Outcome of the 2015 five-yearly review: decision time

To ensure that CERN remains a centre of excellence in the field of fundamental research, the Organization verifies every five years with the help of a Five-yearly review procedure whether the financial and social conditions which it proposes to its staff allow it to recruit and retain Staff Members of the highest competence and integrity required for the execution of its mission and coming from all Member States. For Fellows these conditions should remain attractive compared with those in comparable research institutions, while for Associated members of personnel the conditions should allow it to host them in its research facilities taking into account the highest cost-of-living level in the local region of the Organization. Annex A1 of the CERN Staff Rules prescribes the principles of how to manage this Five-Yearly process.

Getting ready

In order to prepare the 2015 Five-yearly review and to help define the topics which had to be decided by the CERN Council in June 2014, the Staff Association has organized in Autumn 2013 a staff survey to give staff the opportunity to tell their representatives what they think about their current employment conditions, and how they would like to see them evolve. Some 58 % of staff filled out the questionnaire and the results (Echo 191 and 193) provided a sound basis in the concertation process to influence the choice of menu that the Director-General proposed to CERN Council, who accepted, in June 2014 for the 2015 Five-yearly review, namely:

  • Obligatory part: basic salaries for Staff Members, stipends for Fellows, and subsistence allowances for Associated members of personnel.
  • Optional part: the CERN career structure, and diversity-related social and financial conditions.

A revision of the Five-yearly review method itself to be applied for the next exercise, could be studied, should the need arise after the assessment of the current exercise.

Obligatory part:

Staff Members, Local survey (career paths AA to B)

Following the Flemming principle, a local consultancy Company, hkp///, compared CERN salaries with those of employers that are among the most competitive established in Switzerland (Cantons of Geneva and Vaud). With respect to the 2010 local survey the differences between salaries at CERN and in Swiss companies had narrowed. On average for career paths AA to B CERN salaries were found to be in line with those in Switzerland’s neighbouring areas, Geneva and Vaud.

Staff Members, International survey (career paths C to G)

Following the Noblemaire principle the ISPR (OECD) compared CERN salaries with those of employers established in the Member States that offer the most competitive salaries. Thus Switzerland was chosen for the comparison. With respect to the 2010 international survey the gaps have not widened over the past five years, in part due to the measures taken in 2010, and are in line with the differences found five years ago. On average, Swiss salaries are 131 % higher than at CERN. More specifically, the salary ratio CH/CERN in career path C is 105 %, and 106 % in career path D (note that divergences have been observed between administrative and technical jobs) so that in both these career paths CERN salaries are below those in Switzerland.

For the career paths E, F, and G the average salary ratio CH/CERN is 138 %, so that for these career paths CERN salaries are substantially below those in Switzerland.

Management considerations for Staff Members

In view of:

  • the disparities observed in CERN’s positioning with respect to the comparators throughout the various career paths;
  • the stabilisation, and even slight reduction, of the “gaps” with the comparators;
  • CERN’s overall ability during the current review period in attracting and retaining staff of the highest competence and integrity;
  • the economic and financial conditions in the Member States.

CERN management proposes:

  1. no adjustment of the level of basic salaries;
  2. maintain CERN’s competitiveness and attractiveness through other measures.

Management considerations for Fellows

As the stipends offered to CERN fellows remain attractive with respect to those in the comparator organisations no overall adjustment to stipend levels is proposed.

Management considerations for Associated members of personnel

As subsistence allowances for associated members of the personnel are in line with the cost-of-living in the local region, no adjustment to their level is proposed.

Optional part:

Career structure

Since its beginning in 1954, CERN has known four advancement and promotion systems. For about 35 years advancement was mostly by seniority inside a grid consisting of 14 grades. In 1991 the notion of career paths was introduced in MOAS, and further formalized in 1996 with MAPS, where grades were abandoned and three salary bands (beginner, practitioner, expert) introduced into a symmetric career structure together with the orange and the exceptional advancement zones. After some ten years MAPS evolved into MARS to take into account some CERN specificities by lengthening some career paths, introducing higher granularity in the advancement, etc.

The current structure of the salary grid has become overly complex for less than 2500 staff (8 career paths, 21 salary bands and 500 step positions) and is far from optimal. In particular the progression of the midpoint of the salary bands is low, the overlap in salary levels is high, and the spread (difference in salary levels between bottom and top of band) is inconsistent (top part of Fig. 1). This results in inconsistencies with different levels of functions having similar remuneration, mixing seniority, diploma, and responsibility.

Therefore, Management decided that it was time to introduce a new career structure.  It should modernize the advancement and promotion system and further enhance the recognition of merit when assessing performance, optimizing its use of resources, while increasing motivation of staff throughout their whole career by making the process fully transparent.

The new career structure should also be adapted to recent evolutions in the employment market, in particular the harmonisation of diplomas as a result of the Bologna process.

Figure 1 compares the structures of the current (MARS) and the newly proposed grid. Figure 2 shows the mapping between the MARS career paths and bands, AA to G, and the Grades, 1 to 10, grouped into Career Tracks (1 to 4) of the proposed system.

Fig. 1: Comparison of current MARS (top) and proposed (bottom) salary grids


Fig. 2: Correspondence between MARS Career Paths and the new Career Tracks and Grades


Figure 3 shows in detail how the new salary grid covers the MARS salary grid (colored area). We see that several positions in the MARS grid fall outside the new limits (red lines) of the corresponding grades. Note that starting salaries are increased in Grades 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6, substantially in the latter three. On the other hand, the maximum salaries are reduced in all Grades, except 8, 9 and 10, where they are increased. This reduction of career evolution prospects inside a Grade is especially important in Grades 2 to 5. Thus, it is essential to put into place structural mechanisms to accompany staff in their career development, especially in Grades where a change of Career Track, hence of function, is required for a promotion. Necessary tools for such a policy include: the introduction of Benchmark jobs, which define the evolution of a job inside a Career Track; a global approach to the needs of the Organization, e.g., by publishing vacant positions CERN-wide; optimal use of internal mobility; recognition of acquired experience for change of function.

Fig. 3: Mapping the new grades on the MARS career paths


In the first half of 2016, one last advancement and promotion exercise will take place in the framework of MARS, with effect on 1 July 2016. Then, in September 2016, CERN staff will have their position in the MARS Career Path and Band structure mapped into the corresponding Grade, without change of salary. Indeed, salaries will henceforth be expressed as a percentage with respect to the midpoint (Fig. 1, bottom) of one’s Grade.  The mapping will take place according to the correspondences shown in Fig. 2, no implicit promotions to a higher Grade will occur. Staff whose current salary position falls outside the upper limits shown in Fig. 3 are mapped into a “personal position”, where they are no longer eligible for an advancement. However, transitory measures in 2017 to 2019 will allow those in these positions to still advance in a phasing out manner (with 100%, 66%, and 33%, respectively, of the advancement percentages corresponding to their performance qualification). Moreover, staff mapped into a personal position will be given priority to be invited for a developmental interview to discuss whether a job evolution is possible to qualify for a promotion to a higher Grade.

Ensuring long-term sustainability by containing cost

Apart from optimizing the structure of the grid, CERN Management wants the new system to control the increase in personnel costs, in particular due to the annual advancement, in order to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the personnel budget. Therefore, in the new system, recognition of the annual performance will consist of two components, advancement, with a corresponding increase of salary, which is pensionable, and a performance award, a yearly one-off lump-sum payment, which is not pensionable. Moreover, four performance levels replace MARS’ three levels, providing an increased granularity. The financial values of the two components for each level are specified in Tab. 1, where the percentages are with respect to the midpoint of the Grade (Fig. 1, bottom right-side table). On top of that promotions giving rise to a Career Track change (Grade 2 to 3, Grade 5 to 6, and Grade 8 to 9) get a 2% salary increase.

Table 1: Advancement and performance award


The Staff Association considers that there is some unfairness in the fact that, compared to the current MARS Career Paths, career prospects in some Grades are drastically reduced, whereas they are extended in other Grades. In fact, given the observed career evolution of staff in certain fields of activity, the MARS system had extended the range of certain Career Paths with respect to others (e.g., C and D), to allow staff to continue to advance in later stages of their career, an important ingredient for their continued motivation. Given that some 7% of staff, who were not blocked in MARS, will be mapped into personal positions, we hope that the proposed measures and tools will help the majority of these evolve in their career as soon as possible.

As for the proposed performance award, the Staff Association considers that all elements related to the recognition of the performance must remain pensionable. Therefore it demands that the amount of this award should be included in the calculation of the staff’s pension.

Diversity-related measures

CERN must take evolutions in society and in the working environment duly into account. This demand was also clearly expressed in our survey.

Firstly, there is the demand for CERN to adopt a new definition of the family. Currently, the Organization recognizes registered partnership provided that it is officially recognized by a Member State, and allows the partner of the staff member to be covered by the CERN health insurance. It is time to put marriage and registered partnerships on an equal footing (see Echo 219). Hence, the Association entirely supports the proposal of Management to fully recognize registered partnerships.

In accordance with the wishes expressed in our survey (see Echos 204, 205 and 226) the Staff Association and the Management propose to modernize areas related to diversity.

There is better support for new parents (prolonged maternity, paternity and parental leaves) and the possibility to work part time. Since dual careers are nowadays the norm rather than the exception, help for the integration in the local employment market of the spouse/partner of the newly recruited staff member or fellow is a must. Some information sharing with partners in the local area will be put into place. However, to be really attractive we feel that the Organization should play a more proactive role in this area by providing more resources.

In the area of professional / private life balance, we welcome that the saved leave scheme (SLS) has reduced the cost of slices one and two, as well as offers an increased flexibility for changing one’s participation. It will also be possible to donate leave days for well-defined compassion reasons. There is also more flexibility for teleworking, with the possibility of a second day of teleworking par week under certain conditions, occasional teleworking, and an extension of the programme to fellows.

Less positive is the refusal to introduce some version of flexitime, on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, although such schemes have successfully been implemented in other companies and organizations. We were told that the “CERN Culture” already has enough implicit flexibility built-in, and many managers fear that by formalizing such a scheme, “clocking in” and “counting one’s hours” would kill this “CERN Culture”.


In December of this year, Management will make proposals to the CERN Council to conclude the 2015 five-yearly review.

For the mandatory part, the Staff Council considers that, to guarantee its continued competitiveness and attractiveness CERN must reduce the gap that exists between the basic salaries it offers with respect to those of comparators chosen. Indeed, contrary to the position of Management, it does not consider that CERN’s competitiveness and attractiveness can be maintained only with other measures proposed in the framework of the 2015 Five-yearly Review.

For the optional part, the Staff Council does not globally oppose the Management proposal for the new career structure, but demands that all financial elements related to the recognition of the performance remain pensionable. In any case, the career prospects should be fair between Grades. Moreover, the implementation of the new scheme over the coming years must be carefully monitored to verify whether it declared goals are realized or whether some parameters need to be adapted. Regarding the diversity-related measures, the Staff Council is in favour of the Management proposal, even though in some areas introducing more flexibility would have been welcomed.


by Staff Association