Published on July 15th, 2010 | by Editor0
IFSA sends Third Letter to State Requesting Accreditation
In its third letter to State Department requesting to be recognized as an international association of locally engaged workers, IFSA refers to the spirit of President Obama’s Transparency and Open Government Initiative and emphasizes that the Department of State should seek the democratic involvement of all principal stakeholders, including locally employed staff.
July 15, 2010
Mr. J. Robert Manzanares
Deputy Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Human Resources and Office of
the Director General of the Foreign Service
U.S. Department of State
Dear Secretary Manzanares,
Thank you for your letter of June 22 and for taking the time to respond to us in such detail. The issues you cite should not stand in the way of a modern management approach which includes a true social dialogue between locally engaged staff and the Department of State. The absence of a serious mechanism for building consensus between the Department and its largest group of employees on a range of serious issues is leading to an erosion of trust in our workplace.
We recognize and appreciate the sincere efforts, outlined in your email, which the Department of State has made to improve training and enhance career options for LES. However these programs do not address the deep systemic issues related to LES employment and benefits highlighted by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in its reports of May 2007 (ISP-I-07-16 ) and April 2009 (ISP-1-09-44). Nor can they be a substitute for true representation of LES concerns in Washington or for a common voice for the State Department’s largest group of employees.
IFSA is an international federation of LES associations, each of which has been already recognized at the embassy level. We have come together to identify and highlight issues that affect the 53,000 Locally Employed Staff worldwide and to facilitate consensus based solutions.
The OIG has called on the Department to codify its commitment to its locally employed staff and to engage in the lengthy and complicated process of revamping its human resources program including the rules, regulations and practices governing LES employment. The Office of the Legal Advisor notes that current regulations prohibit “recognition of a union as the representative of FSN employees.” However nowhere do they prohibit FSN/LES from organizing an international association which engages with the State Department and other foreign affairs agencies in constructive social dialogue on the redesign and modernization of employment policies. Any construct preventing social dialogue between employees and management would clearly be in conflict with this administration’s policies on transparent and collaborative management as well as with recent International Labor Organization jurisprudence regarding the treatment of employees of diplomatic missions.
In recent years, decision making on LES issues has become markedly less transparent and less collaborative. One notable example of this trend is the elimination of local compensation plan surveys in which LES once played a role, and its replacement with a new system in which HR/OE makes compensation decisions based on “off-the-shelf” data which LES are denied access to. The result is a system that explicitly hides from LES how their compensation and benefits relates to local practice and provides no objective means to identify discrepancies where they exist and ultimately work together with management to resolve those differences. OIG 2009 report notes widespread dissatisfaction with the off-the-shelf system and cites survey data that indicate the U.S. government is now implementing salary increases which are only 60 percent of prevailing practice. LES have begun to lose confidence in the State Department’s commitment to the principle of prevailing practice and to fair benefits for local staff.
The reports cited above provide a long list of LES workplace and human resources issues which affect LES globally and which urgently need to be addressed. Several of the issues which are priorities for IFSA are already the subject of formal OIG recommendations, including developing a bill of rights for locally employed staff and establishing an ombudsman’s office in Washington to whom LES can turn when issues are not resolved at post. IFSA seeks to work with the Department of State on the implementation of these essential recommendations.
Major system-wide issues such as those cited above cannot be addressed by local HR offices. They require action by Washington. But Washington should not act alone. In keeping with the spirit of President Obama’s Transparency and Open Government Initiative, the Department of State should seek the democratic involvement of all principal stakeholders, including locally employed staff.
IFSA is at a formative stage. Nothing that our association has initiated so far is locked into place. In our letters we have emphasized that we are reaching out to invite you to work with us to design a structure for a global federation of LES associations that enables recognition by and collaboration with the Department of State. We are convinced that IFSA has emerged at precisely the right moment to help build a social dialogue structure that promotes consensus building and a more democratic workplace. We hope and trust that you will work with us to this end.
In the interest of full transparency, and because IFSA is a collaborative effort by many LES associations worldwide, we have taken the liberty of posting your letter to us and this response on the Sounding Board.
We look forward to a long and fruitful dialogue with you regarding issues related to working conditions of Locally Employed Staff (LES) throughout the world.
IFSA Interim Board