EU staff strike may disrupt upcoming leadership summit

Trade unions in the EU institutions warned they could go on strike next week, threatening to disrupt a European summit on 27-28 June if the European Commission doesn’t withdraw a proposed reform of staff regulations. Trade unions say the Commission is keeping EU officials in the dark about the latest developments in the negotiations.

Meeting at a general staff meeting yesterday in the Commission’s Berlaymont building, trade unions complained of “incomplete information” they receive from the three-way negotiations between the EU Council where the member countries sit, the Commission and Parliament, on the reform of the institutions’ staff regulations.

Union officials also said that the negotiations endanger the conditions of employment, remuneration and pensions of those who work for the EU institutions.

A meeting foreseen today (20 June) with Commission Vice President Maroš Šef?ovi?, in charge of administration, cannot replace “a real social dialogue” in which staff representatives would be part of the negotiation of staff regulation modifications, the unions said.

If they are unhappy with the results of the three-way talks, trade unions will lodge a strike notice in all institutions from 25 June onwards, to demand that the Commission withdraw its proposal. The unions also demonstrated ahead of an EU leadership summit in February.

About 60% of EU institutions' staff participated in a strike on 5 June over the same issue. Normally strikes are followed by a larger proportion of personnel in the Council, compared to the Commission, since the actions by Council staff more directly affect the member states that push for budget cuts.

The average salary in EU institutions is €5,000 gross and the average pension is €4,300.

The Commission tabled a proposal including a 5% reduction of staff in all EU institutions, between 2013 and 2017, which will be offset by longer working hours, from 37.5 to 40 hours without salary compensation. Also, the Commission has proposed to increase the retirement age from 63 to 65 and cut by -18% and -45% the starting and end-of-career salaries for certain jobs.

Overall, the changes proposed by the Commission would amount to a budget reduction of €1 billion for the period 2014-2020.

Some staff members, especially in lower salary categories, typically remain on the job during strikes because they don’t want to lose payment for the time they miss work. Higher-paid officials say that they are not interested in the trade union battles.

Once the strike notification is lodged, EU institutions usually enter in consultations with trade unions to establish a list of personnel obliged to work during the labour action. Also, EU institutions can mobilise additional personnel needed for security reasons.

Another general staff meeting will be held on 21 June to decide on the follow-up.

Background

As austerity tightens its grip on the continent while the EU budget for 2014-2020 is being agreed, the salaries and benefits of the EU institutions’ staff have become a prized target, with British Prime Minister David Cameron pushing for a “real terms” cut to their income.

The average salary in EU institutions is €5,000 gross and the average pension is €4,300.

The Commission tabled a proposal including a 5% reduction of staff in all EU institutions, between 2013 and 2017, which will be offset by longer working hours, from 37.5 to 40 hours without salary compensation. Also, the Commission has proposed to increase the retirement age from 63 to 65 and cut by -18% and -45% the starting and end-of-career salaries for certain jobs.

Overall, the changes proposed by the Commission would amount to a budget reduction of €1 billion for the period 2014-2020.