staff association, we seek the best protection for staff against abuses and unjustified risks, but also as loyal officials we are concerned of the institutional risk. It is particularly unacceptable that the Guardian of the Treaties is not strictly and rigorously respecting the rule of law.

Following the results of the survey and the direct feedback received, Generation 2004 requests a social dialogue with the Commission and the EEAS to address these problems.

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

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