With a long career behind him at the UN, Louis Germain’s retirement has been anything but relaxing. His new role as President of the SMC poses fresh challenges as he strives to facilitate consultations to overcome issues concerning staff welfare and policies for healthy working conditions.
He spent 38½ years working for the United Nations, from the lowest level in the General Service category when he was quite young, all the way to reaching the level of Chief of Service. He decided at the end of August 2021 that he needed to take some time for himself and his family, so took early retirement. Some months after that, he was approached by the Staff Union to see whether they could put his name forward for the presidency of the SMC.
This may have been because he had worked very closely with them over the years during his stint as regional Ombudsman in Geneva and subsequently as Chief of the Office of the Ombudsman in New York. He answers our three questions below.
Do you believe that the playing field is even in the SMC between the staff and management representatives?
On the surface, one can come away with the impression that things are unequal because management has access to expert advice. Their representatives are also comprised of people who are very experienced at what they do, compared to the staff side. If you dig a bit deeper however, you begin to understand that whatever agreement is reached at the SMC applies equally to everyone. So, if you look at it from this perspective, there are common interests and greater opportunities for collaboration than what appears on the surface. Ironically the management representatives are represented by the staff as well. I don’t worry so much about the perception of this power imbalance when everyone essentially experiences the same outcome.
I spend a lot of time preparing for SMC meetings, which involves reviewing papers that are circulated outlining the respective positions of staff and management prior to the meeting. This is so I am informed in terms of what issues have been brought forth and to see how best to facilitate these conversations going forward.
Looking back at your career at the UN and your role now in the SMC, what skills do you possess that you believe are vital to the work you do?
I have had the benefit of working in different parts of the institution- at UN headquarters, the field – and through extensive travel to places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. I have met UN staff members in various settings and listened to people and the challenges they face in the places they work. I therefore had broad access to different perspectives from around the organization. It is about looking at the human experience and thinking how best to contribute to improve the conditions for staff in the organization.
Do you believe the SMC can be improved from your personal experience working there?
There are two areas where I think we can certainly improve on. One is to create an environment of greater trust among staff and management. Key to that is the recognition that we are all in the same boat. Beyond that, what I would also like to see is greater transparency- which is something that I said to all the members early on in my tenure. I want to ensure that we can speak frankly and openly to one another but with civility and respect; to discuss issues and with emphasis on solution-driven approaches. There are at times situations where perhaps the positions may not be well enough understood. In these cases, rather than coming forward with an accusatory reaction, it would be better, in my view, to inquire why it is that this is the proposal being put forward. By engaging in constructive dialogue, the likelihood is hopefully greater to achieve a desirable outcome. Staff may sometimes feel they are disadvantaged going into a process and may therefore lack the ability to engage constructively. We have a collective interest to bring forward the best possible outcome because whatever benefits one, benefits all, since we are all subject to the same staff rules, regulations and policies.