The US is committed to defending its members
The US is committed to defending its members
One of Union Syndicale’s main areas of activity is legal assistance, whether it involves advice on how to interpret the Staff Regulations or financial and technical assistance with lodging a complaint or an appeal with the courts.
While each member organisation of Union Syndicale Fédérale (USF) has its own rules, they all provide legal assistance and have the possibility, namely via USF, of calling on the lawyers of Union Syndicale Bruxelles (USB).
Unfortunately, however, some colleagues only become a member of Union Syndicale when they have a serious problem. This equates to taking out fire insurance when your house is already burning down, at which point it’s usually too late.
The examples below, which are based on real events but have been altered to protect the anonymity of those involved, clearly demonstrate that anyone can require legal assistance.
Foreign residence allowance
Maria has always lived in Belgium, but as her parents are Sardinian, she holds both Belgian and Italian citizenship. When she was recruited by Ispra (Italy), she was refused the foreign residence allowance on the basis that she is an Italian citizen, which she considered normal. Almost three months later, while talking with some Union Syndicale colleagues, she found out by chance that she should have been granted this allowance as she had not lived in Italy over the past ten years. With the help of Union Syndicale, she quickly drafted a complaint and submitted it within the three-month deadline: she was granted the allowance.
Liam is employed as a contract agent in an agency. His son, Kevin, had a serious accident and was in a coma for several months. Fortunately, the PMO fully reimbursed all of his medical expenses. However, three years after the accident, even though Kevin is still disabled and must undergo various treatments, the PMO considers that his life is no longer in danger and therefore no longer fully reimburses his treatment. With Union Syndicale’s support, Liam will fight his case in court.
Christos was parliamentary assistant to the leader of a political group and was the victim of harassment. When he sought the help of his institution to stop this harassment, his request was dismissed: MPs are not covered by the Staff Regulations and, as a result, Christos could not invoke Article 24 of the Regulations to obtain Parliament’s assistance against an MP. Union Syndicale refuses to let harassers act with impunity and therefore lent its support to Christos and several of his colleagues who were victims of the same MP. Their claim was rejected: they were all fired and had to lodge an appeal with the court. After winning their appeal, they then had to lodge a second appeal because Parliament was dragging its feet and refused to enforce the decision. All of these proceedings cost several tens of thousands of euros; but the suffering experienced by the victims was finally acknowledged and Parliament had to pay them a considerable amount of compensation.
Transfer of pension rights
Juri was a contract agent for almost five years before passing the EPSO exam and becoming an official. A few years later, he inquired about the possibility of transferring the pension rights he acquired under the Polish national scheme before his entry into service. Unfortunately, he missed the deadline. Convinced that this deadline was unfair, he lodged a complaint, which was rejected. He then turned to Union Syndicale to help him lodge an appeal. We advised him not to file such an appeal as the Staff Regulations and case law are clear on this issue: deadlines must be respected.
Francesco is an official of the EEAS and has always had good professional relations. The head of his unit put his name forward for promotion and he was selected by the Promotion Committee. However, his name was then removed from the list at the last minute, without any explanation. Union Syndicale’s lawyers drafted a complaint on his behalf. As a result, based on the legal arguments presented, the appointing authority (AIPN) chose to uphold the complaint and promote Francesco, rather than risk losing face in the Court of Justice.
Hans applied for a position as Head of Unit. He met all of the conditions in the job advertisement and proved to be the best applicant. However, instead of giving him the position, the AIPN decided to cancel the selection procedure, to reorganise management slightly by modifying the description of the duties corresponding to the position, and to publish a new vacancy notice requiring a higher level of experience than that of X. As a result, Hans contacted Union Syndicale. Our lawyers advised him to lodge a complaint and possibly an appeal. As he was not a member of Union Syndicale, he was obliged to bear the cost of the complaint himself, which was rejected, and decided not to lodge an appeal which would no doubt cost him €5,000, not including the possible reimbursement of an even higher amount for the fees of the lawyer chosen by his institution. He will never be Head of Unit and his chances of being promoted above AD12 are doomed.
Several members of Union Syndicale have contacted us to report their experience of harassment in their department. This is not a rare occurrence, but our regular procedures are not adapted to this kind of situation. Union Syndicale has therefore decided to set up a “listening room”, with a lawyer trained specifically in listening and mediation. Each of our members can talk freely about their situation (what they are going through, what they are feeling, etc.) in the strictest confidentiality. By coming together, they are stronger in the face of harassment and can decide what actions to take to stop the harasser. This specific care for a group of harassment victims has paid off and helped the individuals concerned to rebuild their lives, even though the extent of the results did not live up to our initial expectations.
Dragos is a translator. The administration of his institution discovered his name on a list of freelance translators in spite of the fact that he did not submit a request to practise independently. It therefore decided to carry out an inquiry in order to determine whether disciplinary action was necessary. Accompanied by a delegate from Union Syndicale, he managed to prove that he had ceased all freelance activity when he took up his duties, but that he was unable to have his name removed from lists automatically generated by advertising websites.
Access to justice
Within the statutory framework of the European institutions, access to justice is not guaranteed. While anyone can lodge a request, a complaint or a request for assistance without a lawyer –and therefore free of charge — it is compulsory to be assisted by a lawyer in order to bring an appeal before the courts.
There is no standard fee for legal services, but based on our experience, we can safely say that an appeal rarely costs less than €5,000. As for the maximum amount, there is none. Depending on the law firm chosen, the complexity of the case and the various procedures that can arise one after the other, the cost can reach several tens of thousands of euros.
On top of that, if you lose, you are generally sentenced to pay the costs incurred by the institution. If an outside lawyer has been hired, the cost can be doubled or tripled, especially if it is a prestigious, and therefore expensive, law firm.
Without Union Syndicale’s legal assistance, many members would not have the means to assert their rights.
Legal support of Union Syndicale: it’s best to plan a head
Union Syndicale Bruxelles
Each branch of Union Syndicale has its own rules regarding its scope of intervention. For example, here are the rules applied by USB:
Members of USB can call on our lawyers for a consultation, whether it involves a professional or private matter. If they have been members for at least one year or have been recruited recently, this consultation is completely free.
As far as their private life is concerned, our involvement ends there. For all matters relating to their professional life, we can help members draft a complaint or have it drafted by one of our lawyers.
If it is necessary to go to court, the Executive Committee decides whether USB will fund the appeal, based on its relevance to all staff and the chances of success. As a general rule, we ask the member to bear part of the costs, proportional to their salary. Beside this contribution by the participant, we cover all of the costs, including the possible cost of the institution’s lawyer. As a result, when it comes to deciding whether or not to lodge an appeal, our members know the maximum amount they will have to bear.