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An increasingly Modern Workplace



Michael Steffens, Helen Conefrey and Luca Palazzotto



Let’s ensure a fair approach in each and every EU Delegation and do this the right way so that we make the most of flexible work arrangements!


The introduction of new working arrangements in EU Delegations marks a new era. Teleworking is now an accepted work pattern and is destined to transform the way we work. However, from the feedback USHU has received, not all EU Delegations are enthusiastically embracing this change, despite the social dialogue discussions and the consensus concerning the benefits that modernisation can bring. The devil lies in the detail so together we will look at the recent Decision and its implementing provisions.

 

The first-ever decision on working time and flexible working arrangements for expatriates serving in EU Delegations came into force on 16/10/2023. As a principle, telework should be carried out at the place of employment however following successful experiences during the COVID-19 period and continues lobbying from staff and trade unions, there is also a provision for exceptional telework outside the place of employment and additional telework periods for a number of specific reasons, which can be personal or work-related. The earlier telework pilot in a limited number of EU Delegations in different continents and contexts, showed positive results and demonstrated that telework was critical for business continuity and increased resilience during a crisis and the pandemic put it to the test. Both the Commission and EEAS as the main stakeholders in EU Delegations are fully aware of the benefits and the need to introduce telework in a structured manner.

 

The EEAS aims to ensure Delegations are attractive places of work, including for staff with families. Telework gives greater agency to individual staff members and can improve the work-life balance and protect staff’s health and well-being while also creating a more productive working environment. At the same time, our managers were mindful of the need to guarantee a physical presence on the ground to allow colleagues to perform their diplomatic and representation functions vis-à-vis local counterparts.

 

USHU asks the EEAS and Commission Managers in EU DEL to consider telework as analogous with presence in the office. Telework is an effective tool to increase results and allow staff to choose different work environments that are more conducive to certain types of tasks, particularly those were full concentration without interruptions. Similarly staff can often achieve a better work-life balance in their place of posting with the flexibility that telework allows. Heads of Delegations must establish “Arrangements for working time and flexible working arrangements” on a yearly basis. While introducing flexitime as the default working time regime, the decision foresees 1 day of teleworking either taken as a full day or as two half days. In addition, the decision also foresees 10 days of telework outside the place of employment that can be split into several periods if needed. The Head of Delegation can also exceptionally authorise 100% of telework to respond to a temporary health issue affecting the member of staff’s mobility or ability to work from the office. Similarly, teleworking can also be extended to cover cases of a sick spouse or child.

 

USHU requests HQ to provide greater oversight and accompaniment during the first year of implementation this new Decision to ensure a fair approach across EU Delegations. Already USHU is witnessing the development of local teleworking arrangements by Heads of Delegations where there are a range of approaches and interpretations based on the same legal basis. Whilst in some Delegations, there is a broad uptake of telework, in others there is a climate of distrust where staff are actively discouraged from requesting telework or where obstacles are created to prevent staff from accessing telework.  It is unfair that in some Delegations, Heads of Sections telework similar to other staff members whereas in others, they are being denied telework or actively discouraged from requesting it on the justification that their function is incompatible. The Decision clearly calls for listing the tasks/functions that are incompatible with teleworking and for providing a clear justification for any exclusion. The spirit of the Decision is that all expatriate staff should have access to telework and that  is can only be denied on a very restricted basis.

 

Teleworking means that many meetings will become hybrid meetings as we cater for colleagues in the office and online. Unfortunately, not all EU Delegations are fully equipped to have successful hybrid meetings. EU DEL need meeting rooms with connectivity and large screens that enable teams to assemble in person and online. CISCO screens with a wide-angle camera can also be used and have a positive effect on teamwork. Colleagues should also be provided with docking stations and other equipment for their home office.

 

The decision also specifies that staff should not be contacted or required to work between 20h00 and 07h00 (referred to as the “disconnection period”), unless there is an emergency or it was pre-agreed for duly motivated reasons, or in cases where the nature of the work or tasks requires availability during such hours. This same right to disconnect applies to weekends, public holidays and annual leave. USHU requests HE to ensure that the disconnection period is respected for staff in EU Delegations who are far from headquarters where often such rules are overlooked or ignored. Colleagues need to be responsible and embrace these disconnection periods for their own well-being and report cases where their peers or superiors unnecessarily contact them outside normal working hours.

 

Where disagreements emerge between staff and management, staff should firstly aim to slove the issue locally and if needed, they can involve their Delegation Staff Representatives (DSR). Secondly, staff can write to the FMB EEAS DEL TIMEMANAGEMENT to flag any issues occurring locally and ask them to intervene. Unresolved cases can also be referred to the new Joint Committee on Flexible Working (Article 15 of the Decision) within a month of the refusal to telework. If these mechanisms are unsuccessful in resolving the issue, the EEAS Mediation Service can be contacted and/or an Article 90(2) complaint can be introduced.

 

Important to note is also that the decision introduced flexitime as the default working time regime in EU Delegation and that recuperation is foreseen for additional justified working hours

 

Now that expatriates have a legal basis for telework in EU DEL, we request the Administration to adopt a similar Decision for Local Agents and avoid any discriminatory practices in the same place of work. It is important that all staff categories benefit from remote working and the advantages it can bring to both the individual and the institution.

 

USHU calls on the management in EU Delegations to get the maximum benefit out of the flexible working arrangements in Delegations and to fully embrace teleworking.

 

USHU calls on EEAS management to ensure that the necessary technical equipment to perform telework and to facilitate hybrid meetings is made available.

 

USHU calls on staff to make active use of the dispute mechanisms foreseen by the decision in order to resolve local disagreements and ensure their access to telework.

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