The case of the Childcare facilities in Grange.
A failure story…
Amid the summer holidays and the well-deserved rest of our colleagues, DG-SANTE took the decision to close down the childcare facilities in the Site of Grange. A decision that was never discussed with the staff representatives and communicated to parents at the beginning of July, for a closure foreseen for the end of October.
R&D was the only Trade Union to react (Childcare facilities (Creche) at Grange. Yet another service bites the dust…? – Renouveau & Démocratie (renouveau-democratie.eu)), not only about the content of the decision, but also about the justification for this closure and for the inappropriate communication style.
Need a justification for the closure of the Creche?
“Aut inveniam viam aut faciam”
(either we will find the way, or we will invent it)
You will all remember that DG-SANTE invoked “safety reasons” for the closure of the Childcare Facilities. They had mentioned that “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 located”. Of course, after R&D brought DG-SANTE in front of evidence that everybody knew that the oil tanks were there since over 20 years, and after asking the reason for keeping secret these “safety reasons” from parents and the staff representation, the justification for the closure, as by miracle, slightly changed.
The Creche will close for Safety (of the budget) reasons
In a new letter (Ares(2023)5869716) to the staff representatives, DG-SANTE now informs us that the safety reasons are not exactly the main ones for the decision to close down the creche. They now brought to our attention that the costs to maintain the Creche are around 300K € annually and there are only few families with kids that use this Creche. DG-SANTE appeared also “concerned about the fairness of the current model of childcare support, and whether it is compatible with the principle of equity. This is because, although not by design, the main benefits of the existing heavily subsidised childcare supports accrue only to the above-mentioned 3 households”.
Well, according to R&D, when you have a social policy that is designed to offer equal opportunities to all, attractiveness of a working place but also aims at guaranteeing diversity and inclusion, decisions cannot be based solely on economic criteria. You know that you will have, in some cases, to pay the expenses also for services and works from which only few people will benefit. We invite DG-SANTE to retract immediately this kind of concerns and dilemmas and be very careful in the future of how they express them.
In this particular case, the Senior Management of DG-SANTE seems also to forget how important it is for parents, and especially working mothers, to find an equilibrium between work and family life. In addition, and knowing how difficult it is to secure a place in childcare facilities they didn’t hesitate to close down the creche in Grange with a very short notice within the summer holidays period. And, it is true that the problems related to childcare services are a well-known Europe-wide problem, acknowledged only few days ago also by our President, Ursula Von der Leyen, who during her 2023 state of the Union speech mentioned:
“… At the same time millions of parents – mostly mothers – are struggling to reconcile work and family, because there is no childcare…”
Ursula Von Der Leyen, SOTEU 2023 (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/ov/speech_23_4426 )
We are honestly wondering whether our President knows that in her own Services such a decision to reduce further the childcare offer had just been taken. R&D demands that all services in the European Commission do as our Political leadership preaches and avoid taking decisions that damage the image of the Institution.
Anti-social Monologue vs Social Dialogue
The Creche situation in Grange and the way it was managed and further communicated is not new to us. This is only another episode in the same series, with different actors. The management ignores completely its statutory obligation to discuss such important issues with the staff and the staff representatives; it keeps a safety issue completely secret, uses it in an “à la carte” mode 2,5 years after it was issued, denying still to share it with staff representations and uses it as the basis for a completely anti-social measure. After our complaints, the justification changed and the management was dragged to a social dialogue meeting. As such, in a meeting that the staff representations had on 8/9/2023 with DG-HR and DG-SANTE, another useful information emerged; in particular, the management of the Grange Site admitted that they knew of the existence of the oil tanks. Therefore, we are now wondering how can DG-SANTE mention ((2023)4728789-07/07/2023) that the tanks in the vicinity of the Creche were “discovered” only during the Audit of 2021?
It is evident that the Social Dialogue is a process that MUST accompany the decisions all along their way, because when this doesn’t happen the management will mathematically take wrong decisions, because simply they will have not listened to all opinions and all possible solutions. Even when the final decisions are not necessarily wrong, the fact that the staff representation is not allowed to do its statutory obligations will inevitably lead to a loss of trust and will definitely harm the image of our Institution that preaches for “transparency”, “culture of trust”, for “leadership by example” and for the “reconciliation of the professional and family life of individuals”.
The future of Grange?
The childcare facility in Grange has been operated by an external contractor, with the current contract ending at the end of March 2024. Evidently, the decision to close down the Creche five months ahead of the end of the contract generates a lot of questions. Why end of October and not end of March, giving that way five additional months of time to parents to find alternative solutions for their children, especially knowing how difficult it is to find a childcare facility solution in that area (e.g. https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/hundreds-of-creches-face-closure-threat-over-escalating-cost-crisis/a433793982.html)?
The building where DG-SANTE is hosted today was foreseen to pass to the European Commission in 2022 for a nominal sum of 1 Euro, pursuant to the provisions of the Development Agreement. An Interservice consultation was launched for this purpose and had a positive outcome. Nevertheless, the opinion of DG-HR was to get the building as the agreement foresaw, BUT, to start looking for new premises to move in the future.
“Compte tenu de l’obligation d’achat découlant du contrat mais considérant par ailleurs la taille du bâtiment qui n’est pas en rapport avec les besoins, sa performance énergétique (Rapports EMAS) qui n’est pas en ligne avec les objectifs de la Commission en termes d’empreinte carbone, ses coûts de fonctionnement et les besoins d’investissements pour remettre à niveau, il est proposé d’accepter la levée de l’option d’achat mais il est demandé à la DG Santé (en soutien avec les services de la Commission) d’identifier un bâtiment correspondant mieux aux besoins susmentionnés (dimensions, performance énergétique, coût, localisation…) dans l’optique de sortir l’actuel bâtiment du parc immobilier de la Commission.”
It is of course a legal obligation to have buildings that respect the environmental and energy performance requirements, but it is even more legitimate from the staff’s side to expect transparency and early information. A possible identification of a new building can have tremendous impact on the family life of individuals and therefore we expect from the administration the maximum level of transparency and early information on colleagues who may take life decisions based on the fact that their place of employment is in the current site of Grange.
To conclude,R&D expects from the management of DG-SANTE and DG-HR full transparency, early information of staff on any pending issue and decision, complete restoration of the Social Dialogue and equal conditions for colleagues in Grange as those that are offered to the colleagues in Brussels, as it was promised 25 years ago, when the site of Grange was inaugurated.
With regards to the Childcare Services, R&D demands that:
- The creche be not closed at the end of October but continue to operate at least until the end of the existing contract;
- That any decision on closing the creche be accompanied by a detailed impact analysis prepared by the administration and shared and discussed with the staff representation;
- That alternative services be studied, discussed with the staff representation and offered to colleagues in order to help them reconcile their professional and private life;
For R&D, Grange is not a remote site. We will continue monitoring the situation in Grange and will continue intervening in the most convincing way in the interest of our colleagues and the Institution.