INTERVIEW WITH AN APPELLANT
The article below first appeared in the UN Special in March 2002. The message therein is as relevant today as it was more than seven years ago. At a time of reform of the justice system and of the UNAT and ILO administrative tribunals, it is worthwhile reading for both staff, staff representatives, legal advisers, HR staff, and all persons who come in contact with staff who are considering challenging an administrative decision they feel is unjust.
First of all, thank you for agreeing to meet with me. To safeguard confidentiality your name will not be used.
In the January 2002 issue of the UN Special, there was a somewhat critical article on the appeal process at the ILOAT (International Labour Organization Administrative Tribunal) level. It painted a bleak picture of the kind of justice the international civil servant can expect to receive from this court. I was reminded of a line in Dante’s Inferno, something about all those who enter should abandon all hope.
Your organization is one of those that subscribe to the jurisdiction of the ILOAT. With a few exceptions, appeals have to go through an internal appeal process before reaching the ILOAT. Such is the case where you work. In January of this year, the ILOAT made public the results of its decisions.
There were quite a few, 43 I believe. I noticed that true to form most decisions were not in favour of staff – 8 out of 43.Quite a record.
I understand that you have filed an appeal in your organization. We would like to learn more about this internal process and its impact on staff who appeal or who are thinking of appealing, the human angle.
What is the status of your appeal?
The Board of Appeals in its Solomonic approach split its decision. The Director General who has the ultimate authority did not accept the Board’s recommendation. The status? None at the moment. I can either pursue the appeal at the ILO or stop.
Would you do it again?
In spite of it all – the impact on your health, your emotions, your work, yes, I would do it all over again.
Can you elaborate?
Well, first of all, the decision to appeal is a difficult one. You ask yourself, “Do I have a legitimate cause? What do I want from the appeal? How will it impact my life, my work, my career? Will I be seen as a trouble- maker? Will I be targeted for retribution?” and most important, “Will I win?” and then, “What happens if I lose.” Then there is the anger and emotional stress that you experience at being forced into concluding that you cannot get redress through regular internal negotiations with your supervisors and the administration. This is where the feeling of injustice comes in, and puzzlement at and frustration with the Organization – that it is not capable of managing properly its business and its staff, in spite of all the hype about, and seminars on, leadership and conflict management skills.
Would it not be better to just forget
the whole thing and get on with your
From the moment you are informed of the administrative decision, be it a non extension of your contract, non confirmation of a classification, a non selection, a reassignment you consider prejudicial, etc., you feel a deep hurt. You feel you have been wronged, you feel a sense of betrayal, intense anger, a sense of powerlessness and you want justice to be done. These emotions are with you almost 24 hours a day. You eat them, you sleep with them, you are enveloped by them. It cannot help but adversely affect your day to day work. It depends on the individual. Forgetting the whole thing is easy to do if you are someone who can do that, who takes life as it comes, who feels nothing is really worth fighting for. On the other hand if you believe there is a very important difference between right and wrong, if you believe in due process, and if you care about your organization and your own self-respect, then you are the type of individual who cannot “just forget.” Once you are convinced and can substantiate that a wrong has been done, AND you are willing to pay the price, you feel you have the duty to make the wrongdoers account for their actions which hurt not only the individual appellant but the organization as well (and not just in terms of the signifi- cant costs of an appeal to the organization).
Price, what price?
I’m not referring to monetary values, although it could get expensive if you hire an attorney. What I am referring to is the cost to you in terms of time spent thinking about the procedure, writing the appeal, responding to the Administration’s statement, and then again responding to their response to your response. It never seems to end. Don’t forget, they have a group of people who do nothing but work on appeals. You, on the other hand, have to do it in your spare time. And also, they have access to files, reports, correspondence, which you don’t (talk about inequality of arms!). So you as the appellant are greatly disadvantaged. And it is a very emotional process.
What I mean is that by deciding to appeal, you seem to be going against your colleagues, your employer. You keep repeating the same questions over and over. “Why can’t they understand that this is unjust, unreasonable and unacceptable behaviour? Why can’t management see that this is killing their credibility and the staff’s trust and loyalty to them and eventually to the Organization?” When you receive the Administration’s responses, you cannot believe some of the lies they throw at you, some of the distortions, the concoctions. And you get angrier and angrier, as you try to maintain your arguments and prove them wrong. You relive the injury, the injustice over and over. You really need to believe in what you are doing, so as not to let those emotions overtake you.
Do you know other people who have
Quite a few. And the reactions are basically the same. They are expressed in loss of confidence and mistrust in the system, in physical and emotional manifestations such as depression, and insomnia. And they ask a simple question, “Why do I have to go through this, I’ve been a good, loyal staff member, it could have been so easily prevented?”
Most actions stem from people with poor management style, actually, no management style at all. People who disregard the rules, who act with impunity and who are not held accountable for their actions. Simple respect for staff and the Rules would be all that is needed.
What advice would you give
to someone who was thinking
The first thing I would ask is “What rules do you think were broken?” Then I would take a closer look at the action they are thinking of appealing. If they have an apparently valid claim, then I would tell them to first try and negotiate through internal mechanisms, while keeping a careful watch on the time limits for filing an appeal. I would then inform them of the time involved in the whole process, which includes delaying tactics, the frustrations that will follow, the character slander, the fabricated arguments, and the very real possibility that they will lose. I also tell them that there is no gain without a fight.
Are there staff who have legitimate
claims but who are afraid to appeal?
Some people imagine that things will change without any effort. They don’t want to rock the boat. Others are scared of retaliation. Quite a few actually believe that the appeal documentation will be put in their personnel file and that it will stop them from getting a promotion or having their contracts renewed. I remind them that due process is their right; the Rules are there to ensure equitable and fair treatment to all staff. You know, the sad thing is that people don’t seem to believe this any more... they are worried that even though it may not be officially recorded, it will still be very much in the minds of the supervisors. One point that I would like to make to those who accept to be trampled, is to warn them that the more they just give in and give up their selfrespect, the more they’ll be taken advantage of and treated as disposable quantities. That, people should understand and believe. They should also realize that, as staff members, they share with the administration responsibility for ensuring that the decisions made respect the Rules. That is why the appeal process is provided for in the Staff Rules. They have a right to challenge decisions they feel have been taken unjustly. If every staff member who has been wrongly treated stood up and made the administrations account for their actions through an appeal, the administration would be forced to change their practices – and their attitude.
What has been hardest on you as an
The solitude. It is so difficult not to talk about your appeal as it consumes you. Friends, colleagues are not so receptive or empathic as you would hope. It sometimes seems that the only ones who can understand are those who are also going through an appeal process. It is painful to come to terms with the fact that people are not always going to be there for you. The other hard part is when people try to discourage you and tell you that you don’t have a chance and that you are wasting your time.
Is the appeal process accessible to all
staff in your organization?
Yes, it is. But in reality, if your contract situation is precarious, that is if you do not have a fixed-term contract, you’re not likely to go down that road.
Has it all been negative?
Just standing up for what you believe makes you feel good. If you win, it makes you feel damn good. If you lose, well, just having stood up for your rights is enough.
In view of recent decisions that have
come out of the ILO which are, in the
majority, not in favour of staff, why
do they still appeal? Is it for personal
No, I don’t think personal gain is the main reason. And most monetary awards are minimal and hardly compensate for time, effort and energy spent in the appeal process. People for the most part appeal to right a wrong and to maintain the integrity of the working environment for themselves and others and to preserve their self- respect. You can’t work in the UN, strongly believing in justice, equal respect for all individuals, and human rights, and accept that these very values should be denied and flouted by your own administration in its everyday dealings with its staff.