FROM THE DESK OF THE PRESIDENT
OF THE STAFF COORDINATING COUNCIL
The President of the Staff Coordinating Council, Ian Richards, takes an active interest in the promotion of the rights of staff. His task is to ensure that staff receive proper representation before the management. He advises staff about the manner they can create a better work environment and the steps that are necessary to tackle various issues.
In addition, he is responsible for the organization of the 25-member Staff Coordinating Council that he chairs and he animates further discussion via committees and working groups. The scope of the Council’s work further encompasses the coordination of sectoral assemblies, staff representatives within central review bodies, other staffmanagement bodies and various clubs.
Richards joined the Staff Coordinating Council with a conviction that important administrative changes underway required active involvement. He considers that work conditions represent an important dimension of a person’s life that must be taken care of. In addition an impetus came from the “Hope Team” to join the Council since it comprises of energetic and enthusiastic colleagues who encourage staff representation.
Membership of the Council necessitates an awareness of rules, regulations, administrative instructions, bulletins and information circulars that constitute the tools to carry out operations. Richards states one “needs to make oneself available”, in order to be attentive to colleagues for various reasons. They generally wish to express “concerns, suggestions or they seek advice to defend their rights”. Richards shoulders these responsibilities on top of his assignment as an economist at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
When asked what he could change, Richards was adamant that change could only be brought about through collective effort and action via the 25-member Council. Nevertheless he is keen to take initiatives for instance through the proposal of certain issues. Currently he suggests that there is much at stake with “the changes in human resources policy over the next 18 months” and he wants to ensure that those changes “work in favor of staff in Geneva”. The importance of this issue stems from the degree of transformation that staff is about to witness. Richards claims that the change will involve “more than contractual changes”. The policy will comprise of “new rules that will determine staff selection for senior level jobs, new mobility requirements, replace ment of the ePAS and the introduction of a new system of justice”.
Aside from administrative reform, the President of the Staff Coordinating Council gathers information about issues that matter to staff. Richards states that there is a host of issues that are common to all staff such as harassment, but there are also issues that are relevant to particular organizations. Within his organization and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Richards notes that the staff tend to find themselves in “precarious contractual situations” due to the reliance of the Organization on project funds. Then in UNOG, he has noticed that “a large number of General Service staff is marginalized and forgotten” due to poor career prospects. One particular example according to Richards is a case of a person he has personally met who “has been at the G3 level for 15 years”. Richards is appalled by this situation. He also has his eye on Human Rights, where in the name of a particularly severe form of geographical balance, management is disregarding “the legitimate career expectations of a large number of their staff”.
The work of the Staff Coordinating Council has gathered momentum since the Staff-Management Coordinating Committee (SMCC) negotiations between staff and management in Nairobi. At the two general staff meetings held since, attendance has been strong and participants have manifested a dynamic spirit. Richards senses that “staff want their representatives to get straight to business”. Meetings are no longer bogged down by “useless points of order”. Richards has noticed the emergence of a “new generation of staff representatives who don’t have the political baggage of the past; they rather want results”.
Richards was clear that staff representation must involve further cooperation with other staff unions, since “it gives us weight in the negotiations with management in New York”. The job requires assiduity since decisions are carried out regardless of whether staff representatives come to the negotiating table. For instance, the Geneva Council boycotted the SMCC negotiations last year, which proved to be an error, because “that was the last chance to fight at a political level against the abolition of permanent contracts”. Richards is glad that the Geneva Council resumed talks this year since it was able to avert “certain proposals for mobility, which would have been chaotic for staff in Geneva”. In addition, the Council was able to push through revised proposals for continuing contracts that “will now give stronger protection to staff than what was being suggested before”. Albeit the recent achievement, Richards calls for vigilance since the “margin for maneuver is still limited” due to the gradual erosion of the independence of the international civil service.
There are myriad opportunities for staff members to take part in staff representation. Richards states that the Council itself comprises of several working groups and committees in which membership is feasible such as the “crèche working group”. Staff should also get involved in bodies such as “sectoral assemblies in each department; the joint staff-management bodies that work on harassment, staff solidarity or even reviewing selection decisions”. Richards told UN Special that staff members should roll up their sleeves and become active participants in staff representation!