An EU agency dedicated to promoting equality has not been treating its employees equally, according to a court ruling.
The Lithuanian court ruled last week in favor of five former employees of the European Institute on Gender Equality (EIGE) who said the Vilnius-based agency has for years exploited the status of “temporary employees” to pay them less than normal EU staffers.
The ex-employees filed the court case against the institute’s employment contractor last year, saying the compensation they received was discriminatory and seeking back payments for their work.
Rytis Rudzinskas, the former employees’ lawyer, said the ruling could be a warning to other EU institutions. The plaintiffs contacted other EU bodies as part of their research to see if they were using similar employment practices. The agencies that replied said they complied with labor rules. However, the gender agency also argued it was following labor law, only for the court to take a different view.
The EU has standards for compensating temporary employees, who are often taken on to help with peak work periods or short-term projects, or to cover for parental leave. A central tenet of the rules is that workers not permanently employed by an agency should still be paid equally for performing equal work.This is not the first time that employees have accused the institute of behavior that runs counter to its stated aims.
The former employees said EIGE violated these rules. Despite working at the institute for up to three years, they earned significantly less than permanent employees — and even less than the agency’s trainees. According to their calculations, the average interim employee’s monthly salary was around €650 after tax. Full-time employees at the agency start at €1,100 after tax.
Vytaute Vailionyte, one of the plaintiffs, said temporary employees came to realize they were in a “precarious position, and not just regarding salary.”
On multiple occasions, temporary employees’ salaries were cut with little notice, and their contracts had to be renewed regularly, between every three months and every year, Vailionyte said. They also didn’t have benefits of being a full-time staff member of an EU institution such as private health care and overtime compensation, she noted.
The institute and its contractor argued that temporary employees performed fundamentally different tasks from permanent staff. EIGE Director Virginija Langbakk said in an email that “legal advice was sought when preparing the tender specifications” for jobs to be filled.
Agency on the hook
In April 2018, seven current and former interim employees filed the court case against the agency’s employment contractor, Manpower. Two of the group reached settlements before the court issued its judgment and all of the plaintiffs have now left the agency.
The EU institution was implicated as a “third party” in the case, meaning it will be liable for damages if the contractor doesn’t pay.
Rudzinskas, the former employees’ lawyer, said EIGE has a legal obligation to “provide accurate information to the temporary agencies about the payment that should be paid to their employees.”
The Lithuanian court confirmed the decision last week, saying the agency couldn’t use the employees’ temporary status and the fact that they were hired by a contractor to pay them much less than full-time staff and circumvent complex rules for hiring EU employees.
A lawyer representing Manpower said the agency disagrees with the judgment and is considering whether to appeal it.
This is not the first time that employees have accused the institute of behavior that runs counter to its stated aims. Last year a POLITICO investigation revealed that several complaints of sexual harassment had been made against male employees at the agency in recent years.
Two of the complaints were upheld and resulted in departures from the agency. The man accused in a third case was found to have misused work time to try to pursue a colleague but was allowed to continue working there.