Time for the Commission to focus on inclusion: cancer survivors

Generation 2004 strongly supports colleagues in the EU institutions affected by cancer, just as we support colleagues with any important issue impacting their physical and/or mental health. As the Commission has been in the process of revising its HR strategy for almost 2 years now, it is high time to put in place a new policy to better cater for the needs of cancer survivors and their families and the needs of all colleagues whose complex situations are not well covered by the current patchwork of rules [1].

The Commission now has the results of its diversity survey [2] and is continuing working on this topic, especially through the Diversity and Inclusion office. It has also announced a new Decision on absence/sickness management providing a coordinated return-to-work procedure in cases of long-term illness. We look forward to seeing what that decision changes, we hope at least for more transparency on the options available e.g. the phased return to work after sick leave (see Unwritten or lesser-known rules). Also, in the interests of a joined-up Commission, any such absence/sickness management decision must be linked to the anticipated anti-harassment decision [3].

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan identified many challenges cancer survivors face, including those linked to their professional lives:

‘Cancer survivors also face obstacles to return to work. Studies indicate that the professional situation of people diagnosed with cancer often considerably deteriorate years after the diagnosis. Measures to facilitate social integration and re-integration in the workplace, including an early assessment and adaptation of working conditions for cancer patients should be integral parts of the patient pathway’.

The plan also established a very important goal:

‘not only to ensure that cancer patients survive their illness, but that they live long, fulfilling lives, free from discrimination and unfair obstacles’.

The Commission should then lead by example and foster better inclusion of staff members who are suffering (or suffered) from cancer and/or other high-impact health issues, by developing policies to remove obstacles or discrimination against our colleagues in the workplace, and actively promoting their participation in the professional sphere.

Returning to work or being supported at work carries a very high value both for the individual and for the workplace. This is not only from a financial point of view, but also for social inclusion, well-being, and mental health.  However, for this to happen, our colleagues need the appropriate support, and a specific all-encompassing policy needs to be implemented to this end. It should also be acknowledged there (and in corresponding training) that sickness is not binary: we are not always either sick or well. In many cases a full recovery is not possible (or will only happen long-term) and we should all have the support and the information we need in order to work as much or as little as we feel able to.  Colleagues with chronic diseases or with disabilities (e.g. those arising from cancer treatments) would ideally be covered by a Commission strategy to retain staff within the framework of its policies on diversity and inclusion.

For this reason, we addressed a note to Ms Ingestad, Director General for Human Resources, to put forward specific concerns, raise awareness of the issues faced by our colleagues and ask for statistics on the issue of cancer survivors in the Commission in order to be able to better understand the situation in our institution.

Some of the measures advocated by a group of colleagues affected by cancer would require a change in the Staff Regulations (SRs) [4], Generation 2004 is convinced that cancer survivors’ working conditions could be significantly improved without changing the SRs. Raising awareness on this topic and recommending maximum flexibility to all those involved (e.g. in granting medical part-time/longer-term phased return to work, extended teleworking, supporting mobility, etc.) would already be a first step into this direction.

Generation 2004 stands ready to contribute to the new Decision on absence and sickness management, especially as regards the return to work and inclusion in the workplace of colleagues who would benefit significantly from adjustments (large or small) to their work situation (independent of whether they consider themselves to be disabled or not). This is often the case for cancer survivors (and for anyone who is unfamiliar with the support and options available to address health issues across the various services and suddenly finds themselves needing to make use of them). Generation 2004 looks forward to a new joined-up HR Strategy making the Commission a modern and caring employer, particularly for those whose health situation is currently further complicated by opaque, unwritten, time-consuming and inconsistently applied rules.

Let’s ensure that the new decision is appropriately scrutinised by those who will be subject to it: especially our colleagues with experience of serious illnesses, including cancer and/or disabilities.

As usual, please get in touch if you have any comment or suggestions and note our new column where you can tell us about your falling-through-the-cracks experiences!


[1] Many of the applicable rules and available support are listed under disabilities, while not everyone who requires support/assistance will consider themselves disabled.  A small example of the many holes in the current network of rules is that of colleagues who have been on long-term sick leave losing days of annual leave. Those colleagues currently have to know that they have the right to pass more than 12 days to the following year in order to exercise that right. We raised the issue of automating this in the Central Staff Committee and drafted the corresponding notes e.g. 30.11.2021. HR have promised to implement this for 2023. We are following this.

[2]  Results were presented via EU Learn 19.05.2022 but are as yet unpublished. A summary is in April 2022 Central Staff Committee (CSC) plenary. There are no further EU Learn sessions listed, nor is there the option available to show interest in future sessions. We have asked for clarification and also when the recording and presentation will be made available. We will link to them when this information is provided.

[3] Harassment Watch Network, 2022, Expectations of the Harassment Watch Network with regard to a new Commission Anti-harassment Decision

[4] The Staff Regulations were opened in 2004 and again in 2014. European Court of Auditors, 2019, Special report no 15/2019: Implementation of the 2014 staff reform package at the Commission – Big savings but not without consequences for staff

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