The administration advocates a gradual return to the office in a health-safe environment, but is this really the case?

By | 17 October 2021

On 15th September 2021, Ms Ingestad Director-General of HR, addressed staff with these words:

As a responsible staff member, we trust that you will continue to follow existing safety measures in your office, even if you have been vaccinated. Wearing a mask (except when sitting at your desk) remains mandatory, as does regular hand washing with soap or, failing that, using hand sanitiser. Social distancing and temperature control at building entrances remain mandatory. We will keep a close eye on any outbreaks of coronavirus infection that may occur, for which you should follow the established medical protocol.”

On the ground, the situation is quite different: indeed, we were contacted by colleagues from DG BUDG who were not really reassured by the promotional video of a peaceful return to the ‘Black Pearl’ building.

First of all, this video too often shows people very close together and without masks. Undoubtedly, this mistake in communication caused trouble and confusion among the staff!

Let us remember again, that being vaccinated does not necessarily mean being 100% immune and not carrying the virus! Let us not forget either that even if more than 96% of colleagues are vaccinated, there are still 4% who are not (and not necessarily by choice). Moreover, Brussels is an area where barely 50% of people are vaccinated. And finally, the different variants mean that the vaccine effectiveness is currently lower and no longer corresponds to the 90% protection announced at the beginning of the vaccination programme.

The situation on the ground is also very worrying, especially for colleagues in OPEN SPACE and catastrophic for those in HOT DESK. The promiscuity of these working environments is no longer in question. What about colleagues with divergent convictions? It is therefore to be expected that con­flictual situations may arise and create a harmful climate.

We urge that the instructions and obligations as stipulated by the administration be actually put into practice in the services and premises in order to avoid the first frictions between col­leagues with different opinions, which will then become open and irrecoverable conflicts. Re­turning to the office is therefore not only an act of individual goodwill, but also and above all a collec­tive responsibility.

All this serves to remind us that the environment is no more ‘healthy’ than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, the risk is still very present, and virologists believe that removing the mask and no longer respecting the distance is now premature: it would therefore be very naive to believe that eve­rything is over and that the return to the office is only a question of logistics.

The administration must ensure that the rules of good ‘health and safety’ conduct, already in place, are applied and respected by all colleagues going to the office.

In addition, malfunctions related to poor planning and management of workspaces were reported to us. Colleagues from another unit (same directorate, same floor) were forced to work in the same space due to lack of space. In such conditions, the maximum percentage of 50% is far from being respected. The rules for this 50% are confusing and very poorly explained by the administration (50% per DG, per directorate, per unit, per floor, ….?). This rookie management will generate certain risks for the staff.

As the promotional video on DG BUDG’s intracomm shows, workstations do not allow for even par­tial ‘privatisation’ of the personal space and screen.

As for the “cosy corners” shown in the video, they are ALL the same, whether you want to work with a few people or have a coffee. These tables are too low and not ergonomic to place a laptop and share a screen. There is nothing innovative about the canteen or meeting spaces. No information is provided about the workplace environment, i.e. the ‘Quiet rooms’, cafeterias, canteens, and car parks…

And what a disappointment it was for colleagues that the video ‘omitted’ to show the beautiful individ­ual offices generously granted to all members of the DG BUDG management and to the assistants of the Director-General…. in a memorable application of the principle advocated by Commissioner Hahn, namely a management with the obligation of ‘leading by example‘.

What is also the mobility policy, given that the use of public transport is being advocated, while health situation in Brussels is worrying (with barely 50% of the population vaccinated)?

The Alliance is firmly opposed to this premature return in such conditions that do not respect at all the health and hygiene rules for all staff, whether or not they have been vaccinated.

This all-out return is far from being without consequences: several school classes are already under quarantine in European schools as well as in Belgium and France.

The European schools in Luxembourg have produced a very detailed report on the health situation:

We demand from the Administration that this statement is also produced quickly by other European Schools and communicated to us as soon as possible.

We say NO to a return under such conditions! The Commission must apply its own rules within its premises, adopting a zero tolerance policy for any deviation and taking the health situation in Brussels seriously!

“Is this how you want to return to the office?” Please share your opinion with us on this issue.