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Activities report 2019-2020

Category : Message68

Presented at the General Assembly of the ILO Staff Union on 14th October 2020 by François Kientzler, Executive Secretary of the Former Officials’ Section

 This report from the Former Officials’ Section, in view of the ongoing pandemic, is special. Members of the Bureau of the Staff Union’s Former Officials Section had not had access to their office for 6 months, from mid-March 2020 until 17 September. On that day, François Kientzler, Executive Secretary of the Section, after having followed all the protocol in force, was granted access to the ILO. Members of the Bureau met for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic on Wednesday, 23 September, outside the ILO.

We would like first of all to pay tribute to our late colleague, Nari (Venkataraman Narasimhan), who passed away in December 2019, and who has been a faithful treasurer of the Former Official’s Section since his retirement after having served as Treasurer of the ILO Staff Union for many, many years. He was known to all the Former Officials of the ILO and he assumed his responsibilities as Treasurer until his strength and life passed him by. He is greatly missed.

During all these months spent without access to the ILO we were able to maintain our contacts with our members and the Staff Union, in particular with Catherine Comte-Tiberghien, Chairperson, and her secretariat. The Former Officials’ Section, with its own office and access to the ILO’s computer system, was able to continue to consult the ILO intranet and its e-mail inbox from outside, just like the active staff members who were teleworking. We have also been able to respond to all the e-mails that were sent to us and to hear the concerns and sometimes the thanks that have been expressed by many retirees. We were able to access all the information disseminated by the ILO via the intranet, communicate by e-mail with our members and send them a letter in August. However, we have only been able to access our files since mid-September, which has not allowed us to make the required updates and, above all, to make progress in the publication of a new issue of the Message, which we are first publishing on our website.

Representatives of the Bureau of the Section attended the Staff Union’s General Meeting in February, just like every year. Given the pandemic, the event which had been planned for the spring to celebrate the Staff Union’s centenary, and which was to be a joint event for both active and retired officials, has not yet been able to take place. However, a link has been established on our website to the Staff Union’s blog, which contains interviews with the former Chairpersons of the Staff Union who were to take part in the celebration. The Section reaffirms its willingness to be more available to retirees in the regions to help them structure themselves and is ready to make space available to them on the Section’s website. It is counting on the regional Staff Representatives to facilitate this collaboration. The Section continued to receive information, in particular on the Pension Fund via AAFI-AFICS Geneva and has participated in two videoconferences of its Council.

Our website, hosted outside the ILO, was regularly updated thanks to Azeddine Sefrioui, our webmaster, with information we obtained from the ILO intranet and the Staff Union. Statistics on the number of visitors to the site highlighted its importance, reaching almost 500 in August. We have posted several articles that should appear in issue No. 68 of the Message. In this regard, Ivan Elsmark, Message‘s editor for over 20 years, has ceased his regular involvement and we are looking for another editor. We are considering a new format for this publication. We have also posted the last two issues of the Message (Nos. 65 and 66-67) which have not yet been archived by the ILO Library.

In fact, the year 2020 was to be a turning point in the organization and functioning of the Bureau of the Section. Our long-serving and loyal secretary, Marianne, retired at the end of December 2019, and we did not wish to replace her both for reasons of economy and because most members of the Bureau of the Section are computer literate. We have three PCs at our disposal. Two new members had just joined the Bureau and were confirmed in their nomination in the elections at the end of 2019, Carmen Sottas and Guy Bezou. John Myers was co-opted at the beginning of 2020 as two of the Bureau positions were vacant. We congratulate all three of them but regret that they have not been able to express their full talent and commitment to the members of the Section to date. The meeting of the Section’s Board on 23 September took stock of operational constraints but also of current and recurrent topics, namely the sickness and health protection of retirees and pension issues.

In order to explore different ways of transmitting the claim reimbursement forms to retirees, in the spring of 2020, the SHIF extended the possibility of sending them out electronically. This should be of great benefit to retirees from countries outside Geneva who have and use internet access. A test period was offered to some retirees and now the system is being extended to all. However, the transmission by mail or direct deposit of claims to the ILO remains, and will continue to remain, possible. The Bureau has not yet had an opportunity to take stock of this new practice with the Executive Secretary of the SHIF, whom it wishes to invite to a future meeting.

We have continued to contact all the retiring staff members whose names we receive each month from the Administration; this year, the number of retiring staff members was low. We have registered several memberships in the Section. The ILO Administration also sends us notices of the deaths of former officials or their spouses of which it is aware; we compile a list of deceased ILO retirees, former officials or spouses who are entitled to benefits; and we have published it on our website. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, we have recorded a significantly lower number of deaths than in previous years during the same period. This may be due to the caution of seniors during this pandemic period.

Finally, while some retired members of the Section have died, others have joined, and still others have changed addresses. As we have only recently been able to access the ILO we have not been able to update our files as we would have liked. But the door to the ILO has been opened again, and this task awaits us. We hope, by remaining cautious and following the protection guidelines, to be able to resume a more normal and regular activity. The Bureau of the Section has met in Gex in an association’s premises; this can only be a temporary situation for us. We hope to be able to return to our ILO premises as soon as possible but, of course, with due respect for all the health protection and provisions, particularly for the elderly, that the ILO has put in place.



News from the return to offices at ILO headquarters – August 28, 2020

Category : Archives

Extrait Intranet BIT 28 août 2020

Current status of return to office 

  • The additional 310 staff cleared for this next stage will bring the total number of staff who have completed the medical and HRD clearance to return to the office to around 830 people, with a maximum of 700 (56% of the total ILO staff at HQ) permitted to be in the building at any one time. This limit has been determined after a thorough assessment of safety and health measures, and in particular the need to ensure 2 metre physical distancing in all places.
  • Staff who have not been cleared for RTO will continue to telework, and staff on rotational arrangements will rotate between telework and presence at the office.
  • UNICEF staff who will move to the ILO building will follow the same approach as the ILO.

HQ office arrival time tool 

  • In order to coordinate arrival times and use of the HQ Cafeteria, all staff will be asked to indicate their preferred arrival and break times using a dedicated online arrival time tool.
  • This tool is being introduced as an additional safety measure to optimise physical distancing arrangements during peak periods. The anonymous tool will help to limit the number of staff who arrive or have lunch at the same time.
  • To facilitate the staggered arrival to and departure from office premises , core working hours have been suspended. However, all staff are expected to work a normal weekly schedule of 8 hours per day, or 40 hours per week, regardless of their arrival time.

The Office drops off the radar / Michel Voirin

Category : Message68

It is often through the press that retired staff who live outside Geneva get their news about the Office. So it was that on 20 March 2020, readers of Le Monde newspaper were able to read of an “International Labour Organization study” (the International Labour Office was not mentioned) on the consequences of the coronavirus for employment in the world. But it was when they saw the DG yet again being described as the Director General of the Organization that their eyebrows, like mine, must have shot up. It was certainly not the first time this formulation had cropped up in print, even if it is still quite a recent one. At first I thought the journalist must have made a mistake, but a survey of The Guardian online revealed the practice to be widespread, no doubt merely reflecting press releases emanating from the ILO media centre. Outside observers can also learn, again from the media, that the change doesn’t only apply to the DG: the heads of the Office’s administrative units, when their work is alluded to, will also refer to themselves as belonging to “the Organization”.

The fact that retirees are detached from the Office and its leadership enables them to reflect via the pages of Message on the reasons, rationale and scope of this new usage. Is it about making the Director General’s title conform to those of the executive heads of the other specialized agencies of the UN family? Or seeking to bolster the DG through reference to the Organization? Whether we like it or not, the unfortunate by-product of such a change is the obscuring of the Office. It amounts to downplaying the identity conferred on it by the founders of the Organization. For, over and above the emblematic title of the Director General, it is the very specific nature of the Office that is at issue. The shift ultimately relegates the institution – whose lofty reputation was established under the impetus and at the instigation of Albert Thomas, with his expertise universally recognized as an essential benchmark – to the rank of mere secretariat. Could it be, then, that I spent most of my career in a phantom institution? It is true that the Office is ceding ground, and operations, to the OECD, which is a matter for its members. But for my part, having retired in 1990, I can only bear witness to the period I knew.

Let us be clear: the designation “Director General of the International Labour Organization” is devoid of any foundation, because the corresponding position does not exist. The perpetuation of this new title would even be contrary to the ILO Constitution which, it should be recalled, provides in its Article 2 that the Organization shall consist of a General Conference, a Governing Body and the International Labour Office controlled by the Governing Body, and in Article 8 that the Director General shall be appointed by the Governing Body.

Nothing, of course, would prohibit amending the Constitution. I am not aware that any such procedure, which could take quite some time, has been initiated. I doubt even that the Governing Body might be inclined to place on the Conference agenda a draft amendment that would be tantamount to diminishing its own prerogatives. The reform would in fact imply the Director General no longer being appointed by the Governing Body but rather by the Conference, as in the other specialized agencies. If that were the case, moreover, a candidate from an international workers’ confederation would be less likely to be nominated in future because, as everyone knows, workers’ and employers’ representatives carry less weight in the Conference than in the Governing Body in comparison with those of Governments, given the difference in the distribution of seats between the groups.

Has anyone assessed the ramifications of changing the title of the Director General, followed by those of the branches of the Office? There is reason to doubt it, and to think the process was indeed unencumbered by questions of legality, or rather constitutionality. Since the Office is the only permanent component of the Organization, it’s true that many come to believe it embodies the Organization. But explanation is not justification, and a change in the Director General’s nomenclature cannot be based on confusion. In the absence of an amendment to the Constitution itself, which no one seems to have envisaged, such a change of title can only be praxis, with nothing definitive about it, although habits do take hold. Internally, although some staff members may be aware of the inconsistency of the new designation, they have understandably not ventured to admit that the emperor has no clothes; nor may later generations of active staff and even retirees – who are arguably not all aware of the Office’s own standing and reputation, or the capital that this represents – appreciate that this recent practice is leading to the disappearance of the Office from the international scene by being, as it were, removed from the radar. It cannot be stressed enough, however, that the existence and specificity of the International Labour Office, like tripartism, are so distinctive that they should not be obscured, but championed.


How the International Labour Office came to Geneva ? / Pierre Sayour

Category : Message68

“How the International Labour Office came to Geneva ?” first appeared in issue 48, Oct. 2019, of Passé Simple, a monthly journal of Swiss history and archaeology, under the title “Le Bureau international du Travail ancre la vocation internationale de Genève” : 

http://www.passesimple.ch/anciens_num.php

We publish it by kind permission of the journal.

In 2019, the International Labour Office (ILO) celebrated its 100th anniversary. The organization has been a feature of the Geneva landscape since 1920. After the First World War, the population of the canton was no more than 200,000. Why is the ILO based in Geneva and not in a major capital city like Paris, London or Brussels? The decision was a highly significant one because it forced the League of Nations, precursor of the United Nations, to take up residence in Geneva too.

The Treaty of Versailles – 1919

In 1919, following the First World War, the Allies and the defeated powers came together at the Paris Conference to draw up peace treaties. The discussions led to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919. At this conference, the Commission on International Labour Legislation drafted Part XIII of the Treaty, establishing the International Labour Organization. The commission comprised delegates from several countries. Particularly active and influential were those from France, the United Kingdom and the United States, all of them accompanied by representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations. The Treaty of Versailles brought the Organization into being, with the International Labour Office as its secretariat and the International Labour Conference as its supreme body. The Treaty specifies that “the International Labour Office shall be established at the seat of the League of Nations as part of the organisation of the League” and that it “shall be under the control of a Governing Body”. The document also stipulates that the Organization will be tripartite, with representatives of governments and trade union and employers’ organizations included in its governance structures, and that “the first meeting of the Conference shall take place in October, 1919”.

Since the end of the nineteenth century, many institutions and individuals had focused on working conditions (working hours, factory safety, conditions of miners, seafarers, women, children, etc.). After the Great War, with its 18.5 million victims, and the Russian Revolution of 1917, discussions among the victorious powers could no longer ignore social issues. They knew there can be no lasting peace without social justice.

Albert Thomas

The first International Labour Conference was held in Washington in November 1919. In January 1920, the Governing Body elected Albert Thomas to be its Director. Thomas was French, a Socialist MP and former Minister of Munitions during the Great War. With his forceful personality, he breathed life into the new organization. The small team that moved into a private residence in London already included two future directors of the Office, Harold Butler (1883–1951) and Edward Phelan (1888–1967). They also played a leading role during this First Session of the Conference and had both been members of the United Kingdom delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. During this period, ILO officials had to move around in order to service meetings, whether in Washington, Paris or London.

Albert Thomas wished to put an end to this constant travelling by the Office. In the spring of 1920, according to his future chief of staff Marius Viple (1891–1949), “he had decided to make a stand to get it finally established in Geneva, cost what it might”. Albert Thomas gave his own analysis of the situation:

“It will not be easy, for the Secretary-General of the League of Nations and his political collaborators are against Geneva. So is the League Executive Council; and the Allied Supreme Council is in charge of the entire movement. I have the Peace Treaty on my side, because it is stated there (article 7) that the headquarters of the League of Nations shall be at Geneva, but it also provides that the League Council may at any time decide to set it up elsewhere. President Wilson is no longer there to defend the city of his choice. And it is now clear that the United States will not take part in the League, although they did so much to further its establishment. It is now the definite desire of the Governments that Brussels should be the headquarters instead of Geneva, because Brussels is nearer to London and Paris, and the British and French Cabinets have every intention to seize this opportunity to take charge of the international organizations now coming into being. This is what I am determined to avoid at all costs. The time has come for me to denounce all these intrigues publicly.”

The Treaty of Versailles stipulated that the ILO should be based in the same place as the League of Nations. Albert Thomas proposed to the League that the ILO’s headquarters be moved from London to Geneva, but Sir Eric Drummond, the League’s first Secretary General, opposed this option. Albert Thomas then forcefully defended his choice before the Governing Body: “It may well be asked whether this change of headquarters is likely to antagonize a number of powers which had interpreted the choice of Geneva as evidence of complete impartiality. We quite firmly state that we cannot sacrifice the future of the ILO or indeed its life to the hesitations and schemes of the League Secretariat and the Executive Council.”

In March 1920 at its Third Session, in London, the Governing Body approved a budget of £41,500 for the transfer of the Office to Geneva, and on 16 May 1920, the Swiss Confederation voted in favour of accession to the League of Nations. Nevertheless, the League and its Secretary General still preferred a different city for its headquarters, namely Brussels. The Peace Treaty stipulated that the first assembly of the League was to be convened by the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. On 16 July 1920, he sent Drummond a telegram: “At the request of the Council of the League of Nations that I summon a meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations, I have the honor, in accordance with the provisions of Article 5 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, to summon the Assembly of the League to convene in the city of Geneva, the seat of the League, on the 15th day of November, 1920, at 11 o’clock.” Thus Geneva’s leading role as a city destined to host numerous international organizations and agencies asserted itself. Albert Thomas gave impetus to the process and in this way, the ILO also affirmed its independence in its relations with the League of Nations.

It is also true that both the creation in 1863 of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva and its substantial development during the First World War paved the way.

So it was that in July 1920, the Office moved to the La Châtelaine building in Geneva, today occupied by the ICRC and at that time home to the Thudicum boarding school, named after the family that founded it. When this building became too small, a new one was constructed in 1926 on the shores of Lake Geneva. During the Second World War, under the direction of John Winant, part of the staff had to leave Geneva in May 1940 for security reasons, moving to premises at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Under the terms of the Constitution, the Office could not legally leave Geneva and had to remain in the same city as the League of Nations. During the war it therefore adopted the name of ILO Working Centre while maintaining its relations with numerous countries. Edward Phelan became the fourth Director General of the Office in 1941.

By the 1960s, the Office comprised more than 2,000 staff, meaning the building on Rue de Lausanne was now quite cramped. The only option was to rent new premises, in Grand-Saconnex. In 1969, the Office began construction of the building it has occupied since 1973. Thirteen storeys high and 200 metres in length, it is in the shape of a diverging, concave lens. Designed by E. Beaudoin (France), P.L. Nervi (Italy) and A. Camenzind (Switzerland), the architecture remains highly original even today, its modernity reaffirmed by the recent renovations, while the location affords staff members a magnificent view of Geneva and its surroundings.

Sources

“The strange and wonderful early years of the ILO” by Marius Viple, in Message, No. 65, 2019.

“Le Bureau international du Travail à Genève a cinquante ans”, by Henri Villy, in Union, 1970.

“How the ILO led the League to Geneva” by Yvan Elsmark, in Lettre aux anciens fonctionnaires (ILO Staff Union Former Officials Section), No. 26 (Dec. 1999).

Minutes of the Third Session of the ILO Governing Body (March 1920).


Covid-19 – Update from the Staff Union – 8 July 2020

Category : News

At headquarters, this week of July sees the start of phase 3 of the return to office and the building is finally coming back to life. After some discordance last week, the modalities of this phase 3 have been the subject of certain clarifications by the administration, at the request of the Staff Union. According to the latter, the key words for a successful phased return are: clarity, transparency and fairness. If, at your level, these three criteria are not being met, then take action: ask questions, ask to see the updated lists of who is supposed to return, and according to which criteria, as it seems that a communication deficit persists. And, most importantly, if you discover on the day you return to the ILO that the person with whom you are sharing an office is also present (which should not be the case as 2 or more people sharing an office is subject to a mandatory weekly rotation), then exercise your right of withdrawal.

An uncertain future for the Turin centre that requires our solidarity

You may not know it yet: the training centre in Turin is in turmoil. Its income is based mainly on training and a contribution from the Italian Government. Today the income is drying up and the Centre is looking for solutions to survive.

The Centre has therefore had to start reinventing itself by offering new products and services adapted to the situation and by looking for alternative sources of funding. A better employability of the Centre could be envisaged by the ILO itself, and we know that the administration is working on it. Nevertheless, a new business model must be accompanied by strong and reliable social dialogue to cope with the difficult situation. The staff must be involved in this new strategy.

This is why the ILO Staff Union joins the Staff Union of the Turin Centre under the banner “One ILO” to accompany and support them in all future dealings with their administration, and calls on our ILO administration to do its utmost to save the Centre and all its staff, who have gone through many hardships during this period.

UNDT decision

The decision of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal (UNDT) concerning the complaint of our UN colleagues on the Geneva post adjustment was made public on 30 June 2020. The complaint was dismissed (see the judgment here).

This is bad news as it now firmly puts the future of the UN common system at risk and has repercussions on the entire UN salary system worldwide. The Noblemaire and Flemming principles are in serious danger. Your Union must analyse this judgement in detail, and rapidly contact all the associations and unions and staff federations of the common system to discuss and decide on the next strategy. But it is clear that the future will not be bright, and strong struggles are to be expected.

The Staff Union also expects the administration to provide information and/or communicate its position on this matter as soon as possible.


Communication from the Bureau of the ILO former officials of June 15, 2020

Category : News

Dear fellow members of the Section of Former ILO Officials,

Several months of the coronavirus pandemic have greatly changed the lifestyle of the majority of us. If the virus is in decline in many countries it is unfortunately not yet the case everywhere and the risk of a resurgence of the disease exists despite the efforts that we are all making in respecting the instructions of our governments.

As you may be aware, ILO officials in all offices around the world are mainly teleworking from home and access to ILO offices is very limited; this is certainly the case in Geneva. The Director General’s Notice IGDS No. 567 of 28 May 2020 provides for a “gradual, progressive and staggered” return to the offices.

Executive members of the Bureau of the Section of Former Officials have not been able to physically access their ILO office since mid-March. However, we can still access emails in our email box (anciens@ilo.org), access the ILO intranet and continue to update our website, which is hosted by a company outside the ILO.

You can therefore continue to contact us by email and post as necessary, the latter being transmitted to us via a colleague of the Section. You can also visit our website (http://www.anciens-bit-ilo.org) where we post information that you may find useful.

During this period, we received several admissions to the Section and have also noted that the deaths reported to us by the administration are fortunately no higher than those of the same period last year. Please continue to stay healthy!

The Bureau of Former ILO Officials expects to resume its normal activities eventually, and in the meantime remains at your service, in case of need, during this period of restriction.

The Bureau members send you their greetings and very best wishes.



Coronavirus crisis : Message from the Executive Secretary

Category : News

Dear retired colleagues.

Above all, I wish you good health in this difficult time that we are all going through.

As you may know, ILO staff in Geneva are now teleworking from home. Although access to the ILO building in Geneva is no longer possible for us retirees, members of the Bureau of the Section of Former ILO Officials continue to communicate via the Internet and telephone networks.

I would advise you to regularly consult the SHIF and the Pension Fund websites, which provide regular updated information. You can enter both sites via ours (www.anciens-bit-ilo.org). The SHIF notes (attached) indicate in particular that retirees can continue to send their reimbursement requests by post.

The Union’s Centennial meeting on May 14 in the afternoon will probably be postponed to the fourth quarter of this year, and the reception offered by the Director General scheduled for the same evening has been cancelled.

If necessary you can email us at anciens@ilo.org as we regularly check the messages received.

Dear colleagues, it is important at this difficult time that we all stand together in solidarity and observe the recommendations of our Public Authorities.

Yours sincerely,

François Kientzler
Executive Secretary
Section of Former ILO Officials​

 


SHIF documents :


Death of Mr. Venkataraman Narasimhan / Message from the SG

Category : Archives

Dear Kamala and dear family and friends of Nari,

I would like to say a few words to you as Executive Secretary of the Section of Former Officials of the International Labour Office.

First of all, on behalf of ILO retirees, but also on behalf of the ILO Staff Union Committee, our condolences to Nari’s wife and family.

Dear Nari, you left us very quickly although we had seen your health decline. But despite your fatigue you remained resolutely faithful to your commitments to the end.

Indeed, your engagement with the Section of Former  ILO Officials lasted 23 years; you reminded me of this again when I last visited you on Friday December 13th at the hospital.

Nari began his career at the ILO in 1969 in the Purchasing and Supply Department; he remained in this unit until his retirement in 1996.

You have certainly loyal activist in your commitments; you have been treasurer of our Section during all these years. Previously you were also the treasurer of the Union Committee for many years, having been a member of the union since 1969. You regularly renewed your candidacy for the Bureau of the Section of Former ILO Officials and you were re-elected just a few days ago for the period 2020-2021.

ILO retirees will very much regret your absence because you have embodied the continuity and loyalty of militant commitment and we must all follow your example. I also know that your commitments have been many.

I would especially like to thank Nari’s wife who accompanied him during all these years. She came with him regularly when he was travelling for meetings and I often had the opportunity to share lunch with them.

Dear friends, we have just lost a good colleague and friend. But his memory will remain strongly imprinted in our hearts.

I will finish with the words that a colleague here present sent to me when I announced the death of Nari. The most precious thing you can give to your family, friends and colleagues is “your time”. Nari  gave his time freely to his colleagues and to the associations to which he belonged.

Thank you Nari for everything you have done for us.

François Kientzler
Secretary-General of the ILO Former Officials Section