Kinnock to unveil long-awaited staff reform proposals

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Series Details Vol.7, No.7, 22.2.01, p2
Publication Date 22/02/2001
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Date: 22/02/01

By Simon Taylor

EUROPEAN Commission Vice-President Neil Kinnock is set to unveil a controversial shake-up of staff pay and pensions next week amid increasing fears of strike action unless he agrees to negotiate on his reform goals.

On Wednesday (28 February), the EU executive's administrative reform chief will table plans to overhaul the Commission's career development system to reward high achievers with better pay and earlier promotions.

A consultation paper due to be agreed by the Commission says the 30-year-old work structure needs to be changed to "compensate staff for harder and more responsible work".

The scheme is designed to slow the exodus of top-level Commission officials to the private sector. The institution has lost eight senior lawyers from its anti-trust department in the past two years because it cannot compete with salaries offered by law firms.

The plan envisages scrapping the current rigid system of categories based on job descriptions that prevent staff moving into positions of greater responsibility. Instead, all staff would be on a single salary scale.

MEPs are cautiously welcoming Kinnock's initiative. "It's a timid step in the right direction but on balance it's the right approach," said Dutch Socialist MEP Michiel van Hulten. "The abolition of categories is a good idea because it removes the glass ceiling for officials, especially for women."

Kinnock wants to cut back the scope for seniority-based pay increases by reducing the number of increments within each grade. Under the current system, staff salaries can go up by 50% without any promotion because pay rises in line with length of service. Under the new scheme, officials would only be able to increase their salaries by a maximum of 7-8% unless promoted.

In a potentially divisive move, Kinnock wants extra incentives for staff who have special responsibilities, such as in financial management or policy-making sections. The Commission wants to use 2% of the administration's total wages bill to fund special premiums that could mean some top level staff get top-up payments worth 10-20% of their overall salaries.

He is also proposing changes to the system of allowances. Kinnock's aides estimate that the modifications will leave around 2,000 officials worse off, mainly British and Danish staff who receive compensation for the high cost of living in their home countries - but will reward around 15,000 net beneficiaries.

Once the package is approved by the Commission, Kinnock will launch four months of consultations with staff unions before agreeing a final position to negotiate with member states and the European Parliament next year. Last week a meeting of nearly 2,000 Commission staff overwhelmingly supported calls to take industrial action if Kinnock refuses to negotiate on the general direction of reforms. Alan Hick, president of Union Syndicale, said employees want Kinnock to show a new approach to negotiations.

European Commission Vice-President, Neil Kinnock, is set to unveil a controversial shake-up of staff pay and penisons at the beginning of March amid increasing fears of strike action unless he agrees to negotiate on his reform goals.

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