A Movement to Transform our Workplace, and to Revive Social Dialogue

Social dialogue has been always a core value promoted by our Organization, to implement social justice and decent work for all across the globe. Meanwhile, recent events during the Governing Body in March 2018 demonstrate to all ILO Staff that social dialogue is under threat, and we must stand for this value within the ILO….

When trust is broken between two parties in the context of industrial relations, divorce is not a viable option. Instead, each party must reassess the state of the relationship, and determine how best to restore it, in a manner in which one’s own interests are more secure.

As ILO Staff, we still feel the pain and disappointment from the events of the Governing Body, during which we were witnesses to a surreal series of events that have made many of us question whether the principles of tripartism and social dialogue will continue to be upheld by our organization. UN Staff in other organizations felt our disappointment as well, as they witnessed the ILO, which had been leading the effort to advance International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) Reform over the past year, buckle under the pressure of a small number of Member states, and abandon the central tenant of tripartism:  consensus-based decision making by the constituents.

It is these principles of social dialogue and tripartism, which the Director General acknowledged « are tested in difficult times », which we must embody as staff, and in our union movement, if we are to play our part in restoring Social Dialogue within the ILO.

In a campaign that began against a Pay Cut , but which transformed into a global movement of No Confidence in the ICSC, we built an even stronger ILO Staff Union, which has the potential to truly transform our workplace, and to advance Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining within the UN System.

Social dialogue in the aftermath of the events at the Governing Body in March

It is not enough to maintain Social Dialogue at the Official Level in the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC). We must practice social dialogue in every unit, and in every duty station,  so that more workplace concerns and problems can be resolved at the lowest possible level.

We cannot rely on a wave of new Paternalism to secure the rights of staff, or to restore social dialogue in the ILO.  We can only rely on ourselves, and the support of our allies in the global labour movement.

In the short-term:

If we start by filing appeals against the ILO implementation of contested ICSC Decisions, wherever they are implemented, we’ll help build more transparent industrial relations in our house.

If we do more to mobilize staff in the field and in HQ in support of our negotiating agenda, we can be stronger in backing up our position at the bargaining table.

By standing firm against the implementation of other flawed ICSC decisions in ILO or elsewhere in the UN, whether that be in Bangkok, or Tokyo, we will build more momentum for changing the system.

In the medium term, and in the lead up to the Centenary:

We need to reiterate our challenge to the Director General: that he work to restore the ILO as a role model for social dialogue within the UN Common System.

Through efforts to chip away at the number of member States who have embraced the Austerity Agenda as a key driver of UN Reform, we have the opportunity to create the space for an alternative way forward.

By empowering and building the representative strength of our fellow unions in the UN Common System, to stand with us in common battles, we will be more prepared for the realization of Collective Bargaining in the UN Common System.

In all of these objectives, we will do well to remember the solidarity and common values of social justice that bind us together.

We are one Staff Union for one ILO Staff, and we must not stand still in realizing our agreed Vision and Mission.

We should be bold in restoring a new equilibrium in Industrial Relations within our workplace that builds a stronger voice for staff, and we must be resolute in our efforts to promote and practice social dialogue across the UN, in time for our Organization’s Centenary.

 

By Daniel Cork, 2nd Vice Chair, ILO Staff Union

 

 

On 21-22 March, we witnessed a disappointing chapter in the history of the ILO which left many of us wondering what tripartism means, and how far the ILO can live to its principles. We saw one of the wings of our precious governance mechanism cave in to the pressure of a small group of governments, with the argument of a three-level, contradictory responsibility to the ILO.  Frankly, it left us demoralized.

What exactly happened? The answer lies in the numbers.

At the beginning of the PFA segment discussion on the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) decision to reduce the pay of professional staff in Geneva, on the heels of several pay cuts in Bangkok, Tokyo and others. The Office paper recognized that the decision was plagued with defects and the follow-up with bad faith, but the points for decision included instructions for the Office to implement this illegal decision.  In the first round of comments, it was evident that the opposition to such a decision was majoritarian, with the two social partners and the African group against it, while Industrialized Market Economy Countries (IMEC), Asia and Pacific Group (ASPAG) and Europe plus two member states of the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC) were in support. Four GRULAC member states were completely silent, partly because of the lack of knowledge that UN General Assembly resolutions are NOT binding on the ILO.  This means:

In favour of pay cut

Against pay cut

Abstentions

18 34

4

 

The two social partners proposed different amendments. One would delete the instruction to implement; the other one would have blocked the pay cuts altogether.  It was a matter of them coming to an agreement on which proposal was better, which required another round of discussion.

However, before the groups were able to react to the proposal to block the pay cut, the floor was given to the Office—which promptly declared that the proposal to block the pay cut did not have enough support!  This was followed by the Office’s surprise declaration that it would implement the decision. The cryptic explanation: that it was better for all involved, including the staff (who were never informed).  As industrial relations specialists know, surprises are not the best practice that the ILO preaches worldwide.

That was the turning point in the discussion, caused by the untimely intervention by the Office. The debate turned acrimonious after that point, and by the time the next round of discussion was over, the support for each proposal stood as follows:

In favour of pay cut

Against pay cut Abstentions
32 20

4

 

At that point, one of the Vice-Chairs submitted a motion to submit the proposals to a vote. This motion was summarily denied because the Chair declare that there was a clear majority in the room.  The “Compendium of rules applicable to the Governing Body of the International Labour Office” states that “[i]t is for the person chairing the sitting, in agreement with the spokespersons of the respective groups to note the existence of a consensus.”  Since the motion came from one of the Vice-Chairs, there was clearly not such an agreement.  That’s when we went on strike for a day and a half, which we explain in another article.

After ten days, the Office held a “dialogue” session with the staff. On that occasion, for the first time the staff were informed that fourteen Member States which contribute 72% of the ILO’s budget had warned of severe consequences if we did not accept this arbitrary and perhaps fraudulent decision.  In the statement that was broadcast on 10 April, our Chairperson expressed the staff’s regret for the lack of dialogue that preceded and followed the GB.

Once again, let’s do the math:

Total Member States

Threatening Member States % of Member States involved Total weight in ILO tripartite system
187 14 ‹7.5%

‹3.75%

 

In other words:

Total voting rights

Budget contribution Increase in decision-making power
3.75% 72%

19.2 times

 

This is a slippery slope. When a tiny minority of constituents manage to exercise majority power, they have veto power.  We don’t know when they will exercise it next, but we do know that they can.  Are they able to block Conventions or lines of work with threats?  Are the social partners still able to exercise their independence, which is the bedrock of tripartism?

Those in management who read this will realize that the staff is demoralized, unable to believe that the centenary governance system has failed under the pressure of an ideology of austerity. Or is it a revival of, please forgive me for using the forbidden word, colonialism?  Whichever it is, the ILO has combatted it vigorously and it is in retreat in most of the world.  But it has a new life in the ICSC.  Is the UN the last hiding place for those who espouse it?