I recently received a copy of a news release from Unite, the trade union, stating that Amnesty International had told its workers based outside the UK that they will no longer have the right to remain members of the UK based union. A copy of the news release dated 21 February from Unite is set out below. The matter was raised at last week’s meeting of my trades council in Walthamstow, when it was agreed that a letter seeking an explanation would be with AI secretary general Salil Shetty. Have a read of the news release and consider writing yourself to Salil Shetty yourself. He’s at: Amnesty International – International Secretariat, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 0DW. It’s a disgrace.
‘Human rights organisation Amnesty International has told workers based outside the UK they will no longer have the right to remain members of the UK-based Unite union.
As part of the same move, union members at the International Secretariat in London have been given three months to agree these new terms or face derecognition.
The announcement was made by the senior management at the Amnesty’s International Secretariat, the body that leads the global work of the organisation. In practice, this means that many of its staff based outside of London will have less protection when it comes to their labour rights. The move would affect Amnesty staff in Beirut, Dakar, Paris, Moscow, Geneva, Hong Kong, Kampala, and New York.
In response, Amnesty workers said they were stunned by the attack, which came without warning. ‘Now every time I write or work on discrimination issues, I will think about how Amnesty workers outside London are being treated by the senior management in London,’ said one.
The current agreement between management and the union has protected workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining on terms and conditions of work.
Unite, which has represented Amnesty workers since 1973, has expressed their willingness to engage in discussions. However, they warned they cannot enter discussions while Amnesty’s management is holding a gun to the heads of its staff members by threatening them with derecognition of their union.
Such a threat precludes full and open negotiations between management and staff on the content of a new agreement. As one worker put it: ‘Even British Airways hasn’t done that!’.
Union members responded with disbelief on Wednesday when they were told by senior management that their right to freedom of association was going to be withdrawn.
At a union meeting the following day, outraged members called on management to respect workers’ right to choose their own trade union representation, free from coercion. They urged management to withdraw this unprecedented attack on rights enshrined in international human rights law, and start good faith negotiations.
Unite Regional Officer, Alan Scott said: ‘The irony of a human rights organisation denying its own employees trade union recognition won’t be lost on governments hostile to the work of Amnesty.’
Amnesty’s staff said this is an unnecessary distraction for workers at a time when reporting and campaigning on human rights crises around the world, particularly in the current upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa but also in “forgotten countries” is more vital than ever.
Unite members stressed that they want this resolved quickly. ‘All we want is for Amnesty International to live up to its own principles and to work for an organisation of which we can be proud.’
Late on Thursday, Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty told staff that he would get a “second opinion” on representation for staff outside London. He stressed that senior management are “fully behind the right of all staff to collective bargaining and union membership”. Unite members are waiting to hear if this means the threat of derecognition will be lifted so that talks can begin.’