FOLLOWING THE “TOWN HALL MEETING” WITH THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
THE QUESTION THAT NEVER WAS...
XAVIER CAMPOS, EXECUTIVE SECRETARY
UNOG STAFF COORDINATING COUNCIL
We are writing to you following the ‘Town-Hall’ meeting you held on January 5 with the global staff of the United Nations. While most of the staff was represented by their elected representatives, Geneva‘s Coordinating Council was forbidden from speaking. The staff in Geneva, the second largest contingent in the United Nations, was, instead, represented by the Human Resource Management Section of the Division of Administration. The injustice of this was not lost on the staff and our Council has been asked to protest in no uncertain terms about this deliberate censorship.
More importantly, this “incident” highlights that such asymmetric “consultations” (either in the form of gatherings, like the global SMCC, or town-hall meetings) have no real added value and are definitely not up to requirements of civilized and democratic social dialogue between partners that respect each other. If we really want to prevent a further deterioration of the credibility, the relevance and the effectiveness of this Organization (which, in principle, is what Member States should care about) management (that includes you, as you rightly said) and staff (that is, their legitimate representatives) need to talk, and they need to talk now. And that is precisely the subject of our question and the objective of the proposal that we would like to bring to your urgent attention.
Mr. Secretary-General, it is highly deplorable that while the Organization is telling the whole world that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one, if not THE one, success story of the United Nations, it continues to deny fundamental human rights of its employees, such as those proclaimed in arts. 2, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 28 and 30 of the UDHR1
This inability to “do what they preach”, undermines the credibility of the United Nations and their capacity to sell the “success story” away from home. It also puts the staff, as a group of human beings and in terms of Human Rights enjoyment in a category even more destitute than migrant workers and stateless persons.
The “standardization” of contractual modalities by way of the elimination of permanent contracts and its replacement with “continuing” contracts (that can be discontinued “in the interest of the good administration of the Organization” without real recourse) is a fundamental change in the very nature of the international civil service (for the worst) and violates the Charter of the United Nations.
Together with the “revised” jurisdictional rules for the “new” justice system (that ignore the majority of the core recommendations of the independent Redesign Panel) to suppress the power of judges to order binding “specific performance” when the contested administrative decision concerns appointment, promotion or termination and preventing staff associations from initiating class action litigation, it will make impossible to defend staff subject to arbitrary reprisals and unjust dismissal. The combined effect of these measures will undermine the independence of the United Nations staff beyond repair.
Mr. Secretary-General, we understand that you are frustrated with bureaucracy (so are we) and that you want to move ahead with reform. But “reform” cannot have as a goal that staff are deprived of their dignity, their self-respect and their feeling of relevance to become more malleable. We are humble, but we know what we can do. And we want to feel proud of our work. We do not want to be treated as “assets”, but to be respected and empowered as “citizens”.
s you rightly said, in times of crisis, and in times of conflict, people must resort to dialogue. Therefore, if you want, like we do, that the United Nations and their staff can be credible, independent and accountable, we must first of all establish a staff-management dialogue that deserves that name.
We must agree in an urgent, honest and efficient manner about the rules of the game. We need to establish a democratic, transparent and effective framework for our interaction that reinforces Human Rights and fundamental rights instead of undermining or suppressing them. As we have repeatedly said to the representatives of management (including several ASGs and USGs) in meetings both in Geneva and in New York, the UNOG Coordinating Council and all other UNISERV members want to establish such a framework. It is one of our utmost priorities. And so is to prevent a further irreparable deterioration of the credibility, the independence, the accountability and the relevance of the United Nations.
You announced in the Town Hall meeting that you have to submit new proposals and suggestions to the General Assembly with regard to justice and contracts by July 2009. Are you prepared to make them the subject for democratic dialogue with staff BEFORE submitting them?
For the new system of justice to be really “just”, it is imperative that the standards of civilized conduct proclaimed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sixty years ago, that have allowed for Human Rights and fundamental rights to become the “ius commune” of mankind, are also guaranteed for those who, often with great risk to their lives, dedicate their collective and personal efforts to promote and protect them.
The UNOG Coordinating Council has sent to ASG Ms. C. Pollard a proposal for an “Open Forum” for global staff-management negotiations in good faith ( available on the UNOG Coordinating Council’s site : http://iseek.un.org/m210.asp?dept=390) that could allow us to start a meaningful dialogue on a clean slate. Can we try to move ahead on that basis? We are prepared to do so. And I am sure that all other members of UNISERV are too. We do not need to declare anything in advance. Let us simply act. I guarantee that if we do, our Council and the other UNISERV members will not lag behind.
In this connection, we sincerely hope that after a democratic and effective negotiation in good faith, staff and management will be able to agree to request jointly, through you, that the General Assembly approves the inclusion of the following general clause in the Staff Rules and Regulations of the United Nations:
«All international instruments containing universal human rights standards, as ius cogens and erga omnes norms, promulgated by or through the United Nations system shall apply mutatis mutandi as part and parcel of the internal United Nations Staff Rules and Regulations. Nothing contained in the UN Staff Rules and Regulations will be construed as preventing or jeopardizing the full observance of Human Rights and fundamental labor rights guarantees for United Nations staff.”
Mr. Secretary General, It is up to you.
- Art. 2 of the UHRD deals with the prohibition of discrimination due inter alia to national origin or country of origin.
- Art. 6 of the UDHR deals with the recognition of legal personality everywhere.
- Art. 7 of the UDHR deals with equal protection before the law against any discrimination contrary to the UDHR and any provocation to such discrimination.
- Art. 8 of the UDHR deals with effective recourse against violations of fundamental rights.
- Art. 10 of the UDHR deals with access to an independent and impartial court.
- Art. 11 of the UDHR deals with presumption of innocence and due process.
- Art. 12 of the UDHR deals with the protection of privacy and private life and against attacks to honor and reputation.
- Art. 18 of the UDHR deals with freedom of thought and right to manifest own beliefs publicly and privately.
- Art. 19 of the UDHR deals with the freedom of opinion and expression and right to seek, receive and broadcast information and opinions through all means.
- Art. 20 of the UDHR: freedom of assembly and association and right not to belong to an association.
- Art. 21 of the UDHR deals with participation in government and public life.
- Art. 22 UDHR: right to national social security and to the means indispensable for dignity and the development of the personality of every individual.
- Art. 23 UDHR deal with equal pay for equal work without discrimination, the right to unemployment protection and the right to establish and to join unions.
- Art. 26 UDHR deals with the right to education inter alia to promote Human Rights and fundamental freedoms and the development of activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
- Art. 28 UDHR deals with the establishment of international order to ensure the full implementation of the rights and freedoms proclaimed in the UDHR.
- Art. 30 UDHR deals with the prohibition for any State, group or person to carry out actions tending to suppress any of the rights and freedoms proclaimed in the UDHR.