Childcare facilities (Creche) at Grange. Yet another service bites the dust…?

In letter Ares (2023)4728789-07/07/2023, DG-SANTE informed the Brussels Local Staff Committee of its decision to close the childcare facilities of Grange at the end of October 2023. This closure is inevitable, according to DG-SANTE, due to the conclusions of a “Security Audit Performed by DG-HR” in March 2021. During the inspection carried out as part of the aforementioned audit, a heating oil storage tank and two smaller liquid petroleum gas tanks with a capacity of 85.000 litres were discovered in the vicinity of the building where the childcare facilities are still located today. As a result, and again according to DG-SANTE, the situation was deemed to be of significant risk and DG-HR recommended that the creche be closed or relocated elsewhere on the site. DG-SANTE considers that relocation is not viable because of the cost and rather limited demand.

Safety of children and staff at stake

What is incredible about DG SANTE’s current communication is that for a situation that was “identified as a major safety risk for the creche”, there has been no information to staff, staff representatives, parents, or childcare staff for more than two years. There has been no discussion within the Joint Committee for Health and Safety at work, no discussion within the Joint Committee for Early Childhood, no discussion within the Local Contact Committee. The kids continued going regularly in a Creche that DG-HR had identified as presenting a major safety risk.

What if something had happened during these 28 months since March 2021?

And, if the situation is considered as so risky, why does the childcare service continue to operate, during the summer period when oils and chemicals can evaporate at higher rates due to high temperatures, and why isn’t it closed immediately?

Working conditions at Grange “ are at least as favourable as for the Brussels Staff, if not more so.“

The presence and normal, safe functioning of a childcare service in Grange has its origins in the early days of the negotiations for the relocation of this Office to Grange in 1999. In order to convince the staff to accept this relocation, President Santer pledged that the working conditions in Grange would be equal to those in Brussels. President Prodi subsequently confirmed this commitment and, as part of the dialogue with the Brussels Local Staff Committee, the Directors General of SANTE and HR also made commitments. As a matter of fact, Mr Reichenbach had stated that the working conditions in Grange should be equally favourable to those in Brussels, if not more so”.

R&D therefore asks DG-SANTE and DG-HR:

  1. Why was the audit not shared with Grange staff and the LSC in Brussels?
  2. Which actions were undertaken in order to minimise the risk associated with the presence of 85.000 litres of heating oil in the vicinity of childcare facilities, identified by DG-HR as significant?
  3. If no mitigation actions were taken, why wasn’t the creche immediately closed?
  4. What actions will DG-SANTE and DG-HR undertake to ensure that alternative childcare facilities are found in short term and without any additional burden on parents, as agreed during the establishment of the site?
  5. What actions will DG-HR undertake to restore its credibility vis-à-vis the Staff Committees and Trade Unions as regards a mutually respectful social dialogue that includes transparency (especially when children’s health is at stake), information and negotiation at the right level and at the right time so that there be no more “faits accomplis” in the future.

Cristiano Sebastiani,