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Employment Disputes

The (dis)advantageous relationship between International Organisations and their host countries: the Austrian experience

By | Administrative Law, Centre of Excellence, Civil Servants, Employment Disputes, IAL, International Administrative Law, International Organisations | No Comments

 

The relationship between International Organisations (IOs) and their host countries creates some interesting legal and political issues which do not always sit happily together: on the one hand, IOs have broad autonomy and enjoy a remarkable number of privileges and immunities (which are generally a grey area for the host country’s authorities) yet, on the other hand, the IOs are an important resource for the host country in terms of economy and visibility.

In considering this relationship, the Latin expression “do ut des”, which means “give and receive” or, perhaps more accurately, “give to receive” is particularly relevant to the subject matter. In fact, in principle, hosting international organisations is convenient and “remunerative” but it implies the loss of sovereignty of the host country in some fields (e.g. see the extraterritoriality of the international premises) and the conferment of a number of privileges and immunities to the international organisations (inter alia, the immunity from national courts).

Privileges are exemptions from the otherwise applicable substantive law of a state, while immunities are usually regarded as exemptions from the administrative, adjudicatory, or executive powers of a state[1]. Typical privileges of IOs are partial exemptions from some areas of domestic law (such as taxes, customs, foreign exchange controls, immigration), the most common of which is the exemption from the obligation to pay any direct taxes for the IO itself and its employees (while for indirect taxes, reimbursement schemes are frequently agreed)[2]. However, the most important and significant immunity enjoyed by the IOs is that from legal suit, the so-called “jurisdictional immunity”, which can raise different interpretations but the existence of which is not controversial. What is controversial is its scope, i.e., whether it is absolute, restrictive or functional. Most treaties or agreements usually confer a functional immunity, which is not a crystal clear concept, especially for the national authorities that have to face the grey area of IOs’ immunities. It seems that, in practice, the concept of functional immunity frequently leads to a de facto absolute immunity[3].

While financial privileges’ disputes are mainly settled on a diplomatic level, the jurisdictional immunities have generated the most extensive case law in domestic court decisions, which provide “examples for judicial dialogues or conversations crossing national jurisdictional borders”[4]. National courts adopted different approaches to the jurisdictional immunity of IOs also in consideration of the legal system in place, i.e. common or civil law system, the first relying on precedent decisions, the latter on a “constant jurisprudence” that stems from codified legal sources. However, the common denominator is that national courts, in deciding whether to grant the jurisdictional immunity, rely on the availability of alternative dispute settlement methods. With the 1999 Waite and Kennedy v. Germany judgment of the ECtHR, the obligation for IOs to provide an alternative access to justice (namely, an effective internal justice system, comparable to the national one) has been directly linked to the awarding or not of the immunity from the national process. By way of a concrete example, if a national court can be persuaded that the existing mechanism within an IO is insufficient to afford the staff member proper protections of his or her employment rights, it could waive the IO’s immunity in the specific case and proceed to a judicial review of its internal justice system, with consequences on the immunities.

Therefore, in order to enjoy the privileges and immunities there is a “contractual exchange” whereby international organisations must fulfil their side of the bargain, by providing staff member who are subject to those immunities with access to appropriate and sufficient systems of justice as they might expect in domestic jurisdictions[5]. The privileges and immunities of international organisations cannot be considered inalienable if they conflict with the fundamental rights and principles of the host country, of the European Union and fundamental and basic principles of human rights. In short, immunities from legal suit do not give the IOs carte blanche to do as they see fit: this point is all the more pertinent where tortious harm has been caused to the staff member at the hands of the defendant organisation and the functional immunities from legal suit do not extend to such circumstances. The same concept applies to the immunity from enforcement measures, regularly enjoyed by IOs. Even if a domestic court is allowed to rule against an IO, the judgment cannot be directly enforced due to the Organisation’s strong immunity shield from enforcement measures. However, in this case, domestic courts have applied the Waite and Kennedy doctrine where the claimant does not have a reasonable alternative mean of enforcement.

On the other hand, being an International Organisation’s member state is commonly considered beneficial for both state and society, therefore being a host state creates particular advantages. The Austrian government described the presence of IOs in Vienna as an important goal of its foreign policy because it positively affects the country’s reputation and influence in international relations and has positive effects on the local economy.[6] Thus, Austria and the other countries hosting IOs have an interest in the smooth functioning of the Organisations present on their territory and in their freedom from unilateral interference, which generally originates from provisions in treaties and domestic legislation on IOs legal personality and their privileges and immunities. In this regard, it should be noted that Austria occasionally extends privileges and immunities to events related to IOs (such as seminars or meeting) or grants them to international entities whose status as IOs is uncertain such as, the OSCE, which is more a political organisation rather than an international humanitarian one and the CTBTO, which is a treaty signed and ratified by many countries but which cannot enter into force and become binding until all the nuclear technology holder countries sign and ratify it.  However, Austria, throughout the years showed a balanced approach towards IOs’ immunities when those immunities negatively affected third parties’ rights, in particular their right of access to justice. In fact, in Austria the ECHR (see, in particular, article 6) enjoys constitutional rank (like in most civil law European legislations) and the access to justice is part of the treaty law such as, for example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR 1966, in particular, article 4); in addition, it is considered a norm of customary international law, thus binding both IOs and States[7].

During the Cold War, Austria served as platform for international dialogue, due to its geopolitical position and its neutral status. This role of “international hub” was strengthened by the opening in 1979 of the Vienna International Centre (VIC), also called UNO City. Since then, Vienna is seat of the United Nations (UN), together with New York, Geneva and Nairobi. The idea of the VIC born in 1966, when the Government of Austria made an offer to the United Nations to construct in Vienna an International Centre to be used by organisations belonging to the United Nations system. In 1967, the Government of Austria and the city of Vienna jointly decided to assign an area on the left bank of the Danube as the site of the centre and in 1968 organised an international competition for the design of the buildings, which attracted the interest of architects worldwide and was in the end won by the Austrian Johann Staber. The Government of Austria (65%) and the city of Vienna (35%) shared the VIC construction costs (approximately 640 million Euros)[8]. The construction site began in 1972 and the VIC complex, which covers an area of 180,000 m² and has extraterritorial status, was inaugurated on 23rd August 1979. Separate agreements were signed by Austria and, respectively, IAEA and the United Nations (on behalf of UNIDO and the other United Nations entities in Vienna) on 28 September 1979. The Government of Austria handed over the VIC complex to the United Nations and IAEA for the symbolic rental sum of one Austrian schilling (equivalent to 0.07 euro today) a year for 99 years[9].

Over the years, the presence of international entities in Austria grew exponentially and it is now quite impressive: more than 40 IOs, financial institutions, diplomatic representations, NGOs and Quasi-NGOs are present on the Austrian territory and constitute an important economic factor, too. They employ more than 6000 employees, out of which about a quarter are Austrian citizens. According to a recent study by Ernst & Young, the sector spends about 725 million Euros per year, which result in a macroeconomic demand effect of about 1.4 billion Euros and thus contributes to GDP growth and Austria’s prosperity. In the long-term, all indicators demonstrate the economic benefit of the sector, in particular, conference activities increased by one third in the period 2010 – 2014[10]. In this regard, for example, the nuclear negotiations with Iran, successfully completed in Vienna in July 2015, and the “Syria talks” held since autumn 2015, generated a publicity value equivalent to 100 million Euros.

Further to encourage the settlement of International Organisations, Austria incentives also Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to choose it as their seat. In fact, upon request of an organisation, the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs may grant the legal status of Non-Governmental Organisation by decree, on the legal basis of the Federal Law on the Granting of Privileges to Non-Governmental International Organisations. NGOs not only are an important expression of the civil society, they also enrich the thematic work of International Organisations. In relation to this, since 2016, NGOs have the possibility to apply for recognition as Quasi-International Organisations upon the fulfilment of certain requirements: the organisation must have non-profit character, its structure has to be similar to that of an IO, it must have permanent staff and an appropriately equipped office in Austria; in addition, its work must be related to the mandate of an established IO.  On the other hand, the legal status of Quasi-International Organisation implies certain tax exemptions. A recent example of an organisation, which has been awarded the status of Quasi-International Organisation and that chose Vienna as its seat, is the “Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All)”. It started its activities in summer 2013 and established its permanent headquarters in Vienna in 2015. SE4All is headed by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for “Sustainable Energy for All” and therefore fulfils all the above-mentioned requirements[11].

Overall the relationship between IOs, NGOs and Austria can be described as extremely positive and fruitful for both parties. However, the other side of the medal is that the host country tends to avoid conflicts on the privileges and immunities granted to the IOs and on the “grey area” constituted by the jurisdictional immunity. Therefore, there is still room for a more regulated and transparent cooperation between the IOs and the national authorities in order to grant the IOs’ employees and, in general, the third parties involved in disputes with IOs, the full respect of their civil fundamental rights.

 

Ludovica Moro

ludovicamoro@brettonwoodslaw.com

 

[1] A. Reinisch, International Organisations Before National Courts.

[2] A. Reinisch, The Privileges and Immunities of International Organisations in Domestic Courts.

[3] See supra note 2.

[4] See supra note 2.

[5] This is a well-established principle also in the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. A commentary on the Convention by Professor August Reinisch states: “The de facto “absolute” immunity of the United Nations is mitigated by the fact that article VIII, section 29, of the Convention requires the United Nations to “make provisions for appropriate modes of settlement of: (a) disputes arising out of contracts or other disputes of a private law character to which the United Nations is a party”. The General Convention’s obligation to provide for alternative dispute settlement in case of the Organisation’s immunity from legal process can be regarded as an acknowledgment of the right of access to court as contained in all major human rights instruments.” (http://www.un.org/law/avl/ )

[6] A. Reinisch, The Privileges and Immunities of International Organisations in Domestic Courts.

[7] See supra note 6.

[8] Source: United Nations Office in Vienna (UNOV) website.

[9] See supra note 8

[10] Source: Austrian governmental website – www.bmeia.gv.at

[11] See supra note 10

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Legal Expenses Insurance – Game Changer for International Civil Servants

By | Administrative Law, Civil Servants, Employment Disputes, IAL, International Administrative Law, News, Uncategorized | No Comments

Earlier this year, lawyers from BWL were approached by a Manager at a large International Organisation based in London who had been, in his view, a victim of retaliation. As as a result, he was not promoted and his employer organisation failed to award him the pay rise he deserved.

He notified his household insurers who confirmed that his policy included legal expenses insurance for grievances arising out of employment disputes with his employer. Initially, his insurance company wanted to appoint an English employment lawyer to represent him throughout the international organisation’s internal justice system. Lawyers from BWL explained that the applicable law (i.e., international administrative law or ‘IAL’) was specific to international organisations and the insurance company eventually agreed to instruct experts in IAL to represent the employee in question. Once the formalities had been completed, the employee’s lawyers were able to represent him before the organisation and invoice the insurance company directly. A settlement was eventually reached, and at no stage did the employee have to pay for his legal representation.

This success story is a small step in balancing out the inequality of arms that exists all to often between international organisations and their employees. International Civil Servants are advised to examine the terms and conditions of their household insurance to check if it covers legal expenses for their employment disputes. They should also be aware that being insured does not mean that they have to accept any lawyer provided by the insurers, who will often not have the expertise required to represent them effectively.

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Bretton Woods Law sends international trial observer to Istanbul

By | Corruption, Employment Disputes, IAL, International Administrative Law, London, Multilateral, News | No Comments

On 19th December 2013, Alex Haines of Bretton Woods Law attended, in his capacity as an independent international observer, the 7th hearing in the long-running criminal trial of the legal representatives of Adbullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).  A delegation of leading barristers and solicitors from the UK attended the trial, which is taking place in the Silivri prison complex outside Istanbul, the largest courthouse in the world.  Another dozen international trial monitors from across Europe also attended as part of French and German delegations.

The Turkish authorities have established a special penal court to try 46 lawyers who were arrested in police raids throughout Turkey as part of the KCK anti-terror operations in November 2011.  There have been, to date, seven hearings in the proceedings.  Alex Haines’ mandate as a trial observer was to, inter alia, make the participants – particularly the judges – aware that they were under scrutiny, and to impartially record his views on the conduct and standard of the trial from a human rights perspective to ensure it complied with rule of law principles.

International Administrative Law

Bretton Woods Law opens new office in Manila

By | Administrative Law, Civil Servants, Employment Disputes, IAL, International Administrative Law, News | No Comments

Bretton Woods Law is pleased to announce they now have an office in the Philippines capital – Manila.

Due to the ever-growing number of international civil servants based in the Philippines that are instructing Bretton Woods Law lawyers to help them with their employment disputes with the international organisations for which they work, it has become clear that in order to offer them the high level of service available to all of our clients, Bretton Woods Law should have a representational office in Manila.

 

Manila is a natural choice for Bretton Woods Law due to the large number of international organisations that are based there, including:

If you are an International Civil Servant based in Manila and would like to discuss an employment dispute you might have, why not contact Bretton Woods Law at

L29 Joy Nostalg Centre
17 ADB Avenue
Ortigas Center
Pasig City
Manila, 1600

Email: enquiries@brettonwoodslaw.com
Telephone:
+63 2 7988171 (effective as of 17 April 2013)
Skype:
brettonwoodslaw

Bretton Woods Law lawyers are experts in International Administrative Law which is the employment law of the international organisations.

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Second Geneva International Administrative Law Seminar Focuses on the Fear of Retaliation

By | Centre of Excellence, Civil Servants, Employment Disputes, International Administrative Law, News | No Comments

Bretton Woods Law’s second International Administrative Law seminar took place at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Geneva on Wednesday 27th April and, as ever, one topic on a full agenda really resonated with the attendees – the fear of retaliation.

It is apparent from seminar attendees that many international civil servants are reticent to file a case against their employers, as they are scared that their international organisation will engage in reprisal and retribution.

Bretton Woods Law stated that the best way to combat retaliation was to construct an anti-retaliation policy that contains a reverse burden of proof, which means that if an international civil servant files a case within the internal justice system operated by his or her employer and is then allegedly retaliated against, it is up to the international organisation, as the employer, to prove on a balance of probabilities that it has not engaged in such a practice.

Bretton Woods Law has the expertise and experience to draft such anti-retaliation policies, as well as all other related policies, such as whistleblower protection mechanisms, and have done so for a number of international organisations.  To discuss your own particular anti-retaliation requirements or any other international administrative law matter, contact your nearest Bretton Woods Law office.

For a detailed list of all the topics discussed at the second Geneva International Administrative Law seminar, please click here.

If you have been the victim of retaliation by an international organisation or any other form of unfair treatment, why not apply to join the International Administrative Law Centre of Excellence, a ‘think-tank’ designed to assist in the global development and improvement of International Administrative Law. The Centre of Excellence provides amongst other things,  a neutral forum for discussion and debate for those individuals interested in developing International Administrative Law.

International Administrative Law

Bretton Woods Law International Administrative Law seminar at PAHO draws top international civil servants from the Americas

By | Administrative Law, Centre of Excellence, Civil Servants, Employment Disputes, International Administrative Law, News | No Comments

On 28th February, Bretton Woods Law held a seminar at the behest of PAHO (Pan-American Health Organisation) on International Administrative Law – the employment law of international civil servants. The seminar drew 50 attendees from around the Americas, including senior Staff Association members as well as doctors and other medical professionals.

The topics in the agenda were wide and varied and included: clarity of the law, confidentiality of proceedings and the role of lawyers for the organisation. However the point that seemed to cause the most debate was Staff Associations – their independence, the need for dues, industrial action & retaliation.

Some of those present expressed their fear of approaching Staff Associations to discuss their concerns and joining class actions for fear of retaliation and reprisal. There was also an in-depth discussion on the fact that even if employees win their case, they will not automatically be awarded their legal fees – which along with the fear of retaliation creates a strong barrier to some international civil servants taking their grievances to a tribunal.

It was of course agreed that the present situation is unfair and untenable, and change needed to happen, particularly a confidential forum where international civil servants could share their views and experiences without fear of reprisal and retaliation.

In view of these concerns, Bretton Woods Law was delighted to have the opportunity of inviting all attendees to apply for membership to the International Administrative Law Centre of Excellence , a forum whose primary aim is to assist in the global development and improvement of International Administrative Law.

The Centre of Excellence has also been designed to create just what these international civil servants need  – a confidential arena in which they can, without fear, freely express their concerns and views. It is hoped that from these shared experiences, new and thought provoking ideas and concepts will emerge, which, together with promoting international best practices, will enhance and significantly improve the employment law of international organisations worldwide.

 

If you are an International Civil Servant, who wants to help change your employment law, apply today for membership to the International Administrative Law Centre of Excellence.

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Bretton Woods Law welcomes their new International Organisations Law specialist

By | Administrative Law, Bribery, Employment Disputes, International Administrative Law, News | No Comments

Antje Kunst, who has recently joined Bretton Woods Law, is the perfect fit for this team of International Organisations Law experts, as she bring with her many years of experience working for the United Nations.

Antje, who has worked at the United Nations for 11 years, 5 and a half years of which were spent  at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), has an impressive background in matters that relate exactly to Bretton Woods Law’s areas of expertise. These include employment issues relating to international civil servants, anti-corruption cases, and drafting procedures and internal policies for international organisations.

Antje comments: “I was looking to expand my horizons outside of Germany where I have been based for the last three years and wanted to have  experience again with  an internationally focussed law firm  preferably working on issues related to international organisations and so one day I googled: ‘law firms that specialise in International Organisations Law’ and Bretton Woods Law came out top. I looked at their website and liked their integrated approach.”

As an active member of Transparency International in Germany Antje was also keen to continue to draw on her anti-corruption experience. In the past she worked for the founder of Transparency International on an initiative aimed at supporting governments of natural resource-rich countries with national resources contracts,  helping  to overcome corrupt activities in the sector, and ultimately  benefiting the companies who are concluding these contracts with the governments. So it came as an added bonus that Bretton Woods Law advises companies working on projects funded by multilateral development banks, which have been accused of fraud and sanctionable practices.

Antje might have left the United Nations behind her, but it seems her new position with Bretton Woods Law will keep her right at the heart of international organisations for the foreseeable future.

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2nd Geneva seminar on International Administrative Law

By | Administrative Law, Civil Servants, Employment Disputes, IAL Seminars, International Administrative Law, News | No Comments

Following the success last month of our first Geneva International Administrative Law (IAL) seminar, we have decided, due to popular demand, to hold a second seminar on Wednesday 27th March 2013 and we would like to offer you a complimentary invitation.

Attendees will again benefit from free expert advice from legal specialists, as well as being able to share their own views and opinions with their peers on the following topics:

  1. Effectiveness of internal justice system
  2. Clarity of the law
  3. Confidentiality of proceedings
  4. Staff associations (independence, the need for dues, industrial action & retaliation)
  5. Executive heads reviewing the lawfulness of their own decisions
  6. The role of lawyers for the organisation
  7. Mandatory mediation
  8. The ethics functionCase studies of common staff grievances and how to successfully litigate
  9. Improving IAL (codification of IAL principles, uniform internal justice mechanism, legal expenses insurance for all international civil servants, one Global AT etc)

Join us on 27th March at the Hotel Intercontinental 7-9 Chemin Du Petit-Saconnex Geneva, 1211.

  • Registration: 9.00am
  • Lunch: 1pm
  • Seminar closes: 3.30

Register here

International Administrative Law

Bretton Woods Law Seminar on International Administrative Law in Geneva

By | Administrative Law, Employment Disputes, International, International Administrative Law, News | No Comments
[icon_button type=arrowdown url=http://www.brettonwoodslaw.com/brettonwood_site/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Geneva_IAL_CoE_slides.pdf]Download presentation[/icon_button]

Bretton Woods Law hosted a seminar on International Administrative Law at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva on Wednesday 6th February 2013. Lee Marler, Neil Macaulay and Alex Haines held an open forum with senior Staff Association members from a number of International Organisations including the WTO, UNHCR, CERN and the WMO, where the law’s shortfalls and possible improvements were discussed.

Topics included:
• Equality of arms
• Clarity of the law
• Confidentiality of proceedings
• Capping of Awards
• Staff Associations – independence and industrial action
• Executive Heads – reviewing the lawfulness of their own decisions
• The roles and actions of lawyers for the organisation
• Ignoring the organisation’s internal law

We hope that those who attended enjoyed the lively and informative discussion, and we look forward to hosting more seminars to help shape the much needed improvements and additions to this area of law.

If you were unable to attend the IAL Geneva seminar in person, but have a need for legal advice concerning an employment issue within an international organisation, please click here to contact your nearest office and for complimentary membership for the International Administrative Law Centre of Excellence

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Bretton Woods Law launches IAL Centre of Excellence

By | Administrative Law, Centre of Excellence, Civil Servants, Employment Disputes, IAL, International Administrative Law, News | No Comments

Bretton Woods Law is proud to announce the launch of the International Administrative Law Centre of Excellence, an exclusive members-only group whose main focus is to to assist in the global development and improvement of International Administrative Law. Click here for further details and to apply for your complimentary membership today