Some colleagues tell us …

Palmina, European Parliament

I have been involved in trade union activities at the European Parliament since 2006.

I arrived at the European Parliament quite late, having worked in the private sector before that, and studied political science and journalism. I realised very quickly that in that fine political institution that is the Parliament I would not be able to control the direction of my career as much as I would have liked and I felt that sooner or later, if I had a problem, I would need help. Naturally I turned to the trade unions for advice and, when I became a member, I found that I was not an isolated case.

Taking part in trade union activities made it possible for me to see what went on backstage, and to get to know how the administrative «machinery» worked; many people, particularly those recruited relatively recently, lose their way in it. I find it satisfying to discover why things work as they do. As a member of a trade union I was able to get training for competitions, learn to know the Staff Regulations better and understand social causes. I have met colleagues not only from the Council and the Commission but also from Eurocontrol and the Council of Europe; I have been able to get some idea of social policy in the other institutions.

To be involved in the movement is to do together what one can’t do on one’s own: to fight for mandatory social consultation, to have the staff’s voice heard and to achieve an effective staff policy. Those are objectives that we can achieve only if we are united.

Although European social consultation exists for large firms, and it is the pride of Europe, we still have a long way to go in the public institutions!

I am now sixty-one and I am no longer eligible for mobility, but I feel full of the resources and energy I need to continue developing my career and help other members. It is my view that trade unions must be led by young people fully aware of the importance of social demands and what is at stake for the future of the public service: their future!

Lara, of the Council of the European Union (anonymously)

I joined the Council inspired by the ideal of promoting respect for human rights, a principle by which I set great store. Unfortunately our plans do not always match the actual situations with which we are confronted. At the beginning of my career I was subjected to a continuous process of mental harassment, which took the form of unfavourable reports and close supervision of everything that I did with the sole objective of showing up my mistakes and minimising my contribution to the team’s work. A colleague advised me to contact Union Syndicale for some real support. I was looked after by some very competent people, who gave me their total support. I received the help I needed to sort myself out and regain my faith in humanity; I discovered and valued highly the solidarity I received. Now I want to fight to arouse people’s consciences, organise solidarity in the face of injustice and combat the very real suffering endured by those colleagues being harassed. Time’s up for those who don’t obey the rules of basic respect for other human beings! Time’s up for those who harass others!

Pietro, European Commission

I trained as an economist and I have worked at the European Commission for more than thirty years. I applied when I was very young because I was attracted by the idea of Europe. Straight away I took an interest in trade union activities: I followed current affairs, I read tracts and I noticed that Union Syndicale regularly won cases before the Court of Justice; the results were often of benefit to all my colleagues; I quickly joined.

After an interesting career in various DGs I decided to devote myself to trade union activities in a more practical fashion.

Mainly, my Union Syndicale colleagues and I answer the numerous questions that our colleagues put to us on a large variety of matters, such as relations with the hierarchy, reports, remote working, their rights in the event of long-term illness or accidents, administrative investigations (IDOC), professional incompetence, pension rights, promotion, etc.

I find that at all levels many of my colleagues need to be heard, reassured and defended. In 2017 we heard and supported more than 1500 of our colleagues, answering all their questions and organising legal consultations (our specialist lawyers offer our members preferential rates).

Our colleagues often feel lost because the administration is not present enough and does not help them enough. In certain cases the administration’s or the hierarchy’s behaviour is frankly scandalous; they may, for example, refuse to refund certain expenses for serious or long-term illnesses; it also happens that absences on account of long-term illness are mentioned in reports on certain colleagues despite the fact that that is not permitted.

To my great surprise I have found that there is a form of harassment involving weaker or older colleagues who are pushed towards retirement. I have also found a catastrophic situation in certain agencies where, from one day to the next, contracts are not renewed on false pretexts. That is a general deterioration in working conditions and we have to take action to eliminate it.

We must also realise that certain trade unions give up spending time on looking after colleagues with serious problems because they prefer to spend their time trying to create majorities of potential voters.

Only Union Syndicale offers immediate service and crucial help to ensure that all our colleagues’ rights are respected. To devote one’s time to helping colleagues in difficulty is a vocation. I can assure you that it is Union Syndicale’s vocation.

Luca, European External Action Service (EEAS)

When I was invited to work as an assistant at Union Syndicale I was grateful for the suggestion: in Belgium trade unions have a positive image; I very much approve of social commitment and I have always regarded it as such.

Another thing that I like is working in an international environment as it corresponds to my experience; I have lived in Spain, the former Yugoslavia, Greece and Austria and also in Berlin for thirty years.

One thing that I regret is that forms of action for a secretary are limited. I have dreamed of being able to do more with my experience of life, my university studies and my knowledge of languages but when I began work as a contract staff member the three-year rule was in force (now it’s the six-year rule): it is hard to commit oneself fully to one’s work, prepare for competitions and take steps to move to another possible job all at the same time. And what’s more, I think competitions are designed for younger people: experience of life counts for less in them.

In my contacts with members I always try to give them that little «extra» that will enable them to make progress and resolve their problems. I do not claim that at my level I have the power and resources to change things, but every small success makes me happy.

Suzette, member of the Council of Europe Staff Trade Union (SACE)

I have always been sensitive to the issue of dignity in the workplace. I started my career at a very successful law firm in Paris. When the firm’s earnings starting to decrease slightly, myself and my colleagues were subjected to a number of unfair and negative changes in our working conditions. On behalf of a group of colleagues, I wrote a letter to management requesting an improvement in our situation. That’s how I became involved in trade union activities in the work place.

Shortly after joining the Council of Europe – the home of Human Rights – I joined the SACE for its human values, which matched my views at the time. From time to time, between colleagues we would discuss our professional situations and talk about the lack of career progression, particularly in the support services sector. As a qualified woman working in the administrative assistance branch, I was looking for an organisation that would allow me to voice my dissatisfaction, to suggest changes rather than each of us complaining about our problems separately, and that could support me in my career in this institution where women were highly represented at the lower end of the workforce, but few and far between at the top.

Like many of my colleagues, I was reluctant to speak in public. However, one day I decided to not always let the others speak for me; everyone should be able to come forward when needed. After that, I took a training course in public speaking and persevered in my efforts to represent the interests of my colleagues and to stand together to defend our rights as agents.

Since then, I have been elected a member of the Staff Committee several times, including as Vice-President. I have worked on a number of issues, including well-being, harassment and education, which represented a considerable investment in terms of time and commitment. I was Executive Secretary of the SACE from 2012 to 2014, and I am now one of the SACE representatives to the Union Syndicale Fédérale (USF).

One of the cases that we have dealt with over the past few years at the SACE, and for which I am responsible for reporting to USF, concerns the increasing precarity of agents. Currently, around 65% of employees hold a permanent contract while 35% are on flexible contracts (fixed-term contracts, temporary contracts, secondment, etc.). However, the Ministers’ deputies wish to significantly reduce the number of permanent contracts. By discussing matters with all of the European trade unions within USF, and by working together, we can observe trends, seek advice from our counterparts, benefit from their expertise and keep our members informed about changes in their working conditions. Another action in which I was involved concerned the creation of a framework agreement on striking. Unfortunately, it did not succeed, but the effort was nevertheless made and this work can always be resumed.

One of the issues that has always concerned me is that of well-being and malaise at work. I am a member of the Harassment/Psycho-social Risks working group at USF and I was a member of the very first Commission tasked with dealing with harassment complaints at the Council of Europe. We were responsible for verifying the admissibility of the complaints, and then investigating them, on the basis of hearings between colleagues and witnesses and the examination of files. We then drafted recommendations to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, who ultimately decided what action to take in cases of alleged harassment.

At the SACE, we also work to improve the recognition of trade unions. These unions are increasingly under-represented, as the authorities tend to limit joint exercises, in which the unions would be involved, and instead sometimes choose to address the staff directly; however, the latter do not necessarily have all the experience and knowledge necessary to best defend their interests individually.

I should add that I am from Guadeloupe, which is far from both France and Europe. I therefore also represent Caribbean culture and diversity within the Organisation.

Like the SACE motto (“United we stand”), I believe we need to stand united, to join forces, particularly at this point in time when working conditions in both the public and private sector, whether nationally or internationally, are constantly being undermined. This is essential to better defend our interests and thereby defend the important role of the European civil service!

Hamid, European Central Bank (ECB)

My aim is to improve the working conditions of my colleagues and to set up a working environment where people do respect each other and management behave for the wellbeing of their staff. I am convinced that good relationship between all colleagues makes people working in joy, happiness, commitment that brings motivation at work and adds a great value to the quality of the work we deliver all together for us, for the ECB and for the all European citizen.

In 2001 when I joined the ECB (European Central Bank) in Frankfurt as an Engineer in IT, I was certainly challenging myself as a French citizen not speaking German, and I succeeded in making things happening for the best of all European Citizens in the field of my expertise. Within ECB, I worked very hard, even during nights and week-ends and I was happy to see the results of my work – the Euro being alive.

But after some years I realised that people grow up, and I was still in the same position. There was no equal treatment for all, promotions were depending on relationship and networking and I had still to work non-stop all the time including weekends.

Then in 2002, I joined a trade union called USE (Union of the staff of the ECB), to bring my added value in acting for improving the wellbeing of ECB colleagues and fighting for ECB staff rights.

Finally in 2007 I joined the other ECB union, IPSO (International and European Public Services Organisation) and supported the strike in 2009 for the pension reform.

In 2014, I have been elected as an IPSO board member, and was involved in several fields related to the dignity at work, equal treatment, work life balance and I raised colleagues concerns on an existing blaming culture at ECB.

In a such important institution like ECB, there is a significant impact on staff when the motivation is decreasing because people are not rewarded in a balanced way. I am still convinced that without a win situation, given – take, TRUST in staff and managers, to behave in a balanced and transparent way, the effectiveness of our work is less than optimal. We need to trust ourselves in each other to make a smooth social dialogue for an equal treatment, promote diversity in all dimensions and fight against favouritism.

Last but not least, having worked as an IT engineer specialised in Artificial Intelligence, let me share with you that I don’t believe that robots will replace people at work. Human beings are inimitable with their diversity, creativity, talents, sense of humour and ability to love.

Liliane Banczyk
Vice-President, Communication, USB