EUTELSAT is not answering anymore, the ILOAT has cut them off

On 3rd February, the ILOAT (International Labour Organization Administrative Tribunal, which is also our tribunal) delivered a judgement which has had us thinking ever since. This decision could, in certain circumstances, infringe upon the pension rights of international civil servants. Here we explain a case resulting in social decline.
Founded in 1982, the organization EUTELSAT effectively started working in 1985. Its objective was to provide the space segment required for international public telecommunications services in Europe. In 1987, a pension fund was created to provide for the future needs of the recruited international civil servants. Following the liberalization of the telecommunications market in the early 1990s, the European Commission advocated reform of the intergovernmental telecommunications satellite organizations in 1993. In the case of EUTELSAT, the aim was to place its operations on a competitive footing.

In 1999 the decision was made by the Member States concerned and, with a wave of a legal wand, in 2001 EUTELSTAT transferred all the staff, operations, and assets and liabilities, including pensions, to Eutelsat SA, a limited company governed by French law. Since then, EUTELSTAT has been represented only by its Assembly of Parties, the equivalent of our CERN Council, and its secretariat.

This Assembly, as supreme body, decided therefore that the pension fund would be transferred to a trust subject to the law of Guernsey (Channel Islands). This new pension scheme was to be a closed fund, i.e. it would cover only the members of the staff (and their families) who had already retired and those who had accrued more than five years of service.

In 2001, and again in 2005, retired staff members from EUTELSAT began proceedings to protest against the loss of mechanisms guaranteeing and adjusting their pension applicable under the old scheme, and against this new, more uncertain scheme. Faced with these complaints, but unable to lodge an internal appeal, through lack of staff, EUTELSAT agreed nonetheless to the complainants lodging their complaint at the ILOAT. This was the very least they could do! Here is the judgement.

Since the ILOAT may hear only disputes between officials and the international organizations employing them, it declared that it was not within its competence to judge a complaint lodged by pensioners of a limited company governed by French law. Rather than go into the details of this lengthy procedure, let us consider the impact this decision could have on our own situation. It is rather a rude awakening.

This judgement leaves a very nasty taste and a feeling of complete abandonment. For a retired civil servant, using an argument based on form to take away any rights accruing to this statute is a cruel disappointment. It may be legally valid, but it is morally unacceptable, and this is what shocks us. Imagine for one moment that this happens to you. Surely it could not be possible. Well, read on.

In the event of the dissolution of CERN, it is foreseen that the funds of the beneficiaries of the Pension Fund will be transferred to a Foundation, governed by Swiss law, after its financial balance has been restored. But that is all. No adjustment mechanism is foreseen afterwards. After a few years, the rumblings of discontent will begin and complaints will no doubt be made.

Alas, it all indicates, and our legal advisor agrees, that in the event of a dispute, we would find ourselves in the same situation as our colleagues at EUTELSAT, with no one answerable. The same goes for any guarantee. Our pensions are currently guaranteed by CERN, and this is where the problem lies. In the event of the dissolution of the Organization, CERN would disappear and any guarantee with it. To date, no official text foresees an explicit commitment by one or more Member States towards CERN pensioners, should CERN be dissolved. In short, CERN must live on, otherwise what will happen?

This case gives much food for thought and leads us to the conclusion (and we repeat what we have been saying for a very long time) that CERN’s future depends on the excellence of its staff. This is the indispensable condition if we are to be chosen to host a future world machine, which will be the only guarantee of long-term activity of our Laboratory. To maintain the excellence required for this goal, there is only one answer: offer attractive employment conditions for all nationals of our Member States. This includes salaries, health insurance, and pensions.

That is fortunate, as we are right in the middle of a five-yearly review. In a few months we will be able to judge Council’s desire to allow CERN to remain what it has become today: a centre of excellence. We might have to help it take the right decision. The Staff Association is preparing for this, but it will only be possible with your full support. Only with everyone united will we succeed in guaranteeing the future of CERN and consequently that of ourselves and our families, without having to institute legal proceedings which we know we will lose before we start.

by Association du personnel