The HLCM Vice-Chair introduced the agenda item, recalling that during its 27th session in April 2014, HLCM discussed a paper presented by DSS titled “Reconciling the duty of care for UN personnel while operating in high risk environment” and established a strategic group chaired by the USG DSS to undertake a comprehensive review of the issues raised in the DSS paper.
The Co-Chair of the Strategic Group (UNHCR) presented the final report on behalf of the USG for DSS, noting that in the current global security environment, Duty of Care has become a widely resonating issue for employers, and that UN staff members are more often operating in dangerous and volatile security environments. She referred to recent developments such as the first judicial ruling against a Norwegian INGO on the basis of duty of care which have heightened the need to strategically address this complex issue.
In her overview, the Co-Chair explained that Duty of Care can be found at various levels: organizational, managerial, and personal. She noted that the report mostly addressed the duty of care responsibility at the organizational and managerial level, but it should be recognized that there is also a “duty of self-care” and an obligation of staff to comply with institutional rules and regulations.
The Co-Chair noted that exercising proper duty of care to UN staff working in high risk environments has major strategic level implications, and that it is therefore essential to keep the momentum and address the multitude of cross-cutting issues raised by the Strategic Group in the report, in order to provide a coordinated and systematic response. In general, the report indicates inconsistencies between organizations; between various categories of personnel, especially international and locally-recruited staff; and, between countries or duty stations. In many areas, the report shows a lack of information, coordination, cooperation and communication and lack of understanding of current measures and resources. It also demonstrates that the current duty of care system, in particular with regard to medical and psychosocial support, focuses on mitigation rather than prevention.
With regard to security, the Co-Chair noted the gaps identified had been reviewed and addressed by the IASMN through departmental or system–wide IASMN priorities, and they cover various security issues from security reporting, contingency planning, staff security training, and the application of UNSMS security standards and policies.
With regard to the Psychosocial, Health, Human Resources and Administration, the report concluded that there is a lack of mission-specific pre-deployment care and preparedness. A recurring theme was the frustration of staff with their inability to obtain accurate, updated information about the risks in their new role and duty station. As a result the Strategic Group made recommendations for the development of a pre-deployment management package for staff, creation of a system-wide resilience mandatory briefing, and specific training for managers in high risk environments.
Throughout Phase One of the study, many high risk environments were described where medical support was inadequate or unavailable, with erratic standards of medical care and overreliance on external medical providers. The Strategic group therefore recommended developing and mainstreaming an Occupational Health Risk Management Approach, through the adoption of a Health Risk analysis and mapping methodology and the implementation of systematic health support planning. In addition, inadequate psychosocial services and inadequate number of stress counsellors were reported in all environments and the report demonstrates the need to strengthen psychosocial support to staff in high risk environments in several manners.
The Strategic Group also observed the need for strengthening various administrative support mechanisms in particular with regard to the processing of insurance, and reinforced the long standing issue of the differences in the allowances, benefits, and entitlements between internationally-recruited and locally-recruited staff.
The HLCM Vice-Chair commended the Strategic Group for the important work. Strong appreciation and support for this work was also expressed by many organizations, and it was noted that the focus should now be placed on how best to implement it.
There was general agreement on the need to ensure continuation of collaboration between duty of care issues, IASMN and the HR network, with several speakers noting the need to devise approaches to deal with cross cutting and thematic topics. It was observed that in general, the HLCM session had discussed many cross functional topics, including duty of care, and that while traditionally HLCM has been established on functional grounds with HR, Finance and Budget, Procurement, IT and Security Networks, as the Committee moves forward with operationalizing the Duty of Care recommendations, consideration should be given as to whether the current functional set-up is sufficiently cluster based and aligned to the goals of the 2030 Agenda. It was suggested that the way forward on duty of care could be a test case to see how best to work across networks for future activities.
The representatives of Staff Federations indicated that the report was an important step towards a corrective action to ensure better protection for staff and their families, and confirmed their commitment to facilitate a cultural shift, particularly with regard to psychological services.
Comments on behalf of UN Cares were conveyed to the Committee by the representative of UNFPA, indicating the availability of UN Cares to be a partner in developing communication and learning tools at the global level related to reducing mental health stigma, and to health and wellbeing in general. UN Cares also noted that due to the difficulties experienced in establishing ongoing teams of UN Cares volunteers in high risk environments, it would be difficult for UN Cares to be a reliable delivery partner for many of the services identified in the paper.
The HLCM Chair concluded the discussion by thanking all members of the Strategic Group, and noted that the relevance between psycho-social and other challenges was very important. She emphasized the need to review how the report recommendations could be linked to other areas of work, looking at how to deal with cross cutting and thematic topics across networks. The Chair requested the CEB Secretariat to follow up with further consultations, with a view to establishing a clearer implementation plan for consideration at the next HLCM meeting.
The Committee: Thanked the members of the Strategic Group for their excellent job, and decided to: A. Ask the CEB Secretariat to undertake consultations among HLCM members with a view to continuing the work of the Task Force on duty of care under the chairmanship of an HLCM member, and with composition at the appropriate level reflecting the different stakeholders (HR Network, medical, security, etc.).
B. Ask the Task Force to present a proposal for a way forward, with a prioritized list of concrete and achievable deliverables for consideration by the HLCM at its fall 2016 session, for subsequent inclusion in the new HLCM Strategic Plan.