Last week Merpel posted a piece concerning news that the EPO employees were going on strike. Because of the difficulties in finding reliable information from authenticated sources, Merpel posted only the basic and apparently incontrovertible details as to what was going to happen. The piece attracted an astonishing 70 comments to date. The IPKat has therefore pressed Merpel into service again to post an update and report some of the threads of the comments. Both felines hope that this may be of particular interest to our dear readers who read mainly the email version of the blog, and therefore miss out on the comments.
|Merpel diligently reviews the many comments|
She did however find on the SUEPO website some more useful information that was not available at the time of previous posting. A posting on 20 March sets out clearly and cogently the reasons for EPO staff dissatisfaction in a document labelled "What do the EPO staff want?" This document complains about the current governance of the EPO, particular in the person of the current president Mr Benoît Battistelli. This is said to be problematic because 'the EPO very much a "state within a state" without, however, the separation of powers that is the norm in modern democracies' so that the president is 'prosecutor, party and judge'. The specific complaints seem worth reproducing verbatim as they are more concise than any other source:
- Staff of the EPO no longer has timely access to justice. It now takes almost 4 years to get an opinion from the Internal Appeals Committee. Further, most of the time Mr Battistelli disregards the Committee's opinion if it is in favour of the employee. That then forces the claimant to file a complaint in front of the ILO-AT, the only Tribunal accessible for EPO staff. The total duration of the procedure may be up to 10 years. Justice is de facto denied in the EPO. [The problem with such delays at the ILO- AT was discussed last year by the IPKat here]
- The President has created his own internal police and introduced so-called “Investigation Guidelines” that encourage staff to report on each other and that deny staff fundamental rights such as the right to remain silent, the right to be represented by a legal counsel of one's choice, and the right to refuse access to one's home without a search warrant.
- Mr Battistelli strongly curtailed the communication means of the Staff Union of the EPO (SUEPO) and of the Staff Committee. Incoming emails sent from the SUEPO domain are blocked, the sending of emails to more than 50 colleagues is forbidden and punished with disciplinary measures. Documents submitted for the Administrative Council are blocked by the President.
- Mr Battistelli introduced strike regulations that give him the power to decide for what issues staff may strike and for what they may not. Strike ballots may no longer be organized by the Staff Union but only by the administration. All other actions than strike (e.g. work-by-rule) have been declared illegal.
- Next, Mr Battistelli plans to dissolve the democratically elected Staff Committee. Elections are to be called in June. The new election rules set by the President seem carefully designed to make the future Staff Committee unworkable. The elections will be organized and controlled by the administration, not by staff. The President will also decide on the admissibility of the candidatures and on the validity of the election results.
- In the meantime more than half of the elected staff representatives have been subjected to, or are threatened with, disciplinary measures in an apparent attempt to quash the opposition. Critical managers are simply transferred to empty posts.
In the comments section of the previous blogpost, the following topics were addressed.
A commentator referred to the Examiners "handing back bonuses". This apparently refers to a proposal to give EPO examiners a bonus in 2013 reported by the IPKat here. This proposal did not however apparently happen in the end - it was said to have been withdrawn because Examiners did not want it in the form offered.
2. Examiner pay
Many commenters referred to the high pay and good ancillary benefits of EPO Examiners (the argument appearing to be that if you are paid well then you don't get to complain about other matters). On the other hand it was pointed out that those who can fulfil the technical and language requirements are rather rare. Epithets like "cushy" and "golden cage" catch the general tone of the adverse comments. Merpel does not see that high pay need be accompanied by reduced employment rights.
3. Examination quality
The post attracted a number of negative comments about examination quality at the EPO. Although this is an interesting discussion in its own right, Merpel feels it is little churlish of the IPKat's readers to bring this into the present topic.
4. Reasons for the strike
There were surprisingly few comments on this point, ie that actual reasons for the industrial action, but they largely reflected the reasons cited above. Some commentators who apparently were aware of the reasons were not sympathetic that these represented valid reasons for industrial action under the circumstances.
5. Oral proceedings
There was concern that Oral Proceedings might be affected. Apparently EPO staff are under instruction not to impede Oral Proceedings and involved Examiners are not to strike.
6. And finally
The latest comment at the time of writing revealed the perhaps surprising fact that EPO employees are required to submit details of spousal income to the EPO.
Overall, not many commenters who were not Examiners appeared to support the position of the striking EPO employees, either because of the pay issue, or the examination quality issue. The post was however never intended to be a referendum.
Merpel recalls that before Mr Battistelli, Alison Brimelow was hailed as the apparent saviour of the EPO, who would deal with the examination backlog and all of the internal issues. She was responsible for the hated 2-year divisional deadline rule that was recently repealed, and her tenure is not generally considered to have achieved any significant reform. No doubt Mr Battistelli felt that he could do better. Merpel awaits with interest the response to the current unrest.
In the nearer future, Merpel would be very interested to hear how the strike itself is going. She can't be in Munich in the near future, so invited informed comments below in the usual manner.