The Staff Union of the Economic Commission for Africa
Duties and responsibilities
Mr. Edgar Casals, President,
Staff Union of the
U.N. Economic Commission
for Africa (ECA).
By Seble Demeke, UNOG.
Interview with Mr. Edgar
Casals, President, Staff Union of the
U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
By Seble Demeke, UNOG
In 1996 I interviewed the previous President
of the Staff Union Committee. As the new President of the Staff Union,
what is your view on staff/management relations?
They are improving after having been through a very difficult period, due to the previous Staff Union Committee. The relationship between management and staff is improving despite the many pending staff issues. Career development of staff in ECA has stagnated for many years for so many staff due to the perception that internal candidates are not given equal opportunities for promotion. Despite the ISP, many complaints of the staff have not been addressed. This created a strain between the staff representatives and management. At one point both had become estranged to the point of not talking to each other. There was an election in 2002 but because of problems in the electoral process, that election was not recognized by the management. This resulted in the closure of the Staff Union office and the removal of its officers. For almost two years there was no Staff Union representation to address staff issues. A new Statute was introduced by the Staff Union in January 2003 under which new elections were conducted in April 2003. This was how this Staff Committee was elected. The Staff Committee is trying to work with management on many pressing staff issues and there are improvements in the way that management views the staff-management consultations.
What is the major concern of ECA staff at the present ?
Career development is still the biggest concern of staff. Opportunities for promotion for internal candidates and mission assignments are very difficult to come by. Internal candidates are marginalized in terms of promotion and in doing the actual work of ECA. We feel we are excluded from the major activities of ECA. Management prefers outsiders to the internal candidates, despite the fact that internal candidates are fully qualified; many of them have stopped applying for posts.
Galaxy e-staff recruitment system what is your view? Is it working?
In theory, it is good because staff can go to the website and apply. There are however, four major problems:
- The final selection is left to the programme managers, who are the ones who interview in the first place and make the recommendations to the central review bodies. In addition to this, in ECA, they have established the Ad hoc Selection Panel (ASP), which makes the recommendations on who should get promoted and/or recruited. This is a very influential group. Members include the programme managers, representatives from the Cabinets office and others from the same area where the vacancy is being filled. The problem with the ASP is that its recommendations are almost always the final decisions on selecting the candidates.
- Many of the staff are not aware how it works and how the Personal History Forms are completed.
- The process of recruitment through Galaxy is not transparent. When a staff member applies for a post it is acknowledged but the applicant does not know what happens after that.
- Unlike the previous selection system, the new one has no provision for recourse procedures. The recourse procedure has been totally eliminated
The New PAS system in particular the rating scale, what is ECAs staff representatives position ?
The scale is very limited. It does not cover all the qualities and performance of the staff. In other words the supervisor can make a comment in a single sentence and that would be the image of the subordinate. Oftentimes, the ratings or comments do not identify what is really wrong with the staff members performance and in what area he or she needs improvement. It is cumbersome in terms of procedures and most of the time the managers have no time or patience to complete the process and often are unable to complete them during the rating period. It is very detailed and managers have to perform certain actions at different times during the rating period in order for the PAS to be an effective management tool.
IMIS, how is it working?
In ECA, only some of the staff in the areas of finance and personnel have access to the IMIS. Therefore we cannot make any evaluation of its usefulness or whether it contributes to the efficiency or not. As far as the staff is concerned there have not been substantial changes on the way things are being done because of the introduction of IMIS. There are still delays in processing staff claims. F unds are still being stolen from ECA from the Cashiers office and monitoring and management of the staffing table are still chaotic.
Your view on training provided to staff on all the above-mentioned management tools?
There are a number of training programmes on most of these management tools but for IMIS the training was very limited to a few in the finance and personnel areas. We need more training on the E-PAS and Galaxy for those who are unable to operate the system. A training programme at the divisional or office level might be useful. They should train trainers or individuals to conduct desk-to-desk training. Administrative assistants should be trained as trainers or designating focal points to train individual staff.
What happened to the Panel of Discrimination and other Grievances? Does the new Ombudsman Office now replace it ? Is there one for ECA?
We still need the Panel and the Ombudsman must not replace it. The previous Panel was absolutely zero in terms of performance. The Staff Union feels that the members of that Panel were so scared to deal with the cases. A new Panel has just been constituted and we are working on it to be effective. So far as the Ombudsman is concerned, she visited ECA. She addressed the staff and followed by a question and answer discussion. Staff representatives feel that the Ombudsman would not be very effective in solving staff problems.
Because the Ombudsman does not make decisions and/or recommendations; moreover, we have not seen a single case that she has addressed or solved. She told us that she deals directly with the staff concerned but none of our staff could attest that their cases submitted to the Ombudsman were dealt with. In other words, the staff feel that whatever the Ombudsman is doing is not transparent.
Selection for mission assignments what is the role of staff representatives in the selection process?
Staff representatives are not involved in the selection process for mission assignments and the view of Staff Union is not taken into account in the process. We have expressed this concern to the management and to New York that the selection process should include staff representatives. There is a lot of frustration in this area among the ECA staff because few people are continuously being selected while others are not given the opportunity.
Do you believe that ECA staff is well represented in mission assignments?
No. Even in missions in Africa still ECA staff are in the minority compared to other regional offices and offices outside of Africa. This goes back to the same problem that there appears to be discrimination in the selection process. We have made a recommendation to New York on General Services staff issues that ECA staff should be given priority for mission assignments in Africa because of language, culture and the cost of travel.
Basic Staff Safety and Security issues any participation by the staff representatives?
No staff-management consultation before policies and procedures on this area are issued. Recently there have been a lot of changes at the ECA, such as relocation and allocation of parking spaces, entrance procedures, closure of the entrance gates and searches of cars and individuals. Staff continue to cooperate with the changes but we do hope that these changes are discussed with the staff representatives before they are implemented.
Do you believe staff is well briefed before departure on mission ?
I am not aware of any briefing programme for departing staff.
HIV/AIDS. Is there a special effort by the Secretariat to protect HIV/AIDS infected staff members from discrimination and stigmatisation inside the Secretariat and also by national governments?
In ECA we have a very active campaign to assist those suffering from HIV. In fact in ECA we have established a Task Force to deal with HIV issues and the management has been fully supportive of the campaign. As to the discrimination and stigmatisation, we do not feel that there is such a strong negative attitude towards the victims in ECA. Voluntary testing and treatment are done in a very discrete manner. A medical doctor in the UN Health Centre has been designated as the focal point fully dedicated to handle all the cases and all the records are kept strictly confidential. As to the local government, they have just approved the sell and distribution of drugs last year. This is a positive development.
Is there any information published on treatment and support to HIV/AIDS affected staff members and their families?
Several publications and literatures on HIV/AIDS are being issued periodically. Part of the campaign is to invite people for voluntary testing in order to give them medicine and to educate the staff on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including prevention and treatment. But we have a shortage of funds to assist the victims and their families. The Staff Union is very much involved in raising funds for this cause.
Any other issues you would like to raise?
I would like to underscore that the biggest problem is career development of staff. To make the staff feel that they belong to the Organization, management must engage them as partners and treat them as human beings with hopes and aspirations. I am very concerned that many staff members do not feel that they belong to the UN family. Having that kind of feeling is not conducive to a productive working environment. Being part of the engine that moves the Organization forward is essential. If any part of the engine is not functioning the machine will eventually stop. For the sake of the image of the Organization and a well-functioning ECA, staff interest must be taken seriously.
Is the UN Special Magazine being distributed to all ECA staff?
We have a limited number of copies and we intend in the future to send copies to the sub-regional offices. Please convey to your publisher that we are pleased to receive it as it gives insight as to what the other organizations activities and staff issues are.
Thank you and good luck.