Following on from Part I of this post, this is what is minuted with regard to the "New Career System".
The President said the new career system had been discussed intensively in the BFC, which in the end had given a unanimously favourable opinion. The proposed reform implemented the measures set out in the updated HR Roadmap, and was vitally important in that it aimed to ensure the Office's long-term viability, whilst taking account of what it needed in order to function properly, together with legitimate expectations of its staff. The current system was unsustainable because of its clear limitations, which were also a source of staff dissatisfaction. All attempts to negotiate the reform with staff through genuine social dialogue had failed because of the staff representatives' systematic refusal to engage in it. The aim of the proposed reform was to improve career prospects over the long term by basing them on competence and performance. It also sought to maintain high levels of staff motivation. In fact, despite the allegedly abysmal [Merpel wonders how the social climate can be only "allegedly" abysmal] social climate, staff turnover at the Office was extremely low. The new career system would also enable the Office to take better account of budgetary and demographic constraints, and would give it more flexible tools to reward performance. Seniority-based step advancement would be replaced by a performance-based system. The budgetary envelope available for promotions would be defined each year by the Council when adopting the budget. The rigid distinctions between categories A, B and C would disappear, replaced by a system with only 80 different levels (grades and steps), compared with 250 at present. The BFC had discussed the financial impact at length.
The Office was not trying to make huge savings: at present, promotions cost roughly 2.5% of the total wage bill, and in the new system the figure would probably be about the same. But the size of the budgetary envelope earmarked for promotions could be revised upwards or downwards by the Council each year, depending on circumstances. Consequently, career development would be slower, and not all staff would reach the highest grade, as was the case today. Naturally, if large numbers of staff delivered outstanding performances, it would be justified to make more promotions than were possible under the budgetary envelope allocated, which would then have to be increased. But better performance also meant higher income for the Office. The specific situation of members of the boards of appeal would be taken into account in the review currently underway in DG 3. The question of DG 3 member careers would therefore be decided in due course by the Council, the appointing authority in such matters. In any case, the new career system would not enter into force until 1 July 2015, and the first promotions under the new system would not take place until the end of 2015. The DG 3 issues would be resolved by then. Lastly, the proposed reform was of truly historic importance. It was driven by the desire to bring the EPO into the twenty-first century. It was needed not just for efficiency reasons, but also for justice and fairness, because under the current system there was not much difference in the careers of outstanding and average performers.
The Swiss delegation said it would certainly be voting for the reform, which to its mind should have happened long ago. The Swiss office had been operating a similar system for many years, and it produced excellent results. Another very positive aspect was that in future the Council could decide each year how to the staff's performance was to be rewarded.
The Norwegian delegation said the reform was a major step forward, bringing the Office into line with comparable organisations such as the Norwegian office. But it had reservations about paying bonuses. That might be very difficult to implement in practice, especially in the current social climate. It was thus not in favour of that aspect, but could go along with it if it were alone in taking that view.
The UK delegation was also convinced that this was an important reform and a step in the right direction. The challenge of implementing it should not be underestimated, especially in the very strained social climate at present, but that was not a reason to slow things down. In addition, the Council should receive regular updates on progress with the reform. The UK delegation had noted the clarifications provided by the President about DG 3, but wondered, given the current difficult situation there, if they should not be reflected in the text.
The Swedish delegation was broadly in favour of the reform; the career system had indeed needed modernising. However, it was worried about the conditions under which the new system would be implemented. The first problem involved DG 3. The documents submitted to the Council said nothing about how the boards' independence would be maintained under the new system. True, the President had given assurances to the Council, but it agreed with the UK delegation that it would be better to have them in writing. Everything possible had to be done to dispel the public's growing doubts about DG 3's independence. Beyond that, it was undeniable that the social situation at the Office was very difficult, which was bound to have an adverse effect on the new career system's acceptability to staff. They needed to be persuaded of its merits before it was introduced. The decision should therefore be postponed to give the Office time to explain the reform so that the staff understood it.
"Everything possible had to be
done to dispel growing doubts"
The Hungarian delegation was in favour of modernising the social framework, and thus supported the proposed career system reform. Similar reforms had been successfully undertaken elsewhere, including the Hungarian civil service, where they had gone hand in hand with the implementation of an effective quality policy. However, making such a change was never without its challenges. A good conflict management system was therefore essential.
The German delegation welcomed the proposed reform, which would be an important step in modernising the Office. It was pleased that the new career system would place greater focus on performance, and therefore fully supported it in principle. However, like earlier speakers, it thought that the new career system's possible application to DG 3 was problematic. In Germany, that would be unconstitutional. It noted that the President had said he was aware of the problem, but would not vote in favour of the new career system unless DG 3 were explicitly excluded. Otherwise it would abstain.
For the Turkish delegation, the introduction of a new career system was a milestone on the path to achieving the objectives set out in the HR Roadmap. The Office needed to continue its efforts to modernise, and to improve its efficiency. It would therefore be voting for the draft decision in Part II of CA/84/14 Rev. 1.
The Austrian delegation said it would be voting in favour of the proposed reform, just as it had done in the BFC. It had been vainly advocating such a reform for a long time, and was glad to have been heard at last. It understood the concern of some delegations that applying the new career system to members of the boards of appeal risked compromising the independence of DG 3. In Austria, too, the independence of the judiciary was enshrined in the constitution, but judges' careers depended in part on their individual performance. Lastly, the issue of pensions, currently calculated on final salary, would have to be tackled sooner or later.
The Italian delegation fully supported the aims of the proposed reform, but shared the concerns expressed by other delegations about its possible implications for DG 3. It had noted the assurances given by the President in his introduction, but would be abstaining unless the text was amended to reflect them.
The French delegation thought the proposed reform went in the right direction, but it wondered whether now was the right time to implement it, given the current social climate. It would therefore be abstaining. It ended by recalling that at the Council's 140th meeting in June it had suggested commissioning an independent external audit of social relations at the Office.
The Polish delegation welcomed the proposal; it agreed with both its philosophy and aims. But it would like to know what was meant by the verb "may" in the proposed new version of Article 12(2), second paragraph, ServRegs (see Article 15 of the draft decision "He may receive a functional allowance ... "). In its opinion, a functional allowance should be compulsory for staff performing additional or particularly demanding duties. Also, the staff should be represented on bodies deciding on promotions, as had been the case for the old promotion boards. It was keen to see what would happen with DG 3. Lastly, it would not be opposing the proposed reform but it expected its comments to be taken into account.
So what, then, is a "functional allowance ...?"
The Croatian delegation too fully supported the goals of the proposed reform, which resembled career systems already in place outside the Office. It was strongly in favour of the two career paths - managerial and technical - proposed. The DG 3 issue was, to its mind, more a question of principle than of substance. It was regrettable that the staff representatives had not taken their opportunity to take part in devising the new career system. Implementing it in practice would be a big challenge, but EPO management would no doubt do so with the necessary finesse.
The Slovenian delegation's view was the same as in the BFC. Yes, the proposed reform went in the right direction, but it would be premature to implement it now before proper communication with staff had been possible. Any reform on this scale needed a transitional period, and EPO management and staff should try to find a compromise.
The Irish delegation was not against reforming the career system, and the measures described in CA/84/14 Rev. 1 were a step in the right direction. But it was not sure about the Office's chosen approach, and whether bringing the new system in all at once- especially with the current social tension -might not jeopardise the success of the whole exercise. Like the Slovenian delegation, it thought gradual implementation would be better. It also shared the reservations expressed by several other delegations about applying the new system in DG 3. It would therefore be abstaining.
The Slovakian delegation too thought the reform was a move in the right direction, but shared the concerns expressed by the Swedish, French, German, Slovenian, Irish and UK delegations. It would therefore also be abstaining.
Replying to the various speakers, the President noted that they had all said they were in favour of reforming the career system and had expressed agreement with the principles underlying the reform now proposed. Those who wanted to postpone it in the current social climate should remember it was never "the right time" for major reforms. On that basis, it would be virtually impossible to reform anything. And he could assure those who wondered whether the reform had been properly prepared, particularly given the prevailing social tensions, that this had been done meticulously. There had been a pilot, with excellent results. No doubt even more could have been done, but he rejected any suggestion that the reform had not been adequately prepared. A third set of reservations had concerned the independence of DG 3, which however was not and never would be in jeopardy. The only open question was who would decide on promotions of board of appeal members, a power currently delegated to the President. In any case, he could assure the Council that the provisions governing appraisal, performance, step advancement, bonuses, promotions and any other aspect relevant for their careers would not apply to these Council appointees until specific provisions were set out in the documents on the organisation and functioning of DG 3 which would be submitted to the Council for approval at its next meeting, in March 2015.
Having taken note of that statement by the President and of the information in CA/84/14 Add. 1 Rev. 1, the Council approved the draft decision in Part II of CA/84/14 Rev. 1 (present: 36; for: 30- BG, BE, CZ, OK, DE, EE, GR, ES,HR, IS, CY, LV, Ll, LT, LU, HU, MK, MT, MC, NO, AT, PL, PT, RO, CH, AL,RS, Fl, TR, GB; against: 2- Sl, SE; abstentions: 4- FR, IE, IT, SK) [see CAID 1 0/14].Merpel notes, in view of the reported visit of Baroness Neville Rolfe to the EPO next week, that the UK Delegation's comments both as recorded in this post and in Part I are very weak, but is pleased that the Irish delegation was more forceful and went so far as to abstain.
Even the EPO Union SUEPO acknowledges that some reform to the career system is needed, and Merpel has not seen anyone seriously argue otherwise. But the reforms that are being implemented have several troubling provisions that are causing concern (as noted in the comments of some of the delagations), and are being pressed ahead with regardless of the feedback from SUEPO, from Examiners, and from other commenters. These include the focus on productivity over quality of examination leading to lower examination quality, and the suitability of paying bonuses at all. The issue of the applicability to the Boards of Appeal has been addressed to some degree in the proviions that Merpel commented on earlier this week (here, here and here), but these have their own issues.
The Administrative Council is meeting again on 25/26 March, and Merpel hopes on this occasion there will be some more signs of serious review of the issues, and not simply rubber stamping the proposals put forward by the administration.
Merpel has deliberately kept her own comments brief since she is after all no more than the fictional sidekick of an equally fictional feline, but no doubt readers will have their own comments. Merpel begs to remind readers of the following:
Henceforth, in respect of all EPO-related blogposts, no comment will be posted if it is merely ascribed to "Anonymous". Any reader wishing to conceal his or her identity must adopt a pseudonym (which should not be obscene and should not be the name, or the mis-spelling of the name, of a real person). The pseudonym need not be an actual login name, as long as it is stated clearly at the beginning and/or end of the comment itself. This way, it will be easier for people who post later comments to identify and remember the earlier comment-poster and to recall the discussion string. Where, as has already happened on occasion, a string carries over from one blogpost to a later one on the same or a related subject, readers will be encouraged to use the same pseudonym for the sake of continuity.