Union Syndicale achievements: past, present, and future


Union Syndicale achievements: past, present, and future

Agora #80

The following summary shows how much we have achieved and how much we were able to defend and keep

The following summary shows how much we have achieved and how much we were able to defend and keep. However, in a world where globalisation induces salary cuts and unemployment it is impossible to completely isolate ourselves and stay immune from change.There are times when we have to make some concessions because we are temporarily too weak or because lacking unity among staff unnecessarily weakensus.

However, under the guidance of Union Syndicale, EU staff has over time achieved considerable improvements and has been able to defend almost all essential items.

Among the three big families of international organisations (EU Institutions and agencies, Coordinated Organisations and United Nations) the European Union staff still enjoys the best conditions of work and the highest salaries.

Knowing that EU Member States wanted to scrap the pay adjustment method some 45 years ago and that we not only managed to keep it but that it is in the Staff Regulations until agreement on a new one is reached is an almost unbelievable success story. The same is true of the 16% expatriation allowance which Member States wanted to abolish some 40 years ago and which we were able to keep.

But what we achieved did not fall from heaven

It is the result of long and tough strikes and all kinds of industrial action, of successful negotiations conducted by talented and knowledgeable trade unionists. And we stand to lose much of our achievements if we do not resist the pressure from Member States and if we do not resort to industrial action when needed and if trade unions fight each other instead of fighting those Member States who attack our salaries and working conditions.

New colleagues often seem to take everything for granted or think that everything is due to the employer’s generosity. Even in the past when strikes took place almost exclusively at the Council, colleagues of other Institutions believed that everything fell from heaven and that they did not need to participate in any actions.

Like any real trade union with its members’ interests at heart, Union Syndicale concerns itself first and foremost with their working and living conditions, both material and non-material.


The first salary conflicts and industrial action took place at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s and lead to the adoption of the first pay adjustment methods in 1972 and 1976. Those methods were similar to the present-day method but technically less elaborate. For the purpose of pay adjustment, the European Statistical Office EUROSTAT calculates the inflation rate for European staff based at Brussels (and Luxembourg) and the average rate of increase or decrease of purchasing power in the civil services of Member States and applies those two factors to existing salaries.

Member States found the results to be too favourable and swore each time that no new method would be “granted”.

In the 1960s strikes and other kinds of industrial action were concentrated at the Commission. Since 1981 all industrial action has focussed on the Council which seemed logical to some extent because it was Member States that either terminated an existing method or refused to negotiate or agree on a new one.

In 1981the Council solemnly declared that the old method would be terminated once and for all and that there would never be a new method again. It took 6 months of industrial action forUnion Syndicale to achieve a 10 year method. In return for the long duration staff had to accept a relatively modest crisis levy (net effect: -3,5%). But weekly working hours were reduced from 40 to 37,5 without any reduction in pay.This amounted to an indirect pay increase of 6.25%.In 1991it took 4,5 months of industrial action to achieve an equivalent solution. In 2001 the method was extended for 2 years and within the framework of the 2004 reform it was extended for another 8 years.

The 2004 reform of the Staff Regulations

Most trade unions practiced an empty chair policy which caused UnionSyndicale to negotiate the reform almost alone. The result was a compromise in which starting salaries and pension entitlements were reduced and the door was more widely opened to precarious jobs. But the positive results far outweigh the negative ones.

Positive results

Salaries and pension

A new pay adjustment method was agreed by the parties and a new levywas unilaterally imposed by the Council.

A new method for calculating the pension contribution rate was introduced. It ensures that staff pay their fair share.


The main allowances were fully maintained. Some secondary allowances were streamlined and partially reduced.


Guaranteed promotion rates allowing promotion on average ever 3, 4 or 5 years(annex I B) were introduced and the problem of end of career blockage (which typically occurred at age 45-50) was solved. The former A and LA categories were merged and became the AD function group. This allowed mobility to an extent hitherto unknown.

The former B and C categories were also merged and became the AST function group. This facilitated upward mobility.


The main changes were the following…

The fairly attractive invalidity pension was replaced by a less attractive invalidity allowance.

The correction coefficients on pensions were abolished but transitional arrangements apply. The deadline for requesting a transfer of pension rights was increased from 6 months to 10 years and 6 months.

Conditions for early retirement, except for the earliest age at which early retirement is possible, were greatly improved.

Social chapter

A new parental leave of 6 months and a new family leave of 9 months (with favourable conditions) were introduced.

Maternity leave, adoption leave and paternity leave were considerably extended.

The total duration of leave on personal groundswas increased to 15 years.

The conditions of part-time work were improved and job sharingwas introduced.

Registered partnerships could now be treated the same as marriages (with all the rights attached to marriage), if the couple had no access to marriage.

Negative results


  • The lowering of starting salaries (-4 to -10%, in some cases up to -20%)
  • The replacement of the old D category by contract staff, who earn 25% less than the D officials who occupied the same posts
  • The possibility for agencies and offices to hire contract staff at all levels on indefinite duration contracts.

It is important to know thatthe lowering of starting salaries was supposed to be compensated for in the long term because new officials should all, when they retire, have arrived at higher grades than those provided for in the old Staff Regulations and leave with a pension 15-20% greater than the old maximum level.


The accrual rate was reduced from 2.0% to 1.9% and to 1.8% in 2014.

The normal retirement age increased from 60 to 63 and to 65 (or even 66 for new officials) in 2014.

The age for early retirement increased from 50 to 55 and to 58 in 2014.

The 2014 reform of the Staff Regulations

This new reform constituted a considerable roll-back. New blockages were created, a pay freeze imposed for several years and working hours increased to from 37,5 to 40!

Positive results:

The new 10 year salaries and pension adjustment method is as good as the preceding methods. If no agreement is reached on a new method it remains in force indefinitely.

Annual pay adjustments no longer depend on the agreement by the Council.

We were also able to prevent the systematic recruitment of all assistants as contract staff. In the Institutions the contractualisationof assistants remains limited to the former D category.

Otherwise, only minor improvements have been achieved.

Negative results of the 2014 Reform:

The main objective of Member States was to undo some of the major improvements of the 2004 reform which – contrary to popular belief or to the propaganda of some trade unions – was largely positive and brought about many important improvements.

Most importantly, the extension of the careers by two grades was undone, except for a few special cases.Thus, the possibility of compensating for the lower starting salaries by reaching higher grades has been scrapped.

Weekly working hours were increased from 37,5 to 40 hours and staff were reduced by 5%. In so doing, the main social achievement of 1981 was reversed after 25 years.To many colleagues this is the worst feature of the 2014 reform.

But Union Syndicale also had and has to deal with many other issues – often at institutional level – such as…

  • the General Implementing Provision (GIP) for many staff regulations
  • an assessment and promotion system that is transparent, predictable and fair
  • working conditions
  • compensation for overtime
  • favourable rules onFlexitime
  • mobility conditions
  • conditions for teleworking
  • travel and working conditions during missions
  • in the research sector: conversion of almost all temporary contracts to permanent posts
  • significantly improved reimbursement of medical expenses.

But the Union Syndicale is by no means a “Brussels only” organisation

In 1984, at the instigation of Union Syndicale – Brussels, the unions in the various places of employment established a federation, now called “Union Syndicale Fédérale”. Its nearly 10.000 members make it by far the most representative trade union in the European and International Public Service.


After the 2014 Reform we could legitimately hope for a long period of peace, especially because the duration of the method can be considered to be unlimited.

Political events such as the British referendum on leaving the European Union (Brexit) cast a long shadow on the future of the EU. Apart from all the political implications and the serious setback that Brexit constitutes to the European integration, it also has terrible financial consequences. The UK contributes 12% of the Union budget. The easiest approach would be to reduce all expenditure including salaries and pensions by 12% but, of course, that is exactly what we are actively opposing.

What will the future hold in stock? Quite frankly, nobody knows. However, economic factors such as globalization, automation, robotisation and digitalisation may bring about changes that may exceed our imagination. Rising unemployment may be one of the results of this new (post-) industrial revolution.

The European project – an ever closer union -, and consequently the European Public Service, are now seriously threatened by strong nationalist tendencies in many countries. There is a nationalist group in the European Parliament now. The UK is leaving. Nationalists participate in the Polish, Hungarian, Belgian, Finnish, and Austrian Governments. They are getting stronger in France, Germany, Italy, Denmark. This is a reaction to neo-liberal deregulation and globalization but also to the various crises we have witnessed in the last couple of years.European leaders fail, at European and national level, to understand the underlying causes and to maintain social protection and cohesion.

Union Syndicale will help defending the European idea, the European Public Service as backbone of the European integration, the welfare of citizens, and will contribute to achieve social progress,at our workplaces, but also in solidarity with the workers and their trade unions all over Europe.

Günther Lorenz

About The Author

Honorary President of USB