"We have made history"

When Ukrainian refugees queued up in front of the federal asylum centres in the spring, colleagues from all departments, the Federal Chancellery and Parliamentary Services helped us to cope with the rush. We look back with appreciation on this – so far unique – campaign of support within the Federal Administration.

They came in multitudes and they came swiftly: at the beginning of March, thousands of displaced persons from Ukraine sought protection in Switzerland from the armed conflict in their country. In order to be able to grant protection to these people quickly and as unbureaucratically as possible, the Federal Council activated protection status S on 12 March – a new procedure that is provided for in the Asylum Act but had never been used before. SEM therefore had to develop the procedure ad hoc and put it into practice straight away. It was a huge feat. Every day, as many protection seekers entered the federal asylum centres as asylum seekers would usually do in a month. Both SEM’s mechanisms and its staff rapidly reached their limits in this crisis situation.

Immense solidarity

"Three personnel measures helped to overcome this crisis," says Meret Stoppia, head of SEM Human Resources, looking back. In consultation with the Board of Management, SEM set up an internal 'Ukraine Support Pool' as an initial immediate measure: colleagues from all areas of SEM volunteered to support the most stretched SEM units. "The solidarity was immense," says Ms Stoppia. "Within a very short period of time, we had 110 colleagues who, from one day to the next, had a special task to carry out in the federal asylum centres."

At the same time, it became apparent that our identification specialists also urgently needed support. The Federal Office of Customs and Border Security (FOCBS) and the Federal Office of Police (fedpol) quickly and efficiently released colleagues so that all those seeking asylum and protection could be identified and their identity documents checked. To date, almost 200 colleagues from the FOCBS and fedpol have been working for SEM.

133 additional pool staff

"Because the flow of refugees did not decrease, we came up with the idea of expanding the SEM support pool to the entire Federal Administration," Ms Stoppia explains. This was pioneering work. A cross-departmental pool of support staff had never existed before. And the response to the call was also unprecedented: 120 people from various federal offices volunteered to work as Ukraine pool staff at all SEM locations for several months. They also replaced those SEM staff who had previously been on continuous duty for weeks and often without any days off. It was only with the gradual recruitment of temporary staff via employment agencies and through advertised SEM vacancies that most federal employees were able to return to their usual places of work by the end of August.

A success story

"The Ukraine Support Pool is a great success story," says Ms Stoppia. "We have made history in the Federal Administration with this," she adds with pride. This was made possible – in addition to many committed SEM and federal employees – by a flexible and unbureaucratically functioning SEM HR and IT team, which stepped up hiring procedures and provided all pool employees with the necessary authorisations and IT resources. The experience gained from this initiative will now be systematically collected and evaluated by an external company. "This is so we can refine this support pool idea even further and learn from our experiences with a view to the future," says Ms Stoppia. "What is clear is that we want to be in an even better and more flexible position next time a similar situation occurs."

A model with a future

The experience gained from this cross-departmental support pool is also to be used with regard to the Confederation's new personnel strategy for 2024 to 2027, as the Federal Council would like to be able to deploy federal personnel more flexibly and efficiently in future when an administrative unit is particularly challenged and requires additional staff at short notice. Initial decisions in this direction have been taken and the legal basis for this has been created in the Federal Personnel Ordinance.