In recent years, social dialogue at the European Patent Office has been badly damaged. Since 2014, the EPO has been strongly criticised for its directives which go against the rights and interests of employees. Legal actions have multiplied as the suffering of staff members has increased. Today, a settlement agreement has been reached at the EPO concerning Laurent Prunier .
Excessive production pressure, a climate of fear, intimidation, harassment, abusive disciplinary procedures against staff and trade union representatives, censorship and non-respect of the right to strike shook the institution in particular during the mandates of Benoit Battistelli. USOEB-SUEPO*, the trade union representing half of the staff at the EPO, has constantly opposed these authoritarian abuses and has tried to find common ground with the administration.
Despite the appointment of a new president of the EPO, António Campinos, in July 2018, a return to normalcy has been slow to materialise. USOEB-SUEPO hoped that the new president would quickly restore social peace by, among other things, putting an end to the unacceptable situation of union representatives, who were unjustly targeted and sanctioned by his predecessor, especially Laurent Prunier. Former secretary of USOEB-SUEPO The Hague and elected member of the Central Staff Committee, he was at the end of 2016 the last of the staff to be unfairly dismissed in connection with his trade union activity. This situation, unprecedented in its scale in the discreet environment of International Organisations, had attracted the full attention of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In 2018, after having commissioned legal studies on International Organisations, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concluded in resolutions addressed to member states that the values enshrined in its instruments were insufficiently reflected in the EPO.
Union Syndicale supported Laurent Prunier as soon as he was dismissed because he was, like all the other staff representatives sanctioned, innocent. USF wrote several times to the President and the Administrative Council of the EPO inviting the new management to find a solution to this injustice. We have been informed that the two parties have finally reached a settlement agreement.
However, this agreement at the EPO, which we welcome, only concerns Laurent Prunier. If Mr. Campinos is sincere in his claim that he wants to re-establish a constructive dialogue with USOEB-SUEPO, the large majority union at the EPO, it is high time to ensure that the last two staff representatives who were unfairly sanctioned by his predecessor are now restored to their rights.
USF recalls that Mr. Campinos has all the necessary room for manoeuvre to act ex gratia. Indeed, as a former high-ranking official of the European Union with a legal background, it would be surprising if Mr. Campinos were not able to exercise his political power and use his prerogatives by pronouncing an amnesty for these two staff members in order to restore a productive social climate by drawing a line under the errors of the past.
The role of the trade unions remains more essential than ever to bring the demands of the staff to management while protecting their rights. Solidarity remains a priority for USF as well as for all European public service staff.
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You can read the letter written by Laurent Prunier here.
*USOEB – SUEPO : Union Syndicale OEB – Staff Union EPO