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At UN, Tour Guides Return to Work As Job Action Results in Concessions After Cocktails

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Muse

UNITED NATIONS, December 10 -- Tour guides at the UN, after a two day sick-out in protest of working conditions, reached an interim agreement with UN management late Friday night. Tours resumed on Sunday, and the first negotiating session under the more representative format demanded by the guides is scheduled to take place Tuesday. Preceding the late-night agreement, hammered out between the Department of Public Information's office on the tenth floor and the Staff Union's fifth floor conference room, was a unplanned dialogue between tuxedoed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and one of the tour guides, who in Korean told Mr. Ban that his intervention was needed. This took place on the sidelines of the UN Correspondents' Association ball, after a cocktail hour replete with canapes and an array of ambassadors, from Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa to Wang Guanya of China.

            DPI chief Kiyotaka Akasaka stood with his new Director of Outreach Eric Falt, who began the job two weeks ago after stints in Cambodia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Haiti, Baghdad and Nairobi. "Tonight just relax," Mr. Akasaka told Inner City Press. "You are working too hard." But it turned that that Mr. Akasaka himself was working, until nearly 11 p.m.. At 7, he assured Inner City Press that the tour guide matter would be solved. That is what Mr. Ban repeated to the tour guide who approached him, until she disagreed. [Ban's speech included a rhyme, "Did you write a blog about me every week? Did Nambiar enquire into who was the leak?"]

Mr. Akasaka and S-G Ban Ki-moon take a tour, guides not shown

   Backchannel via leaked e-mail, the tour guides told Mr. Akasaka, "We insist that the six individuals on the list submitted by us will not merely be advisors, but be there to represent us, with full right to participate and speak on our behalf."

            This was in response to Mr. Akasaka's message of December 6, that

"As announced during my visit to the Guided Tours Unit this afternoon, I am pleased to confirm that establishment of a Working Group to look into the concerns of the part-time Tour Guides. I have asked Eric Falt, the newly-appointed Director of the Outreach Division, to convene this Working Group at the earliest possible time -- hopefully next Monday or Tuesday. The Working Group is expected to include:

-Netta Avedon, OHRM; Lena Dissin, DM; Marry Ferreira and Mampela Mpela, staff representatives of DPI; Elizabeth Baldwin-Penn and Isabelle Broyer, Public Relations section, Louis German, DPI; and up to three representatives of the part-time Tour Guides."

            The internal response was that this proposed panel was far too management dominated; it was noted that Ms. Dissin was previously the head of the Guided Tours Unit. Friday at 624 p.m., the guide transmitted a list of six more representative people. At 10:45 on Friday night, Mr. Akasaka wrote back:

"You may interpret your delegation members as you see fit. Any member of your delegation is free to speak, of course. The most important thing is to start our dialogue, in the interest of our tour guides and of our organization. I look forward to seeing you next Tuesday."

            And on that basis, the guides returned to work on Sunday, and tours resumed. Tours of UN headquarters are a source of profit to the UN. Budget documents show that in 2006-07, "services to visitors" at headquarters generated gross revenue over $ 8 million, with $736,600 of that being net revenue. As one participant put it, the guides have the lowest pay, and least security, in UN headquarters, and yet had the courage to take this job action. There are those who say it may be spreading.

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540