Social Degradation at the EPO

News, Working conditions

Oral question on the deteriorating social climate at the EPO: government response

On February 21, I asked the Government about the deteriorating social climate at the European Patent Office (EPO).

You will find below the text and video of my intervention and the response of the Secretary of State for Digital Affairs and Innovation, Axelle Lemaire.

The president. Richard Yung, author of question no. 1578, addressed to the Minister of the Economy and Finance, has the floor.

M. Richard Yung. My question, which is unfortunately a recurring one, concerns the social deterioration at the European Patent Office (EPO). Since 2010, the measures implemented by EPO management have led to a decline in fundamental staff rights: I’m thinking in particular of the restriction of the right to strike, the threat to trade union freedom and the infringement of the right to collective bargaining.

It seems that the EPO is the organization most often challenged before the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization, the body called upon to rule on staff disputes in international organizations.

In a 2015 ruling, the Court of Appeal in The Hague ruled that several measures taken by EPO management were illegal. The latter appealed to the Court of Cassation, invoking the immunity from execution enjoyed by international organizations.

Since the beginning of 2016, several sanctions have been imposed on union delegates: three dismissals and one demotion. In addition, investigations and disciplinary proceedings are underway.

In a resolution adopted on March 16, 2016, the EPO’s Administrative Council, which is its highest body, asked the President of the Office, among other things, to “ensure that sanctions and disciplinary procedures are not only fair, but also considered strong, and to study the possibility of appealing to an external review, arbitration or mediation body”. This resolution was ignored by EPO management, which was content to organize a “Potemkin-style” social conference.

The Bavarian Parliament recently took up the issue and debated it, even though the EPO’s immunity from jurisdiction and execution makes it difficult for states to take action.

The smooth running of the EPO is one of the essential conditions for the success of the European patent, which has been proven, and for the implementation of the future patent with unitary effect. I, therefore, ask the government what solutions it intends to propose, in particular through the French delegation to the EPO’s Administrative Council, in order to encourage the resumption of social dialogue and the emergence of a new mode of governance, as well as the re-examination of sanctions.

To read the rest of the article (only in French), click here 

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