Twenty years of uphill struggle to counterbalance the power of the ECB

1997: IPSO starts at the European Monetary Institute (EMI)

IPSO – the International and European Public Services Organisation – is a staff union  founded by staff of the EMI and the European Central Bank (ECB) to represent the professional interests of persons working for the ECB.  IPSO was born on 11 December 1997.  A Secretary-General, Wolfgang Hermann, provided continuity of the day-to-day processes and shared experience since its inception.  Having a professional unionist behind you is indeed a boon!

Vision and mission

IPSO works for the interests of its members in continually improving a European civil service devoted to the values of the European Union: respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

We raise our members’ voice and take actions to defend their interest. We defend the rights of all persons working for the ECB irrespective of their contract status.  Our vision and mission is proper work for all!

IPSO is a member of USF, the Union Syndicale Fédérale.  Via this membership IPSO is affiliated to EPSU, the European Federation of Public Services Unions.  IPSO cooperates with other unions and federations such as UNI Europa, DGB and IG Metall on dedicated topics and projects.

Working in an unconstitutional situation

We face an unconstitutional situation created by the Maastricht Treaty.  The ESCB and ECB Statute stipulates that the Governing Council adopts our conditions of employment.  This makes the Governing Council (GovC) and Executive Board (EB) at the same time legislator, executive power and employer.  There is no parliamentary involvement in this law-making.  No national law applies and since the ECB decided to adopt its own rules, the Staff Regulations of the other EU Institutions do not apply either.

Staff representation is involved in the law-making by way of consultation.  The ECB staff is represented by an elected staff committee and IPSO, a recognised union.  Their involvement by consultation is not sufficient to compensate for the lack of democratic legitimacy in the ECB’s rule-making.  The ECB must also respect the division of powers.

No collective bargaining

ECB staff members and their representatives do not enjoy the employee rights applied throughout the EU regarding negotiation or participation in selection processes for staff.  A strong union is needed.  Over the years our colleagues have recognised this: our membership grows continuously in spite of the absence of collective bargaining in order to address this gap.

2008: IPSO becomes a union recognised by the ECB and in 2009 a first strike is held

After years of stalemate, the ECB recognised IPSO as a social partner.  In a Memorandum of Understanding consultation rights were granted in staff-related decision making processes.

As IPSO has long deemed that staff representatives’ involvement in the ECB’s processes in setting its labour and social security law was not sufficient, 500 staff members went on strike in June 2009 in protest against a unilateral massive cut of their pension rights.  This was the first ever strike within such an institution.  It received worldwide media attention.  This social unrest at the ECB has resulted in enhancements of IPSO’s rights.  By 2011 an amendment to the Memorandum of Understanding of 2008 brought involvement in disciplinary panels, better access to the GovC and EB and the establishment of a Health and Safety Committee.  Also as a result of the strike and in light of the ECB’s combined role as a legislator and employer, IPSO obtained some administrative support for its work.

2013 until the present: work for proper staffing

During the last couple of years IPSO has sought sounder and sustainable staffing.  The ECB has been and is understaffed.   The composition of staff has not been sound with far too many precarious contracts and an abuse of temporary agency staff for permanent work.  In March 2015, IPSO wrote an open letter to the members of the GovC.  IPSO pointed out conflicts of interest in the ECB’s decision-making on staffing. This led to some increase of headcount throughout the bank.  The number of precarious workplaces at the ECB could be reduced.

The policy for the assignment of temporary agency staff has been changed after IPSO won a court case on its consultation rights on that matter.  IPSO is still concerned about proper staffing.  We observe poor conditions for trainees who work full time for a compensation package slightly above minimum wage and without full social security.  Outsourcing of work to firms with poor conditions in many support areas is seen while at the same time in core tasks such as banking supervision good conditions prevail for consultancy firms.

2016: ECB law-making a matter of public interest

ECB’s labour and social security laws are matters of public interest.  IPSO always claimed to involve, at least informally, the European Parliament.  IPSO worked with a group of EU Parliamentarians from all main political forces.  This culminated in a public hearing by the EP’s ECON committee of the ECB’s HR management and IPSO accompanied by the Staff Committee.  Yet, changes are still outstanding in this field.

2017: support by the TU movement and politicians in the fight against precarious work

In its struggle for agency staff IPSO got the support of European and German politicians and TU colleagues.  Frankfurt Chief Mayor Peter Feldmann spoke at a rally on 7 June 2017 in support of these precarious workers.  IPSO was able to obtain the signature of a first collective agreement resulting in a social plan for our agency staff flanking the ECB’s outsourcing of parts of its IT functions.  The outsourcing itself could not be stopped.

Twentieth anniversary – our work is not complete

In November 2017 IPSO celebrated its twentieth anniversary.  During all these years our members served on committees, commented on dozens of consultations on ECB’s rules, fought court cases, supported colleagues in cases ranging from the rejection of rights to mobbing and harassment.  Our seminar series IPSOnomics brings diversity of thought.  We denounced conflicts of interest and highlighted the flaws in the ECB’s promotion and recruitment rules.  Not least thanks to the efforts of IPSO we have a quota target for female managers and finally in 2018 (!) a long-term care scheme at the ECB.  A first move to respect the working time directive is made.  All this comes after two decades of union work by IPSO and an often controversial but also fruitful dialogue with our HR and top management.

Still today, ECB staff have no collective bargaining rights, the decision making bodies of the ECB continue to set law behind closed doors.  IPSO’s focus remains on solidarity, negotiation, participation, transparency and equal rights.

The USF includes both organizations whose members are subject to the EU statute and organizations whose members have another status, such as IPSO. In both cases, we achieved important victories, as shown by Günther’s article for the EU and Johannes’s article for the other statutes.

Johannes Priesemann