CERN, a laboratory of social excellence

The HR 2012 Forum, where Human Resources (HR) professionals meet and present innovative services and tools in the HR sector, was held on 3rd and 4th October at Palexpo, Geneva. CERN won the 3rd HR Innovation Award for the Long-Term Saved Leave Scheme (LTSLS) for its novelty and innovation. The award was presented to Jean-Marc Saint Viteux, Deputy-Head of HR Department. This is excellent news for our Organization.

One can say that the Long-Term Saved Leave Scheme (LTSLS) originated from proposals by the Staff Association in 1996, based on general considerations on a framework for flexible working time arrangements. This article recalls the history of our work on this topic, which resulted in the implementation of PRP and various variants of a saved leave scheme. In a future issue of Echo, we will come back on other elements of CERN's social policy that we would like to improve upon to ensure a better work-life balance.  Indeed, a good employer must offer a working environment that allows an effective balance between one’s career and one’s social or family life.

Over a quarter of a century

Fig. 1 : Memo with an analysis of flexible working time arrangements

Since the beginning of the 1980's the Staff Association has been interested in the development of schemes which would allow flexible working time arrangements. On several occasions the Staff Council discussed flexible working hours, a wide access to part-time work, and decreasing hours worked as a pre-retirement measure. The results were described in a Memorandum by Michel Vitasse dated 17th January 1986: “Preliminary study on flexible working time arrangements” (Fig. 1). Michel defined flexible working time arrangements as a voluntary adjustment of working time, even with a reduction in salary, and advocated a collective organization of time worked to allow flexibility in individuals' working time arrangements. In September 1986, in collaboration with the Applied Psychology group of Professor Michel Rousson of Neuchâtel University, a survey was sent to all members of staff to gather their views on various aspects of working time arrangements (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 : Survey "flexible working time arrangements"

Professor Rousson presented the analysis of the 1282 replies to the survey (response rate 37 %) in a document “From choosing your working time… to flexitime” published in May 1987. That same year, the results were mentioned in a meeting of the SCC and in a letter to Professor Rubbia, future Director-General. There was never any reply or follow-up.

However, the Staff Association did not forget this topic. In the following years, the Staff Association contacted other international organizations (PSI in Ferney-Voltaire, FICSA in Geneva, FFPE in Brussels, ESA in Paris) and several national staff union representatives (CFDT, CGT and FO in France, SIT and FMH in Switzerland) to learn about their potential initiatives on the subject of flexible working time arrangements in the broadest sense.

Seize the day

In December 1996, the CERN Council decided to reduce the budget of the Organization by 7.5 % with a cut in the staff budget of 2 %, even though the number of staff had already decreased from 3800 in 1975 to 2875. To help the Organization to cope with these financial constraints, the Staff Association thought that it was the right moment to propose two programmes, which would allow additional recruitment and facilitate the transfer of knowledge between generations. This was the RSL scheme (precursor of the SLS), recruitment through saved leave; and the PRP scheme, a progressive retirement programme, implemented on 1st April 1997, initially for three years and since renewed every year by the Director-General.

During its implementation at the beginning of 1997 and under pressure from the Member States, the RSL scheme obliged all staff members to purchase the first “slice” (which cost 2.5 % of the participant’s basic salary for a credit of 5.5 leave days), and then, on a voluntary basis, offered them the possibility to purchase one, two, or three additional slices (at the same cost as the first slice). At the time it allowed the recruitment of 38 staff members. From 1998, the purchase of the first slice also became voluntary.

“When CERN wishes to become a social laboratory” (Le Monde of 30th December 1997)

This innovative idea of 1996, i.e., to purchase days of leave to allow recruitment, was praised by several articles published in professional and national newspapers in our Member States with titles such as “To create posts, CERN transforms itself into a social laboratory” (Le Nouveau Quotidien of 31st December 1997), “The staff of CERN tries an original sharing of work time” (Le Courrier of 2nd April 1998), “By solidarity, CERN succeeds in its first social experiment” (Le Temps of 3rd April 1998), “CERN launches the Saved Leave Scheme” (Le Dauphiné libéré of 12th May 1998), “Staff take hols so CERN can hire young” (The Times Higher Education Supplement of 16th January 1998) or “Modell “Freizeitkonto” beim CERN” (Neuer Züricher Zeitung of 2nd May 1998).

Even though we had to wait for several years, the implementation of RSL shows that the long and thoughtful preparation beforehand can pay off eventually. Indeed, the Staff Association was ready at the right moment with a constructive and thorough proposal during a crisis, and was thus able to present a win-win option for the staff and the Organization.


During the 5 Yearly Review in 2000, the cost of the first « slice » was reduced from 2.5 % to 1.5 % of the participant's basic salary (a partial compensation of non-indexation of salaries) and the explicit concept of recruitment through the Saved Leave Scheme was dropped (RSL became SLS).

After a few years, the Management considered that the option to save leave to be taken at the end of a career (including an annual bonus of one day for 20 days saved) was too expensive, and the long-term component (with the bonus) was withdrawn on 31st December 2007. The STSLS (Short-Term Saved Leave Scheme), introduced on 1st January 2008, still allowed the purchase of one to four slices of 5.5 leave days, but it was not possible to transfer more than 52 days in total of annual and saved leave days to the following year.

Finally,  in January 2012, in response to the high demand of staff  to purchase and save leave days to be taken at the end of their career, the STSLS was extended with a long-term component, hence its name LTSLS (see FAQ), which takes into account the career effect by applying an annual negative interest of 0.8 % to the long-term savings The decision by the CERN Council to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67 years for staff members recruited from 1st January 2012 played an important role in this turnaround of the situation. Once more, the Staff Association was able to seize the opportunity and co-sponsor a proposal with a much-wanted long-term component. Thanks to this development the option to save a maximum of two years of leave to be taken just before retirement is now a reality.

La version française de cet édito a été publiée dans Echo n° 160.


par Staff Association