By Russ Bleemer
The United Nations this week took a big step in modeling conflict resolution for resolving workplace disputes. A new report says that, upon request, mediation will be the go-to method of resolving employment disputes for several high-profile UN agencies.
This effort not only serves the UN’s internal purposes but also provides an example for the governments world-wide that support UN efforts.
The Annual Report issued this morning by the Office of the Ombudsman for United Nations Funds and Programmes reveals that in 2021, its five associated UN agencies have elevated mediation’s role in their operations via a new Mediation Pledge in which the organizations each pledge to use third-party neutrals to address internal conflict.
The Ombudsman for United Nations Funds and Programmes works to resolve employment disputes within the United Nations Development Programme; the United Nations Population Fund; the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, better known as UNICEF; the UN Office for Project Services, and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, known as UN-Women.
Management and staff at the organizations have long been able to opt into the Ombudsman system, which, according to the Ombudsman’s website at fpombudsman.org, provides informal grievance procedures with which the Ombudsman “may consider conflicts of any nature arising from employment“ within the organizations “and related funds and programmes.”
UN employees at the organizations can contact the Ombudsman “at any stage, for help on any work-related problem where a perspective outside of formal channels would be helpful.”
The new pledge, adopted this year by the five agencies, seeks to increase mediation use as part of the Ombudsman’s system of conflict resolution, with the signing agencies acknowledging that a mediated settlement addresses all parties’ interests and can lead to a more harmonious and less stressful workplace. The texts of the pledges commit to increase mediation use backed by “statements of principles.” Other than the references to the adopting agencies, the pledges include the following:
- In the event of a workplace conflict between [the signing agency] and a member of its personnel, the organization is prepared to discuss the possibility of resolving the conflict through Mediation.
- At the request of the member of personnel or of [the signing agency], an initial discussion on the suitability of Mediation will be hosted by the Mediation Unit of the Office of the Ombudsman for United Nations Funds and Programmes.
- At any time during the mediation process after the initial discussion, if one or both parties believe that Mediation is not viable in their case, either party may withdraw and proceed with formal options to resolve the matter.
The report further notes that the Ombudsman Office has been beefing up its mediation resources over the past year, in time for the pledge rollouts. It has developed a new web page offering its materials at https://fpombudsman.org/what-we-do/mediation/. These include, among other items, a mediation guide (available in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish); a mediation training flyer; a guide for lawyers and parties in mediation; and a copy of the Ombudsman Office’s agreement to mediate.
The Ombudsman Office has also increased its outreach and training to promote the use and understanding of mediation services, including 14 specialized training sessions for human resources professionals worldwide that involved more than 450 UNICEF human resources staffers.
According to the new Annual Report, even in the face of the pandemic, this increase in mediation services led to record numbers of mediation cases in 2020, with a 97% settlement rate. Mediation now accounts for a greater proportion—almost double that of previous years—of cases brought to the Ombudsman office’s attention. Full details on the case breakdowns and the Ombudsman Office’s activities can be found in the report, just posted at the website link above.
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