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31st Jul 2016

EU staff to go on strike

  • EU staff are mobilising against pay reforms (Photo: tpholland)

EU staff unions have re-iterated their threat to go on strike after negotiations with the European Commission failed to produce an agreement on a new package of pay and pension changes.

To the jeers of some 1,000 EU employees at a rally in the commission’s headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday (22 November), representatives of a “common front” of 11 staff unions adopted a resolution that "authorises" them “to undertake any action that it may deem necessary, including strike action.”

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The unions blame administration commissioner Maros Sefcovic for suddenly breaking off negotiations, under way since September, after pressure from national governments to cut even more spending than initially proposed.

“If Sefcovic does not reopen the negotiations, we will go on strike,” said Felix Geradon, secretary-general of the Union Syndicale, the biggest of the eleven within the institutions.

Earlier this month, the unions gave the commission a strike notice, giving warning that they are prepared to down tools for one day any time between 23 November and 17 December, a move that would practically shut down the European Commission.

Sefcovic, for his part, claims to have fully respected the procedure of a so-called social dialogue, required before any such contract changes. He hopes to win approval of the full commission on Thursday (23 November), after which staff representatives will still have 30 days to provide input before the proposal enters the European law-making carrousel.

A new deal is needed because the current one, agreed to in 2004, expires after 2012. The proposal put forward aims to save €1 billion by 2020 by reducing staff by five percent, lengthen the working week from 37.5 to 40 hours, and raise the retirement age from 63 to 65. Unions oppose the changes and suggest lowering the salaries of high-placed officials instead.

National governments, meanwhile, are balking at the often generous compensations for EU officials, which they deem unjustified in light of the current economic crisis, and are asking for still deeper cuts in salaries, pensions and benefits.

“It is our view that the changes proposed by the Commission do not offer sufficient and guaranteed financial savings,” a group of 17 member states said in a statement on Tuesday (15 November).

National administrations are cutting spending on the terms and conditions of civil servants, they said, and “the staff of the European Institutions cannot remain immune from these fiscal consolidation efforts.”

EU officials are often compensated for leaving their countries with low tax rates and special expatriate allowances. A job at the commission in particular is seen as something of a golden cage. According to commission statistics, only 80 commission employees have resigned since 2008 – out of a total workforce of around 50,000.

Some commission employees, however, are eager to emphasise the gap between officials, who have open-ended contracts, and so-called contract agents, who often have a three-year contract and are paid less. “I earn €1,700 net, but do exactly the same work as an official,” said a Belgian contract agent who preferred to remain unnamed.

“It’s easy to confuse the people at the top with footsoldiers like myself,” said a British employee who also did not want to be named.

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