Victory for workers’ rights at the United Nations

by Ian Richards
President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations
Vice-President of the United Nations Staff-Management Committee

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 you, LabourStart and your 14,000 members who sent emails to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for their fantastic support during the campaign. Your efforts helped persuade the Secretary-General and his team 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 unions, organizations and working people around the world 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 UN Staff Management Committee (SMC) 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 SMC.

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 your support to our ‘UN UNION RIGHTS’ campaign, 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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