22nd Oct 2020

EU officials begin strike action over pay rise

  • The lobby in the EU Council building: Up to 5,000 staff are expected to cram in for the protest on Monday (Photo: EUobserver)

Up to 5,000 EU civil servants are expected to attend a protest over pay in the glass-covered lobby of the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday morning (14 December).

The strike will not affect a meeting of EU farming and fishing ministers to be held in the same building the same day.

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But trade unions have warned they may shut down future events if they do not get their way: EU transport ministers are meeting in Brussels on Thursday. Telecoms ministers are due to meet on 22 December.

The dispute comes after a group of 15 member states blocked plans to award EU staff a 3.7 percent pay hike.

EU salaries are pegged to civil service wages in eight EU countries in an automatic legal mechanism. But some politicians have said the hikes should be put aside at a time when many EU citizens are struggling because of the financial crisis.

"I have had enough of hypocrisy. At the summit, at the level of leaders, everybody says: There is no question of higher expenditure, there is a crisis. But later, somewhere on the sly, this process goes on. So we're going to be stubborn to the end on this one," Polish prime minister Donald Tusk said last Friday.

Trade union leaders have dismissed the criticism as empty posturing.

"This subject has been blown out of proportion by the media, so the member states are looking for a way out. It's all about saving face," Renzo Carpenito, the EU Council delegate to the FFPE union, said. "The personnel here work very hard, often late into the evening, to solve European problems."

Mr Carpenito added that the original group of 15 is shrinking. But a blocking minority still remains under the qualified majority voting system which governs EU decision-making in this case.

EU diplomats failed to reach agreement on the issue despite holding a series of behind-closed-doors talks last week. The next round of discussions is due on Monday.

The trade unions are confident they will win sooner or later due to the weight of the legal argument on their side.

But EU officials could lose a Christmas 'bonus' if the talks drag out too long: The hike is retroactive to July 2009, with the past six months' worth of the increase due to be paid out in a lump sum a few days before the Christmas break.

The sight of well-attired and mild-mannered civil servants holding strike placards is a rare one in the EU capital. In the last such event, in 2005, EU staff staged a rally in the European Commission lobby in protest against people being made to work on short-term contracts.

A secretary in the first year of her work in the EU institutions gets €2,200 a month after tax. But a top civil servant, a "director general," can earn €17,000 a month.


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