An unsatisfactory contract policy

For the last 15 years contract policy has been one of the top priorities of CERN staff, as expressed in successive surveys initiated by the Staff Association. In one’s professional life, having some forward vision of one’s career prospects is the key to loyalty and motivation. On the contrary, instability about the future is always at the root of anxiety, conflicts, or even health problems. A good employer must therefore balance the needs of the Company and those of its employees.

CERN’s current contract policy, as described in the Administrative Circular No 2, states that staff members should first obtain a limited duration (LD) contract of up to five years. Then, if they want to stay in the Organization, staff members must apply, usually once a year, and before the end of their LD contract, for an indefinite contract (IC) post. All candidates for an IC post are considered by the Review Board for the award of indefinite contracts (Review Board) which will choose the most suitable LD staff to fill a given open IC post. Consequently, the chosen applicant will obtain an IC contract.

This policy, which leaves the staff member in the unknown for almost five years concerning the possibility of obtaining an IC, ensures too great a flexibility to the Organization and imposes too much precariousness and insecurity on the staff. 

Award of an indefinite contract in 2012

2012 is the first year where only one single exercise of Review Boards will take place. Thus, this autumn, a certain number of IC posts will be opened and all LD staff who successfully finished their probation period are eligible to apply (note that HR Department sent a mail to all staff members on an LD contract who started work at CERN before 1 September 2011).

While in 2007 and 2008 the number of IC post openings was around 50, in 2009, 2010, and 2011 it was some three times higher (this reflects in part the fact that in 2004 and 2005 a large number of our colleagues formerly working for outside companies were insourced).

For this year and the coming years, the number of IC posts opened is expected to be significantly lower. This is due, above all, to the wish of Management to keep the IC ratio, i.e. (number of IC)/(number of IC + number of LD), below 75% (this ratio was 68% in 2007 and increased to 73% in 2011). Having reached this upper limit, and with the constraints of CERN Council imposing a staff ceiling of 2250 FTA (full time active), the number of IC posts that are opened corresponds roughly to the number of IC staff who leave the Organization for retirement. Given the current demography of CERN staff, this amounts to about 50 units per year.

Over the last three years, CERN recruited about 200 staff per year. Moreover, during the last TREF meeting on 30 May 2012, Management announced to the Member State delegates that the conversion rate of LD to IC will be about 40% for the coming years. Consequently, huge pressure will be put on the various Departments since they will have to compete vigorously to obtain an IC “slot” if they want to keep staff essential to guaranteeing the quality of service required of them. Unfortunately, and to our great regret, this situation will create even more anxiety and insecurity. This will be difficult for LD staff to cope with. Indeed, even while giving complete satisfaction, they have no forward vision about the possibility of pursuing a career at CERN.

Dogma above all

As mentioned earlier, Management uses a strategy of self-imposed numerical constraints to manage the opening of IC posts (no more than 75% IC, 40% conversion rate of LD to IC, etc.). This can simplify the work of group leaders and other managers who could easily invoke this constraint to not open an IC post and thus not keep a member of staff who performs completely satisfactorily in her/his current LD post. Even during previous years, when the number of IC posts was relatively high, the Staff Association had to intervene with Management to resolve cases where staff members were not given the possibility to stay with the Organization even though they had worked there, actually and de jure, for several decades. These staff members were in most cases almost 50 years old sometimes even older, and thus had only very limited prospects of finding a job elsewhere. This lack of an element of social responsibility in the contract policy is unacceptable. Rather than serve as a cushion of laziness for supervisors, who often have only a limited and utilitarian view when defining the opening of an IC post, the contract policy must ensure the inclusion of an element of social justice, which is cruelly absent today.

“Just Return” to the Member States: a non-issue

During the last thirty years the number of staff has continuously decreased (from 3500 in 1982 to 2250 in 2012). Simultaneously, the number of temporary staff (477 fellows, 306 associates, 288 students, and 21 apprentices in 2011) and users (10388 in 2011) kept increasing, proof of the huge success and of the attractiveness of CERN as an international scientific organization. Today, the workload of CERN staff has reached a critical point. They provide high-quality support to an ever-increasing number of users, supervise and manage the work of the temporary staff to capitalize on their optimum integration in the CERN teams, ensure the security of the machines, and maintain the infrastructures in an excellent state. Therefore, the erosion of the number of staff must be stopped and this tendency reversed, so that CERN can count on appropriate staffing levels to continue to deliver a high level of service to the high-energy physics community, under improved conditions.

CERN is very active in the training of young engineers and technicians, and, more generally, participates in the continued learning of paid associates and users. The current 2250 staff take part in the training of about 1000 temporary staff. In particular, the training received by the about 500 fellows, who are employed by the Organization, guarantees that their experience gained at CERN returns to the Member States. Therefore, the Staff Association considers that the IC ratio, which dogmatically seems to have to stay below 75% in order to guarantee this return on investment to the Member States, must at least take account of the number of fellows. This would reduce the IC ratio relative to the total number of staff (IC+LD+fellows) to about 60% and therefore allow for the opening of substantially more IC posts. Last but not least, let us not forget the social aspect, which is often lacking today, by acknowledging the commitment in serving the Organization over many years and in various functions thus guaranteeing the efficiency of the services to the user community based on experience acquired over a long period.

Towards a new contract policy

The current contract policy does not satisfy us. For many years the Staff Association has been proposing, in vain, an approach inspired by the situation in place many years ago whereby new staff were recruited on one of two types of post: short-term and long-term.

Indeed, the Staff Association considers that staff, at the moment when they are recruited, should have a better vision of their career prospects. Therefore, the Organization should indicate at recruitment, whether the post to be filled corresponds to short or long term activities. For a long-term post the initial LD contract is of three years. After a successful probation period of six months the staff member can apply for an IC from the second year in the job. On the other hand, a staff member recruited on a short-term post, which is also limited to three years maximum, knows from the very start that it is impossible to obtain an IC on that post. However, that staff member can apply as an internal candidate for any long-term post that is published. When selected, the years spent on the short-term post have to be taken into account in order to obtain an IC more rapidly. 

This clear separation would also demonstrate a certain analogy between the posts for fellows and short-term posts, and clearly show the commitment of CERN in training young specialists in the area of technological know-how and its important efforts in knowledge transfer in Europe. However, for such an ambitious policy to be efficient, a solid base of permanent and experienced staff must exist. Preparing for the future means keeping the necessary experience “in-house” by opening an adequate number of long-term posts (leading to an IC except in case of unsatisfactory performance). This approach would ensure that the very large majority of staff recruited on a long-term post and having demonstrated the required professional qualities can stay in the Organization.

While waiting for a (R)evolution towards this goal, the Staff Association will ask Management why they cannot increase the number of IC posts and let the IC ratio tend towards 80%, which seems to us more appropriate for a scientific organization such as CERN.

by Association du personnel