Back in 2020, the OIB (Office for Infrastructure and Logistics in Brussels) presented a strategic plan for a massive renewal of European Commission buildings. The declared aim was to provide modern, high performing and sustainable buildings, complete with effective and efficient infrastructures, at the highest environmental standards.

The said strategy used the keywords of the century such as green deal or climate neutrality – whatever the OIB understood them to mean. The OIB promised that this strategy was the best possible solution for an environmentally friendly technological infrastructure. The strategy includes the plan to move all six Executive Agencies to the North Light Building (next to Gare du Nord in Brussels).  Unfortunately, OIB did not consult the main subjects of this plan, namely, those who will work in the building. The suitability of the new premises to the needs of the actual functioning of the Agencies is highly questionable.

On December 13th, the staff, excluded from OIB’s plans or consultations, gathered in the COV Atrium to voice their concern against the OIB’s authoritative handling of the dossier. More than 400 people, from the EC Trade Unions in cooperation with the EC Central Staff Committee, the Staff Committees of the Executive Agencies, and their Common Staff Committee along with many Heads of Department and their respective Directors were present.

Among the participants, two agency representatives of Union Syndicale, Dr. Giovanni Torrisi, member of Union Syndicale and the ERCEA Staff Committee President and member of the Common Staff Committee, and Valérie Bour, elected member of the newly established Agency Section of Union Syndicale agreed to recount these concerns.

Firstly, OIB was unwilling to engage staff in the planning process.  “The lack of social dialogue is our biggest concern. OIB formed a working group to start the moving but excluded the staff representatives. That is unacceptable,” Dr. Torrisi said. He added that the Executive Agencies   have a legitimate right to  sit at the negotiation table.

The second reason for which the staff are reluctant to move is the lack of safety. The North Light Building area in the northern part of Brussels is known to be a drug trafficking pole and it is especially dangerous to be around in the late hours. “Many colleagues have been visiting the place and they are worried.”.  We are also concerned about the safety of the over 100 experts attending evaluations several times per year, and the consequential reputation of the Agencies as an unsafe place to attend such meetings.

The next obvious potential problem is the parking area. According to Dr. Torrisi the building just has one-floor underground parking for few hundred cars and bicycles. “Squeezing offices of six Agencies –that means more than 3500 staff– in a building with one floor parking will definitely be messy.”

What is even more intimidating for Dr. Torrisi and Valérie Bour, is that OIB is not only planning to move thousands of personnel to another location, but also to impose working arrangements and  working configuration – for example OIB insists on implementing hot-desking system, a trendy organizational workspace system in which desks are used by different people at different times – without allowing the main stakeholders to state their working needs and concerns that need accommodated in the future office space.

These needs and concerns include:

–         The accommodation of the ergonomic furniture and other medical investment made for colleagues with special needs that is potentially threatened by the focus on maximizing space efficiency and reducing redundant office space.

–         The implementation of the confidentiality and privacy requirements that are key to certain functions and files.

–         The offer of a canteen or cafeteria service to the staff of the agencies and the numerous external experts

Furthermore, the different agencies have different needs that OIB should identify through impact and security assessments Agency by Agency. The Union Syndicale executive agencies representatives will keep on voicing the concerns of colleagues to ensure they are taken on board and will take part in next mobilization of 24 January.

The conclusion to take from the staff gathering in Covent Garden is that staff and unions want proper consultation and social dialogue. Real negotiations to find compromises between employers and employees would contribute to minimize frustration and demotivation among staff, which echo outside Brussels in the wide expert communities associated to the work of the agencies and the UE in general. We want to continue making a positive difference and be a reliable consultation partner; we should not be ignored or treated as second-class staff.

Sharing experience, building solidarity. Staff from agencies, join Union Syndicale !