CERN Accelerating science

Interview with Ghislain Roy, the President of the Staff Association

On the occasion of the 300th edition of Echo, Ghislain Roy, the current President of the Staff Association (SA) answered our questions…

'Ghislain, who was trained as a physicist, joined CERN in 1992 as a fellow. He was hired in 1993 as a staff member in the Accelerator operations group, SL/OP, where he had the opportunity to work as engineer in charge and then as LEP operations coordinator. With the shutdown of LEP, Ghislain became Radiation Safety Officer (RSO) then Departmental Safety Officer (DSO) in the accelerator department, AB then BE. He participated, inter alia, in the implementation of the safety and access systems of the LHC. Just before the “Long Shutdown 1” of LHC, Ghislain shortly returned to the accelerator operations group and then joined the Accelerator and Beam Physics Group (BE/ABP). He participated in various projects, such as the transformation of the heavy ion accelerator, LEIR into an injector to a biomedical facility to measure the effectiveness of different types of light ions in the treatment of cancers. This study, called BioLEIR, was finally discontinued. Already delegate and member of the Executive Committee of the SA between 2001 and 2004, Ghislain decided in 2015, considering the evolution of the Five-yearly review in progress at that time, to return as a delegate to the Association with the affirmed motivation of committing himself to serve and influence. At first, member of the Executive Committee and Secretary of the SA Bureau, he stood for election for the presidency of the SA in 2016 and was elected together with Catherine Laverrière as Vice-President.'

ECHO: Could you remind us what was the atmosphere at the SA when you became President?

GR: The decisions taken during the last five-yearly review, marked by the revision of the career structure and a clear slowdown in advancement, had divided the Association into two parts. It left deep disagreements within the SA, which was detrimental to its proper functioning. At that time, the SA governance was rather presidential. As soon as I arrived, I wanted to put an end to this idea. In my view, the SA should be democratic and the decision making power of the SA is with the Staff Council, while the President is elected by the Staff Council and is subject to the decisions of the latter.

ECHO: How is the SA functioning today?

GR: Finding people who agree to run for election as staff delegates is difficult. The situation today is still sensitive, although the last Staff Council election was a success. The Staff Council was substantially renewed in 2017. The people who arrived to the Council have diverse profiles, which means that the Staff Council is more representative of all CERN professions, with a balance between engineers and technicians but also with the election of four fellows. The Staff Council is solid, mature and very diligent. There was an awakening in this last election. The Staff Council should normally represent the whole of CERN, all categories and all nationalities. In the future, it would also be good to attract Users and Associate members of the personnel, as members of the SA but also as staff delegates.

ECHO: The first edition of ECHO, published in 2006 was entitled “Rupture”. At that time, it was a break in the concertation process between SA and CERN Management, chaired by Robert Aymar. Could you give us your vision on the mechanism of concertation?

GR: The concertation mechanism is very rarely used in the realm of employer-employee relations in general; but at CERN, it is at the heart of relations between the CERN Management and the personnel, represented by the Staff Association. In order to function properly, concertation requires good faith and trust from each party. It should allow discussions without taboos with the sole aim to find a solution which is satisfactory for both parties, and in the best interest of the Organization. Concertation is not negotiation, Concertation is not co-management and Concertation is not consultation! The SA puts forward ideas in the discussions, in order to elaborate the best proposal for CERN and its staff. In general, in the concertation process, an alignment of interests takes place insofar as the Management and the SA share the common goal of ensuring the overall success of CERN. The final decision is always taken by the Director General, Finance Committee or CERN Council.

ECHO: What is your opinion about the status of personnel at CERN?

GR: From a very personal point of view, I am particularly attached to the status of international civil servants, where the most important interests are those of CERN’s mission, whether they are scientific, technological or educational. This goes beyond the interest of each State and it should be set from a long-term perspective. The working conditions at CERN are good. In the world of science, this is a model that should be copied and not weakened. Of course, we have to adapt to the evolution of the world, but we have to remain creative and keep in mind this idea of the greatest interest of our Organization. The temptation to reduce, to cut, which can be perceived as interesting from a short-term perspective, is often more destructive than constructive on the long-term.

An evolution, which I deeply care about, due to my previous experience within the accelerator operations team, would be to put more emphasis on the collective interest, and the interest and performance of the team which should take precedence over the individual interests and performance, which in turn lead people to focus too much on the evolution of their own careers. I regret that there is not enough emphasis on this aspect in the assessment of performance done through the current MERIT system.

ECHO: Thinking about the future, what is your vision about the future challenges that CERN will have to face?

GR: For several decades, CERN has been THE world center for research in high-energy physics. And this had an important impact on the evolution of the global population of CERN, which saw the number of users explode. Today, CERN works globally well: the personnel is motivated, the performance of our facilities are excellent and the scientific results numerous. All this has been done with a number of staff members ('titulaires') which has remained almost constant during the past twenty years. On the other hand, the number of students, fellows and project associates has considerably increased, in proportion to the number of projects we are working on. However, this situation is now becoming hard to sustain.

With regard to the future, with large-scale projects that go beyond the current physical limits of CERN, we will have to face new challenges. However, this will not be the first time that CERN will have to face such issues. The construction of the Prévessin site in the 1970s, and subsequently the expansion of CERN to the various access points of LEP and LHC, already raised similar issues at the time. I am confident about CERN’s capacity to find solutions that will allow maintaining the unicity of the Organization, of its site and personnel, while keeping up personnel commitment and motivation, which are its main strength and success.  Of course, the SA will be present to propose solutions in this direction.

ECHO: The first edition of ECHO in 2006 also represented a breakup for the communication of the SA, which had been previously done through the CERN Bulletin. What is your opinion about this subject?

GR: The split, which happened in 2006 between the Bulletin, published by the Management, and the part under the responsibility of the Staff Association, which became ECHO, was not a good idea. The SA is not a union and its way of interacting with the Management is not opposition but concertation. We all pull in the same direction, even though our views may occasionally differ. I would rather return to the previous configuration, where a dedicated space is allocated to the communication of the Staff Association in the Bulletin, rather than the current total separation. This would also give a good signal that the current Management has abandoned the views of the 2006 Management and Robert Aymar on the issue of Concertation.

ECHO: Lastly, what kind of message would you like to pass to members of personnel at CERN?

GR: I would like to make an appeal to spark the interest of all personnel present at CERN to engage into the social life of the Organization, and more generally, in its political life, in the Greek sense of the term, which means the life of the City in general. It can be through clubs, activities of general interest, being a guide or serving in one of the many Joint committees (Reclassification, Discipline, etc.) or within the Staff Association.

For employed members of personnel, this Organization is not just an employer, it is your State, which provides you with social security and your pension in the end. For Associate members of personnel, it is not just a host laboratory but also a community of interest, in which you can influence through your opinions and vision.


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