The European Parliament has been accused of double standards after MEPs’ assistants were told that if they want to work from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, their wages will be cut by a quarter.
Last month, the Parliament took measures to encourage MEPs to work remotely to avoid the spread of the virus. But while lawmakers can choose to work from their home country, the same rules do not apply to their assistants, who are supposed to work from one of the assembly’s bases — Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg — or face financial penalties.
The Parliament’s Directorate General for Personnel sent a note — seen by POLITICO — on Friday to remind staff that teleworking for accredited assistants “must be performed from the address that the member of staff has communicated to the administration of the Parliament … i.e. their address in their place of employment.”
The note says that if assistants choose to work from their home country — for “family reasons” — and not from their office, they must submit a formal request and have “the agreement of your MEP.” However, by doing so they will receive 75 percent of their salary and not get their “expatriation allowance or … foreign residence allowance.”
The note also says that MEPs are allowed to change the contracts of their assistants to reflect a change in work location. (There are two types of MEP assistants: accredited assistants have a direct contract with the Parliament and are based in Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg; local assistants have a contract with the MEP to assist them in the member country in which they were elected.)
“I am certain that the trapped assistants would want to get back to Brussels, but in these times, traveling is almost impossible and also potentially dangerous” — One MEP’s assistant.
One MEP’s assistant, who didn’t want to be named, said: “I believe the Parliament’s administration should reconsider its position. Many accredited assistants have traveled to their respective home countries before the travel bans were introduced. Among them are people caring for their parents and sick people. This crisis hits all of us and I think it is highly unethical to threaten to cut salaries of people who did not choose to become trapped in a specific place.”
The assistant added: “I am certain that the trapped assistants would want to get back to Brussels, but in these times, traveling is almost impossible and also potentially dangerous. The work of the MEPs is in no way affected by the place from which their assistants work … The administration has to show some decency and amend its decision in order to regain the trust of MEP assistants and MEPs.”
Many MEPs, particularly from the center left, were furious.
Iratxe García, leader of the Socialists and Democrats group, wrote to Parliament President David Sassoli saying that MEPs “can only deliver with their assistants. If we assume that MEPs can work 100 percent from home, this should also be applicable to their assistants and the Parliament staff,” she added.
García said a petition calling for salaries of assistants to not be cut and that their insurance remain valid and allowances be paid has been signed by 120 people. She also called on Klaus Welle, the Parliament’s secretary general, to call a special meeting of top MEPs to discuss the issue.
“It would be wise to disseminate the necessary decisions before the issue reaches the attention of the broader public,” she wrote.
A Parliament spokesperson said a meeting of the bureau of senior staff was scheduled for the week of April 20, “but the agenda has not been adopted yet.” Another Parliament official said that neither Sassoli nor Welle had yet responded to García’s letter.
Other MEPs hit out at the decision.
Monika Beňová, a Socialist and one of the Parliament’s quaestors — who oversee administrative and financial matters — also wrote to Sassoli to express “deep concern” about the working conditions of assistants.
“It is clear that under these extraordinary circumstances the ordinary rules should be re-evaluated … because the rules, as currently in force, seem to neglect the circumstances that we currently find ourselves in,” she wrote.
Dita Charanzová, a Czech MEP from the centrist Renew Europe group and a vice-president of the Parliament, was even more blunt. “This is not acceptable. This decision should be overturned,” she said in an email.
But not everyone was on the side of the assistants. One Parliament official said “they left … without taking orders from MEPs. Now they can’t come back, and to get social benefits, you must be in Brussels. The assistants want a derogation in order to stay at home and be covered.”