21 March 2017
Reporter: Barney Dixon

IPSO asks Germany to step into EPO dispute

The International and European Public Services Organisation (IPSO) has penned a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel raising its “extreme concern” with the European Patent Office (EPO).

Senior IPSO officials alleged that EPO president Benoît Battistelli has conducted “massive abuses” of power, and that the EPO’s administrative council has at most adopted a “passive attitude”, and at times “repeatedly supported Battistelli’s initiatives by providing further powers of authority”.

In November last year, the Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO) held a demonstration in solidarity with dismissed senior official Laurent Prunier. Demonstrations have continued regularly.

The EPO also ran disciplinary actions against SUEPO’s three main representatives, reportedly against the will of the administrative council as expressed in its March 2016 resolution.

The council requested that Battistelli ensure that disciplinary proceedings are not only fair, but also seen to be so, and raised the possibility of using an external reviewer or arbitration and mediation, according to SUEPO.

Further, it requested that the EPO president notify the administrative council before further decisions in disciplinary cases are taken.

The strikes began with the president’s attempts to change work practices at the EPO.

Some of these changes included an end to fixed wage increases and promotions by seniority, rather than work performance. SUEPO resisted the proposed changes and said it was met with severe harassment and intimidation of its representatives.

Battistelli then disallowed staff strikes, which SUEPO engaged in regardless, leading to the disciplinary proceedings against its three main representatives.

Union Syndicale Brussels, one of the biggest trade unions in the European Public Service Union, joined with SUEPO and called for the EPO administrative council to “stop Battistelli’s arbitrary anti-union action”.

According to IPSO, the EPO is currently experiencing “authoritarian, indeed dictatorial, attitudes”.

In its letter, IPSO called on Germany, “as an important EU member state and host country for the EPO, at this time of direst crisis at the EPO since its creation, to take on a clear position in support and defence of the fundamental rights of the staff and their representatives”.

IPSO said that a “witch hunt” was taking place at the office. “Kafkaesque proceedings, with gross abuses of the most fundamental legal principles for the protection of staff representatives”.

It asked Merkel what measures Germany has taken, and will be taking, “to restore the rule of law, including the respecting of the rights of staff and staff representatives at the EPO”.

The EPO has yet to respond to a request for comment on the letter.

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