Social Indifference in the Workings of the EU

Photo caption:  Unattractive working conditions: a job as ‘contract staff’ means being in the lower pay grades, at low salary levels, says ‘Union syndicale Luxembourg’.


Source: Luxemburger Wort, Thursday 28 July 2016
p. 2         POLITICS & SOCIETY


Social Indifference in the Workings of the EU


USL trade union denounces
inequalities for ‘contract staff’


Not well paid at all.  Employees of European institutions are complaining about pay distortions and levels of pay below the minimum wage for skilled workers.  The USL trade union is fighting social inequalities for ‘contract staff’.

“Initially, it was the international, multicultural working environment of the EU institutions in Luxembourg that appealed to me.  Then I realised that the pay differences are really frustrating”, says an employee of one of the services located in Luxembourg.  He did not want his name to appear in print.  His employer might not appreciate his frankness.

The official does not regard his own situation and that of colleagues in his team as privileged.  Although there is an expatriation allowance, all in all, there is little financial incentive to work for the EU administration in Luxembourg.  The cost of living is too high here, and EU salaries take too little account of that fact.  It is also unfair that most EU staff are not covered by Luxembourg’s national legislation on working conditions.  As ‘contract staff’, they are not entitled to benefit from those rules.

“Anyone working for the EU institutions as an educator, technician or in a service role for the EU institutions will be in the lowest pay grades.  Often these people earn barely or even less than the national minimum wage for skilled workers of 2 300 euro per month”, explains Miguel Nuñez, President of the USL trade union.  One in every ten staff at the EU institutions based here (Commission, Parliament, Court of Justice and Court of Auditors) was hired as ‘contract staff’.”  In total, that makes 1 000 people, “350 of them don’t receive the minimum wage for a skilled worker, despite having left secondary school with qualifications”, says Nuñez.


Contrary to what is often said, the EU is not that generous with its employees and other staff. “The pay scales don’t take account of national conditions.  Why the salaries have been kept so low is something we cannot understand.  We know that there is room for manoeuvre in the EU budget”, the USL President complains.

Nuñez cites the example of educators to demonstrate the social inequalities.  In the same establishment, staff may be working under five different contractual arrangements.  Part of the staff complement is subject to national rules dating from before the Reform of 2004.  The new ‘contract staff’ were divided into employees of the European Commission and the European Parliament, which led to pay discrepancies.  Then there were individual temporary staff and agency temps.  “Particularly in the sensitive sector of child care, there should be clear contractual arrangements”, emphasises Nuñez, as he calls for implementation of the national collective labour agreement in the social assistance and care sector.

Two years ago, EU employees demonstrated for greater recognition.  The Commission talked about improvements, but this has still not been reflected in pay scales, explains USL.  “Social dumping is unacceptable.  We will be doing everything in our power to oppose it at political level and through the courts”, says the USL President.  At present, a case concerning the granting of the national minimum wage is pending before the courts.

USL recently held discussions with Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Luxembourg MEPs.  The staff association is hoping that the European Commission and especially its President Jean-Claude Juncker will become involved.  “We are waiting for a political signal, otherwise we may take trade union action at the end of the year”, says Nuñez.