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UN staff celebrate rights victory

17 May 2014
PSI has received a letter from Ian Richards, Vice-President of the United Nations Staff-Management Committee and President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations. He tells us of the successful outcome of PSI's action in September 2013, with a protet letter to UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon and a strong declaration from members of PSI's Steering Committee. We have reproduced here the contents of the letter from Ian Richards:

Dear Rosa,

It gives me great pleasure to inform you that the campaign by UN unions to restore the recognition rights of UN staff has secured a successful outcome.

On behalf of the unions of the United Nations, I would like to thank Public Services International, its staff and its members for their fantastic support during the campaign, whether it was by sending letters, shining the spotlight on what was going on, mobilizing the media and putting us in touch with key players. Your efforts helped persuade the Secretary-General that the UN should live up to its principles on human rights and labour representation.

We know that management only came back to the table because staff were united in their anger at the way the Secretary-General withdrew trade union recognition last June.

The Secretary-General has agreed a new negotiating system that significantly improves on the Staff Management Committee rules that applied previously.

Most importantly, the right of unions to represent UN staff has been restored, bringing to an end the crisis in staff-management relations caused when the Secretary-General’s representatives walked out of the Staff Management Committee (SMC) in June.

This unilateral action by management left us unable to negotiate over crucial system-wide issues such as mobility policy, safety and security in the field, protection for whistle-blowers and rights for dependents of UN staff killed and injured in service.

Highlights of the new negotiating system include:

  • Increased regular contact on system-wide issues with formal meetings every three months, meaning pressing items can no longer be kicked into the long grass
  • If the Secretary-General doesn’t agree an SMC recommendation, or agrees but doesn’t implement, the issue will automatically come back to the table within strict time limits, leading to swift renegotiation
  • Where there is clear disagreement, we’ve regained the right to mediation as before, with a third-party mediator appointed from an agreed roster and a strict timetable for resolution
  • If an issue has to go to the General Assembly, management will share the draft Secretary-General report with staff, allowing us to intervene before any decision is made.
  • Results of SMC meetings will be communicated to all staff with a status report showing items ‘Agreed,’ ‘Not Agreed,’ or ‘Pending’.

The agreement represents a major success for UN staff and unions and for our friends in the wider union movement. It would not have been achieved without our ‘UN UNION RIGHTS’ campaign, supported by you and your members, a petition with more than 14,000 signatures, the personal testimonies of staff, and media coverage in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian and other newspapers internationally.

We have made new friends across the world and raised awareness of the issues we deal with every day. These gains have strengthened the position of the UN’s unions for the challenges ahead and you played a key role in this.

Thank you again.

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