The ILO Administrative Tribunal in Geneva recently decided an appeal filed by the FAO General Secretary of the Union of General Service Staff (UGSS) reaffirming the fundamental rights of staff unions to be consulted before management issues new rules affecting conditions of service. The ILOAT is the court that decides employment disputes between international civil servants and international organizations, and is one of the critical institutions for preserving union rights. The Judgment is No. 4230 issued on 10 February 2020.
FAO’s management introduced a Circular, with retroactive effect, imposing a maximum length of employment for holders of short-term appointments governed by FAO’s staff rules. The USGG took the view that it had not been properly consulted in advance of the issuance of the Circular; management claimed that it was an “emergency” and the Circular had to be issued right away. The General Secretary appealed in his capacity as head of the Union on the grounds that management had violated the Union-Management Recognition Agreement, Staff Rule 302.8.3 which provides that “the Director-General shall, before issuing administrative instructions or directives on matters relating to terms and conditions of employment or affecting the welfare of the staff, consult the recognized staff representative body or bodies concerned and shall take due account of their comments”, and the Standards of Conduct of the International Civil Service (para. 30 pertaining to staff-management relations). The majority of the internal appeals committee agreed with the General Secretary that no proper consultation had taken place, and recommended that the new rule be suspended until “proper and meaningful” consultations take place. The appeal was rejected by the FAO Director General, and the appeal was filed with the ILOAT.
The ILOAT found that there had not been any proper consultation and ruled in favour of the General Secretary. The ILOAT clarified what consultation requires: “proper consultation must allow a reasonable amount of time for the consulted body to discuss the issue, have its principal questions answered and provide reasoned advice or recommendations, and must also allow time for the deciding authority to take that advice into consideration prior to taking the decision”. The Tribunal rejected management’s excuse that there were “emergency” circumstances justifying the lack of consultation and that indeed management had acted in “bad faith” by not consulting the Union.
This is a significant case for Staff Unions and a strong reminder to management that it must consult with staff representatives when proposing changes to conditions of serrvice.