2015 Five-Yearly Review : one last formal step, with the implementation to follow

Taking into account the arbitration by the Director General the Staff Council decided that it did not oppose the Management proposals for the 2015 Five-Yearly Review (see Echo 234). Consequently, at the TREF meeting of Thursday 26 November, Management presented its consolidated proposals taking into account the outcome of the arbitration. The Staff Association was invited to express its point of view (the text of our declaration follows). After the Member States’ delegates got satisfactory answers to their questions for clarification, none of the 14 delegations represented opposed the proposals nor were there any abstentions. The Chair of TREF, B. Dormy, will thus report to Finance Committee and Council on 16 and 17 December that TREF recommends that these committees approve the Management proposals.

A huge amount of work by many CERN colleagues, representatives of the Management, the Sectors, and the Staff Association has come to a successful conclusion. Now we move into the important implementation phase of the various measures. This process will occupy 2016 and beyond and will need mutual trust, confidence, and a collaborative spirit of all those involved to guarantee that the talent management tools for the operation of the new career system, will allow CERN to match its excellence in science and technology with an excellence in social policy, and thus motivating its staff.

Staff Association declaration at the TREF meeting of 26 November 2015

Following the procedure set out in Annex A1 of the Staff Rules and Regulations, CERN Management and the Staff Association in the framework of the SCC and its sub-committees, and all of us in this Committee, have been working for over two years for the preparation of the 2015 Five-Yearly Review, whose outcome we are debating today.

In Spring 2014 we had reports in TREF on the recruitment markets, recruitment and retention, comparator institutes for fellows, we got an explanation of the data collection process for salary comparisons (with an explanation by the OECD of the methodology used), and we discussed the Management proposal identifying the financial and social conditions to be reviewed. As a result, Council approved in June 2014 the proposal of the Director-General for the programme of the 2015 Five-Yearly Review, with CERN’s career structure and diversity-related social and financial conditions as optional items.

In October 2014, the OECD presented a study of the comparators for the salary review and the methodology for the benchmark study on diversity. In March 2015, the OECD came back with the results of this benchmark study, where it was found that CERN’s family-related policies are amongst the most restrictive compared to other international organizations. In May 2015, the OECD presented the results of the international salary survey, which showed that on average, the Swiss high-technology market, used as key comparator, offered salaries 31% above those at CERN. The differences found are in line with those found in 2010. Finally, in TREF’s previous meeting, on 13 October, the Management orally presented its preliminary proposals for the 2015 Five-Yearly Review, including a first discussion of the new career structure. At that meeting the Staff Association pointed out in its preliminary comments that serious concerns were raised by staff delegates regarding the forecast “cost containment” worth 55 MCHF over 10 years since it resulted in most staff receiving less remuneration, and hence a lower retirement pension, over that period and beyond. A particular area of concern related to the 7% of staff members whose salaries were currently above the maxima of the new grades, and who would no longer be eligible for advancement under the new system unless they were promoted due to a change in functions.

We organized several public meetings during October, which allowed us to receive direct feedback from the staff we represent. The analysis of this feedback gave rise to very animated discussions in the Staff Council of Thursday 29 October, and resulted in the adoption of a resolution and a declaration in the SCC meeting of 9 November with a series of demands. A meeting of the Staff Council later that week decided to ask for arbitration by the Director-General on a series of six remaining points, a process that came to a fruitful conclusion on Friday 13 November.

Let me briefly recall the six points subject to the arbitration:

  • The elimination of tracks, which we considered superfluous. Indeed, they divided staff in four categories, introducing structural complexity without adding value. Having no tracks also lets us correct a kind of injustice, which we consider contrary to the CERN policy of diversity. Indeed, staff in the lower grades, when they come from afar, e.g. the Nordic Countries, the UK, Germany, Central or Southern Europe, do not have access to the international indemnity. And that even though they face the same problems with lower financial resources as their colleagues higher up in the pay scale, wanting to keep contact with relatives at home, or being unable to count on a helping hand from parents when living in the Geneva area.
  • The extension of the transition measures until the next Five-Yearly review in 2020 to mitigate the negative effect of the new system for staff (about 7 % of the current staff population) who are mapped into a personal position where advancement is no longer possible.
  • In the interest of diversity a technical change was also requested to allow, in very specific and well-defined circumstances, for the extension of a female fellowship beyond the maximum duration of three years to cover the period of the maternity leave.
  • Inclusion of the effect of the new career system in future actuarial studies for the CERN health insurance scheme (CHIS).
  • In order to gauge its effect of the new system over several years a fixed merit recognition budget for at least three years.
  • Guarantees on the implementation of the talent management tools necessary for the operation of the new career system, including detailed monitoring using milestones defined and agreed to by the SCC.

In the end, thanks to the long efforts during the whole of 2015 of all partners in the concertation process to find a consensus, the Staff Council in office agreed, without enthusiasm, not to oppose the Management proposals for the outcome of the 2015 Five-Yearly Review.

Let me now come back to the various measures proposed.

Concerning the obligatory component: basic salaries for staff members. The staff is aware that one cannot ignore the difficult economic and financial climate prevailing in several Member States. Yet, the staff is still very disappointed by the proposal of the Management to leave salary levels unchanged, in particular in view of the size of the gap observed in the salary comparisons. One of the purposes of a Five-Yearly review is to ensure that CERN can attract, retain, and motivate staff of the highest competence and integrity coming from all Member States. Can we be sure that the Organization can still attract those with the highest competence from all over Europe and beyond? We doubt that the attractiveness and competitiveness of the Organization can be maintained solely with the measures proposed in the optional part of this Five-Yearly Review.

Concerning the optional part, diversity, the staff welcomes the proposed measures since they align CERN with societal changes in our Member States and with good practices observed in most international organizations. Yet they benefit only a minority of staff and are auto-funded by limiting the advancement budget for all staff with respect to the current situation.

Finally, let us look at the proposals concerning the CERN career structure. Of course we welcome the advantages claimed by the new system, namely enhanced motivation, transparency, consistency, and rationalization of the career and salary scale structure. But, as pointed out above, we regret the decision of Management to propose a major cost containment measure, i.e., a cut of 20% in the annual advancement budget, coupled to the introduction of non-recurrent performance payments. Whilst the latter payments mitigate the loss in take-home pay, they do not contribute to our social security systems. In the new system, a large fraction of the staff will have their advancement prospects, and consequently the level of their pension, reduced with respect to the current MARS system. For instance, over a career of thirty years this slow-down in advancement will translate, on average, into a loss of pension of some ten per cent.

The proposed cost containment measures save an estimated 55 MCHF over the coming ten years with respect to the current situation, and provide cost-neutrality by the next Five-Yearly Review in 2020. Thus this Five-Yearly Review becomes quite a hard sell to the staff, who considers that money is taken from all to give some extra benefits to a few. We already had quite some difficulties to contain a revolt by a non-negligible part of the current Staff Council to obtain a vote not to oppose the Management proposals. The recently elected new Staff Council, whose mandate starts in January 2016, has a much larger fraction of delegates who are critical of the outcome of the current Review. Therefore, it was agreed in the SCC after arbitration that all implementation tools and procedures for the new career structure be discussed in the framework of the concertation process. In particular, a detailed roadmap for the introduction and follow-up of these tools will be defined, and the outcome of the annual advancement and promotion exercises will be monitored quantitatively.

CERN has seen the discovery of the higgs in 2012, the extremely successful consolidation work during LS1 in 2013 and 2014 for the LHC, its injectors, the LHC experiments and elsewhere, and, this year, a remarkably effective restart of the LHC at 13 TeV, the other accelerators, and the experiments. Moreover, CERN has a potential for scientific discoveries and technological developments for several decades to come, with HL-LHC, proposals for several non-LHC projects, and, why not, with a future linear or circular accelerator. 

The excellence of CERN in basic science and front-line technologies, and its essential role in the training of future specialists has been recognized on numerous occasions. But, excellence has a cost. Yet, this cost is an essential investment in the future, it funds progress, it creates high-quality jobs for our children and grandchildren.

All together we must defend the Organization’s success in basic science, an example of peaceful collaboration through equitable cost sharing between Member States that has enabled Europe to have a physics laboratory, unique in the world, and of which we are all proud. Short-term considerations that are often purely financial have no future. We need adequate human and material resources that can ensure the proper functioning of the Organization. We owe it to the future generations; they will be thankful that we have not sacrificed them.

by Staff Association