The big issue: Sectoral assemblies
This month UN Special looks at sectoral assemblies. These are staff representative bodies that tackle issues specific to your department or division. This contrasts with the Coordinating Council, which covers all UN secretariat staff in Geneva and which negotiates for them with UNOG management and with management in New York.
Sectoral assemblies are the frontline of staff representation. Unfortunately, several have not been renewed. In order to encourage staff to re-establish sectoral assemblies in their departments, two sectoral assemblies describe some of their main activities.
Ian Richards, Olivier Combe, Giuseppe Di Capua, Raja Khalidi, Simonetta Zarrilli We piloted Askmanagement, which allowed staff to pose questions to management and the replies from management to be published online, thereby creating an easily accessible depository of information for staff. Management are evaluating this to see whether they wish to continue with it.
We’re also focusing on flexible working arrangements as many staff are aware they exist but aren’t sure whether it’s appropriate to ask for them. We’ve asked colleagues to fill out a survey so that we can see to what extent they’re interested and if they’re not interested, why not. The preliminary results are very encouraging.
We’ve spent a lot of time, through townhall and individual meetings, on informing colleagues on the rules and regulations that affect them and are supporting former shortterm staff left in contractual limbo. Given the forthcoming mobility requirements and eventual full-blown mobility policy, we’re working with management to set up a network of temporary exchanges with the regional commissions.
We’re also identifying practices elsewhere that could work well at UNCTAD. These include exit interviews to understand why staff leave, broadening vacancy announcements to make them less tailored (for which there has been some success) and tackling harassment.
Claude Hilfiker, Loubna Benhayoune The OCHA Geneva staff representative works closely with colleagues representing OCHA staff in New York and the field. The six of us meet by phone to discuss pending issues and “pick the battles” for which we want to advocate vis-à-vis our senior management. Currently the main issues under discussion are the implications of UN Secretariat contract reform and new staff selection rules for OCHA overall and related staff mobility issues between headquarters and the field.
In addition we have been:
At the time of writing, preparations were underway for the one-time review of permanent contracts. The guidelines were awaiting the final approval of the UN comptroller. Once the review gets underway, the Council will cross-check its list with that produced by management to ensure no-one slips through the net.
The award of new permanent contracts (i.e. after the one-time review mentioned above) were abolished last year during the mandate of the previous Council. The current Council is working to preserve the future of the international civil service by ensuring that continuing contracts, which are designed to replace permanent contracts, provide career security to as many staff as possible and that staff in institutions that depend to a large extent on extra-budgetary funds, such as Human Rights and OCHA, will access these contracts.
The original proposal put forward by the Secretary-General was withdrawn from the General Assembly after management could not provide member states with a workforce plan and answer questions on how continuing functions at the UN would be defined (i.e. functions that the UN reckons it will continue to need). Following this, the Coordinating Council called for an urgent staff-management meeting to resolve the issue, which will take place at the end of January. The aim is to ensure that as many staff as possible are deemed to be performing continuing functions, giving them access to continuing contracts and providing them the privileges and security of career staff. No-one should be left out.
The new eligibility requirements that require geographic mobility to apply for P-5, D-1 and D-2 posts have been gradually weakened by the staff unions since they were first floated by management back in May 2009. The original proposal required moves to be made prior to becoming eligible for promotion, and that from P-1 to D-2. As part of a second phase, the Council is undertaking a number of measures to further reduce the impact and scope of this policy (survey on the mobility policy, circulating a petition, cooperation with staff representatives throughout the secretariat, participating actively in the next session of the staff-management working group on this issue).
At the working group, due to meet in February, the Council will push for a policy comprising career support and placement, training, geographical balance of skills groups and posts at different levels, and appropriate transitional measures - basic elements widely practised elsewhere in the UN. It should also be noted that the implementation of a mobility policy was part of a broader SMCC agreement, whose keystone was the implementation of continuing contracts.
The Internal Justice Council came to Geneva in December to review progress on the new justice system. What’s startling about this system, based on tribunals, one each in New York, Geneva and Nairobi, manned by professional judges with real courtroom experience, is the increase in cases being won by staff. The fact that the Coordinating Council tripled its legal aid budget this year may have helped, but we think it’s more to do with unacceptable behaviour by certain managers finally being sanctioned. Rumours are that OHRM’s Administrative Law Unit, which represents the UN against staff, is looking for better lawyers. Perhaps the Secretary-General should instead take stock of why the Organization is losing and then bring his managers into line to ensure staff aren’t wronged in the first place.