In 1999, the staff of ‘THE FOOD AND VETERINARY OFFICE’ (DG Santé) was transferred to Grange, in Ireland. We are talking here about 176 colleagues and their family members.

At that time, the administration, more precisely former President of the Commission, Mr Santer agreed (confirmed later on by former President Prodi) ‘that the staff in Grange would be entitled to equivalent working conditions to those offered to Brussels-based personnel’. This agreement included specific provisions concerning the crèches: ‘At Grange, space is available for a crèche… A system will be put in place similar to that in Luxembourg where a contract has been agreed with a private crèche and the Commission subsidises the difference between the cost of the private crèche and the cost of a normal Commission crèche…’

This agreement has been honoured until this year, when suddenly at the beginning of July the Health and Food Audits and Analysis Director informed staff that the crèche would be closed in October 2023. The reasons invoked were that DG HR recommended closing or relocating the crèche elsewhere within the site because of the result of an audit carried out two years before -in 2021- showing significant safety risk affecting the crèche due to its very close proximity to a large (approx. 85 000 litres capacity) heating oil storage tank and two smaller liquid petroleum gas tanks.

However, after waiting more than a year, they decided not to relocate because of the very limited demand (?) for the service, the considerable amount of time, resources, and investment that it would entail. And the only ‘solution’ for the administration was simply to notify families that they should find alternative arrangements by themselves.

We regret this way of proceeding, knowing the specificities of this site, notably its peculiar situation in the middle of nowhere and that there are no alternative places offering childcare services. For instance, the relocation of the crèche should be studied in detail in some of the buildings of the site where free space is available (according to the staff members working there). If this is not possible, then a special ‘allowance’ to cover the costs of individual childcare for the families affected should be envisaged. Moreover, when there is an important number of children using the childcare facilities, for school holidays some arrangements could be found inside or outside the site in some sport clubs, for instance.

TAO-the Independents has been following closely this matter and has participated with the Local and Central Staff Committee of the Commission and other trade unions in a meeting with the administration where we have obtained the suspension of the closure of the crèches until end of March 2024. These few months will give us the possibility to discuss with DG HR and DG Santé other possible solutions for the families concerned.

As the budgetary constraints have been put on the table on this dossier, TAO is studying in detail the budget to verify and find the funds needed to respect the commitments and promises made to staff when they were obliged to move. We are of the opinion that the current budgetary provisions do provide for exceptional situations as the one at hand. This is a primary service for our colleagues, and our Institution must find a sustainable solution for its staff. We will follow-up on this issue.