15 November 2017
Reporter: Barney Dixon

EPO faces backlash over scrapping of permanent employment contracts

The European Patent Office (EPO) is considering proposals to scrap permanent employment contracts for all new staff in favour of renewable five-year fixed term contracts.

There are currently no alternative employment options listed in the proposal, which will affect staff joining after 1 January 2018.

According to the proposal, which sets out plans for the “modernisation of the employment framework of the EPO”, these reforms would ensure the office’s “long-term sustainability” and allow for a more “flexible management of the EPO’s workforce”.

In an internal memo, the Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO) described the move as “Kafkaesque”.

The outgoing EPO president Benoît Battistelli entered the proposal alongside the EPO’s director of human resources Elodie Bergot at the Budget and Finance Committee’s meeting on 24 October.

SUEPO revealed that the proposal was met with criticism from the budget and finance committee, particularly from representatives for Italy, the UK, Poland, and Germany.

According to SUEPO, Battistelli took issue with the criticism, intimating that “it was his prerogative to govern until the last day of his mandate”.

Battistelli is understood to have argued that the proposal had “no financial implications” and therefore he was free to push it through to the administrative council in December without the consent of the budget and finance committee.

SUEPO said that there is a “serious risk that this plan will blow up”.

Fixed-term contracts are currently only used at the EPO to fill temporary staff shortages and are capped at 5 percent of the total workforce.

SUEPO explained that the proposal raised many questions, particularly around how the EPO will minimise corruption when staff are denied the benefits that come with permanent employment.

The memo stated: “There will be no professional pride, no incentive to invest in quality, no stimulus to bind the employee to the EPO and keep him/her loyal and immune from temptation.”

“With a precarious future, there will be a temptation to squirrel away as much cash as possible for the post-EPO life. Some will do so honourably, others perhaps less so. Employees have access to highly confidential, sensitive industrial secrets worth hundreds of millions of euro.”

The union also raised concerns around how a temporary employment status would affect the families and spouses of incoming staff members, who would likely be leaving behind jobs in order to relocate.

A source close to SUEPO said that neither the central staff committee, nor SUEPO itself was informed or consulted on the policy, nor given an opportunity to give their opinion.

SUEPO highlighted its hope that the new president of the EPO, António Campinos, “might be more open to tackling problems constructively instead of dogmatically”.

“One thing is sure, Campinos will find a problematic legacy which no doubt will hinder progress—a squeezed lemon does not produce much.”

Campinos has previously said that he will look to continue cooperation between the EPO and the Union Syndicale Fédérale when he takes up his duties in 2018.

SUEPO said that what Campinos will actually do is still up for discussion, “since his answer is rather, to say the least, very vague”.

The EPO has been contacted for comment but is yet to respond.

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