UN - Report from the UN Negotiating Delegation, March 2013
Compliance and other matters of import were up for discussion when the AIIC group in charge of ensuring correct implementation of the agreement governing employment of freelancer interpreters in the U
Present: Andrew Brookes (coordinator and session chair), Phil Smith, Jacques Coly, Roxana Dazin, Isabelle Marbot-Bianchini, Claudia Bishopp and Nerio Guerrero. The whole delegation attended.
Since its election in March 2012 the ND had communicated by email only. The delay in signing the Agreement had also generated a lot of correspondence with the outgoing Delegation and the President of AIIC.
The purpose of this first full meeting was:
- For members to introduce themselves and get acquainted
- To consider current issues, in particular compliance with the Agreement
- To think about future activities
There was a loose agenda that covered five major areas:
- Application of the Agreement
- Delegation working methods
- Relations with colleagues and UN
- Other professional matters
The ND also considered:
- The report from the DPU in Geneva on compliance difficulties with the Agreement that came into force on 1 July 2012 (ITU, ILO, WHO, UNOG) and payment for travel days.
- Outside advice on negotiations.
The UN has inserted a footnote in the Annex on rates that stipulates that interpreters who work for more than 31 days will be employed on the basis of a monthly contract. In the old Agreement the cut-off was 60 days, and the UN did not raise the matter during negotiations. The UN has claimed that they have added the footnote because of changes in the Staff Regulations. However, despite repeated requests they have failed to send their legal base to AIIC.
On 28 February AIIC had a telephone conversation with the Office of Legal Affairs in New York to find out more. The OLA had failed to communicate the legal base for the footnote or even an agenda, despite our requesting both a good week before the meeting. The conclusion of the meeting was that the OLA would send us the relevant staff regulations for the footnote and their legal interpretation. They claimed the UN had raised the issue of the 31-day trigger at negotiations, so we asked them to furnish proof, as we had no record of their having done so. They have to date sent nothing. If they have still not done so by the end of March (giving them a month to respond) we shall return to the UN and ask them, in the absence of any justification for the footnote, to remove it so the Agreement can be signed.
The ND will seek a mid-term review in 2014; we shall need to deal mostly with compliance issues. We would also need to iron out difficulties arising from the unclear wording of the Agreement (travel time is a good example).
The ND considered this matter in general terms and concluded that it was open to the idea of outside help, be it in the form of a consultant to provide guidance on tactics and strategy and/or training in negotiating techniques.
Compliance took up most of the meeting.
The Delegation considered the report submitted to it by the Geneva DPU. There had been some slight problems at the ITU, WHO, and UNOG.
The Delegation reviewed ILO’s clarification on issues arising from their policy of covering successive weeks with an intervening non-paid day in a single letter of appointment. Another issue requiring attention was the unclear wording of the Agreement’s provisions on travel, in particular Para 21 (c).
Nerio Guerrero presented a report on discussions with colleagues in Mexico, Peru and Guatemala, covering compliance, local rates and awareness of the Agreement. He identified a number of problems, including a lack of information on the most basic points. Jacques Coly confirmed that, in Africa too, interpreters confuse UN negotiated conditions with private market situations.
A recent problem has occurred in Canada where two organizations (ICAO, Multilateral Fund) want to change the negotiated rate of CAD $631. They want to convert the US dollar rate to Canadian dollars every month. This was not agreed and is a complete misunderstanding of the Agreement. They base their claim on the wording of the most recent update in interpreter rates sent by the CEB in January 2013; this is not a problem arising from the Agreement.
To be clear: rates are set in US dollars and converted into the other denominated currencies (€, £ and CAD) in January and July and then remain static until the next review.
Under the Agreement rates cannot go down (non-regression) – the Canadian organizations’ approach would effectively bring down the rates in local currency. Again this is a breach of the Agreement. This matter is being dealt with and we hope for a satisfactory outcome.
Dealing with compliance issues
The Negotiating Delegation needs to be informed about breaches of the Agreement. If you work somewhere with a Professional Delegation tasked with monitoring the Agreement, you should contact them, and they will keep the ND informed. If there is no Professional Delegation, individual members may contact the ND to report breaches.
The ND intends to seek the help of Council members in finding out exactly which bodies/offices of the UN System exist in every region. We would like a list of all relevant email addresses. At present communication can break down at that very basic level of knowing what there is and who to call.
The ND will work closely with the Professional Delegations to make sure all AIIC dealings with organizations are consistent.
Members of the ND will be happy to address local colleagues on the workings of the Agreement when working in regions that would like to receive such information.
Once the current Agreement is signed we shall again ask the UN to inform all its offices about the terms of the Agreement.
Relations with staff interpreters
The ND recognized the importance of keeping in close touch with staff interpreters as they face many of the same issues.
Responsibilities within the ND
The Delegation considered allocation of tasks within the Delegation with a view to the next round of negotiations. The idea was considered to have merit but it is now too early to decide who will do what.
Standing Committee of the Agreement Sector (SCAS)
The UN Delegation is receptive to the idea of reviving SCAS. We can see potential benefit in being acquainted with issues faced by other sectors. We need more information about the form it would take and who would chair the revived Committee.
The delegation considered general matters pertaining to workload and working conditions. It is clear that the conditions under which we work are getting (have got) harder due to speed, opacity of accents and general change in the dynamic of meetings. The ND will monitor the situation.
Agreement: A framework agreement applicable to interpreters working in an agreement sector.
Agreement sector: Any sector ruled by an agreement signed by one or more organisations and the Association, acting on behalf of the interpreters who work for these organisations. (See our list of agreement sectors.)
Negotiating Delegation (ND): Delegation instructed to negotiate an agreement in an agreement sector on behalf of the Association, and to ensure its correct implementation.
Professional Delegation (PD): Delegation instructed by the ND to ensure the correct implementation of the agreement in the organisation concerned or in a given location.
Sectoral meeting: Meeting of interpreters who work in an agreement sector.
Sub-sectoral meeting: Meeting of interpreters who work in a part of an agreement sector.
Intersectoral Assembly: Meeting of the association members with an interest in the agreement sectors.
Standing Committee of the Agreement Sectors (SCAS): Forum for exchange of views and collaboration among negotiating delegations.
 For the United Nations, short‐term interpreters engaged to work for any continuous period of 31 days or more shall be employed from the first day on the basis of a monthly appointment in accordance with the administrative policies and Staff Regulations and Rules of the United Nations, similar to all other staff engaged on monthly contracts, and irrespective of the actual number of calendar days in the month concerned or whether the first working day falls on the first calendar day of the month. Likewise, when a period of employment at daily rates is extended in such a way that the extension, together with the original duration of the contract, exceeds 31 days, the provisions governing monthly appointments shall apply from the thirty‐first day.