The European Patent Office has just announced a "landmark deal" in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with FFPE-EPO, which is a trade union of EPO employees. It was reported last week in The Register that an MoU was in progress, and at the time it was said:
"According to the EPO, an MoU has almost been finalized and a representative from the Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO), the main union, is prepared to sign it. "
This seemed to Merpel highly unlikely, since SUEPO had continually stated that it would not sign such a document. There were several reasons for this - one is that there had been no real negotiation over the content of the MoU: counter-proposals from SUEPO had been ignored, and the MoU was expressly subordinate to the Service Regulations, which can be (and are) changed unilaterally by the EPO management. The other was that officials of SUEPO were under disciplinary investigation, since when two have been fired, one demoted, and others continue to be under sanction: SUEPO officials declined to negotiate under such duress. Mr Minnoye, EPO Vice President, claimed in a recent interview on Dutch television that disciplinary actions against so many SUEPO officials was mere coincidence, but that is near impossible to believe. (That interview, and other press coverage, can be seen on the SUEPO website here).
In fact, as today's announcement makes clear, the union that has signed the MoU is FFPE-EPO. What is the significance of this? Well, FFPE-EPO exists only in the Hague office of the EPO, and is believed to have about 70 members, whereas SUEPO has about 3400 (about half of the EPO staff, and increasing over recent years). While any union recognition is to be welcomed, the concern is that the EPO is trying to present this as showing that all is well, when in fact, with the overwhelmingly larger union, the disciplinary sanctions remain against the officials and there is no sign that a dialogue is possible at all. The social situation remains in a toxic state, and, under the current management, seems likely to stay that way.
The reports of the Board 28 meeting from last month suggested that perhaps the Administrative Council meeting this month on 16/17 March might be a turning point. Merpel still hopes that it will be, and that today's announcement will not be used to suggest that the social and industrial issues within the EPO's workforce area already being resolved.