Les litiges du travail


Le Temps n’attend personne – surtout pas les Fonctionnaires Internationaux

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More often than not, when International Civil Servants come knocking on our door, seeking employment advice, we are alarmed by their lack of knowledge regarding their employment status and rights. The fact that they are often unaware that they are subject to International Administrative Law, the law that operates between International Civil Servants and their employer, and not domestic employment laws, is just one such example.
Why there is such a dearth of understanding is debatable, but we felt it might be useful to compile a brief list of basic ‘do’s and do not’s’, for when/if International Civil Servants find themselves in difficulties with their employer. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and we would encourage anyone facing HR issues to contact legal specialists, such as members of Bretton Woods Law as quickly as possible – because as the title suggests in these situations time is of the essence
The Do’s

  1. Do make yourself aware and be confident of your rights and, indeed, your obligations under the internal law of the organisation that you work for (e.g., read the Staff Regulations, Staff Handbook, and the rules and procedures associated with your organisation’s internal justice mechanism).
  2. Do act quickly if you have a complaint, for you may only have a short period of time in which to file.
  3. Do ensure that your dealings with HR are in writing, if possible.  It is important to create an audit trail.
  4. Do take notes at any meeting that you have with HR representatives.  At the conclusion of the meeting, write your notes up and sign and date them.  It is important that your written note is as contemporaneous as possible with the meeting.  If feasible, do get others who attended the meeting to agree your written notes by signing them.
  5. Do take advantage of the services of the Ombudsperson, if available.  They can give you informal advice and might be able to intercede on your behalf
  6. Do speak and discuss matters with your Staff Council/Association/Union representatives.  Listen to what they have to say, as they generally have a wealth of experience.
  7. Do speak out and loudly if you are subject to any form of retaliation for asserting your rights against your employer.
  8. Doinstruct a lawyer who understands international administrative law at the earliest opportunity.

The Do Not’s

  1. Do not place too much trust  in HR, for they are a tool of management.
  2. Do not meet with HR representatives on your own, unless this is unavoidable.  It is always good to have a witness of your own (e.g., a Staff Council/Association/Union representative).  If you do meet with them on your own, then make a full note of the meeting and sign and date those notes (follow the procedure in the ‘do list’ at 4 above).
  3. Do not in general sign anything on the spot.  Only sign documents after you have had the benefit of independent advice, such as that of a lawyer or Staff Council representative.  Never sign a separation agreement until it has been thoroughly reviewed by a lawyer instructed by you. Do not think that you are anything other than the victim of your employers conduct.
  4. Do not be afraid to assert your rights, for your organisation will have some form of enforceable anti-retaliation procedures.
  5. Do not let your performance at work be unduly affected by your complaint, as you do not want your employer to be able to claim that you are a sub-standard performer.

If you could benefit from clear and practical advice, specifically designed for International Civil Servants, please click here to contact members of Bretton Woods Law.

multilateral development banks

Pourquoi avez-vous fondé Bretton Woods Law?

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Hard to find specialist knowledge, borne out of experience
It’s not often that a company can claim to be unique and then actually live up to that claim – but Bretton Woods Law can.
When Lee Marler and Neil Macaulay decided to set up Bretton Woods Law, they knew that from first hand experience that their specialist arena – International Organisations Law, was woefully under-represented not just nationally but internationally. So as well as making good commercial sense to set up this country’s first legal practice focusing solely on International Organisations Law, it would also offer those International Civil Servants with employment disputes or companies being accused of sanctionable practices relating to projects funded by Multilateral Development Banks, a vital lifeline.
Whilst working together before setting up Bretton Woods Law, Neil and Lee were working in a practice where International Organisations Law made up a part of what they offered. They were surprised by the increasing number of potential clients who came knocking on their door over this three year period, looking for robust legal advice in this specialist sector. International Civil Servants locked in employment disputes with their employers or heads of international companies involved with projects funded by Multilateral Development Banks faced with serious accusations of corruption or fraud, came in equal numbers. Hence it seemed a natural route forward, when they decided to set up on their own.
International Organisations and its associated law were not new fields for this pair, Lee with a Masters in International Law, worked inside International Organisations for over 10 years, whereas Neil worked as a lawyer in the Civil Service for seven years, so it seemed a natural fit. This experience gave them an understanding in how these organisations operate and more importantly an insight into the complex personalities of these often intimidating organisations. This valuable viewpoint is rare, if not unique, and it is this inside knowledge of the organisations and their characters that gives Bretton Woods Law and their clients an enviable advantage.
Bretton Woods Law’s mantra is: “To represent clients without fear or favour” and of course to provide every client with first class legal advice. It is this ‘human’ aspect that both Neil and Lee feel is as important as the professional role they offer their clients. They have a passion for defending their clients, whatever there professional status – a secretary from an International Organisation will receive the same level of professional and emotional guidance as a CEO of an international company facing sanctions from a Multilateral Development Bank. Lee and Neil put this passion down to having lived and worked abroad for so many years and dealing with people who feel lost and don’t know which way to turn, they were both officers in the army and spent many years helping soldiers with the idiosyncrasies of the country, practices and culture they were stationed in, as well as its associated law practices.
Equalling their client focus is their all embracing knowledge of every aspect of the multifaceted arena of International Organisations Law. Members of Bretton Woods Law have two primary strands to their practices, firstly representing companies facing possible sanctions, including debarment or more serious repercussions by Multilateral Development Banks, as a result of an investigation into or an allegation of engaging in sanctionable practices (e.g. fraud and corruption). Secondly, an in-depth knowledge of International Administrative Law, which is the employment law that operates between International Civil Servants and their employer, means they are well placed to tackle and resolve any HR issues facing International Civil Servants. At first glace these two quite distinct areas seem unconnected, not so say Lee and Neil – in fact quite the opposite. They believe they complement each other, as they are always defending people who are suffering, professionally and personally, as a result of the decisions made by and within an International Organistaion – and the uniting factor – Members of Bretton Woods Law are always there to defend them.
Defending their clients in front of these boards, committees and tribunals is of course why people come to Bretton Woods Law, as often clients have approached local legal providers and have been turned away. As it is not a commonly known area of law, they may have no one working in the practice that, for example, truly understands International Administrative Law and all the privileges and immunities the law affords the International Organistaions. So whom do they turn to?
Well members of Bretton Woods Law of course.
So back to the original question, “Why did you set up Bretton Woods Law”?
Answer: “Because we truly believe that there is no other grouping of lawyers who can truly defend people who find themselves in the situations that our clients do, and that could be described a basic breach of their human rights and that in everyone’s minds at Bretton Woods Law is unacceptable.”
If you are an International Civil Servant or facing accusations of corruption or fraud, related to a project funded by an Multilateral Development Bank and don’t know where to find the legal help you need, please click here to find you nearest office.


Des emplois des Fonctionnaires Internationaux en périle à l’UNESCO

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On 9th March 2012, the 58 member Executive Board of UNESCO adopted at the behest of the organisation’s Director General (Irina Bokova) a new ‘Road Map.’  The Road Map, which is in effect a euphemism for change, was necessitated by a cut of approximately US$188 million to the organisation’s operating budget as a consequence of the United States’ refusal to pay its levy.  Although the Road Map is designed to allow UNESCO to continue its programmes over the period 2012-2013, despite its severe funding crisis, it is nevertheless based on a series of austerity measures that, according to the Executive Board, will require Ms Bokova to:

  • abolish or redefine posts where appropriate with a view to shifting resources to priority areas;
  • develop a more flexible policy of contracts;
  • review current Staff Rules and Regulations.

Accepting the challenge handed to her by the Executive Board, Ms Bokova said:

“The Roadmap now provides the Organisation with a clear sense of direction, and it sets firm targets to meet as we move forward … I am determined to meet the targets we have set in all areas – including cost efficiency, restructuring and human resources management.  My commitment to reforming the Organisation is steadfast.  The reform we have started is irreversible”

Not surprisingly, a significant number UNESCO’s employees were angered by the Executive Boards resolution and the Director-General’s apparent desire to implement it, for it is inevitable that the implementation of the roadmap will lead to significant job losses and an overall diminution of the terms and conditions of service presently enjoyed by the organisation’s staff.  In effect, the resolution of the Executive Board risks taking UNESCO out of the United Nations common system.  According to the two unions that represent the interests of the organisation’s international civil servants (ISAU and STU), 600 of them “massed” in protest outside the room in which the Executive Board was sitting.  Sidiki Coulibaly, President of the ISAU, and Ronan Grippay, President of the STU, were eventually invited to address members of the Executive Board, but, by this late stage of the proceedings, their advocacy on behalf of the staff fell onto deaf ears.  ISAU and STU have now set up a ‘Crisis Committee’ with a view to overturning the resolution.

UNESCO and the international civil servants that it employees appear to be on a collision course that may well test and have ramifications for international administrative law.  UNESCO is a member of the International Labour Organisation Administrative Tribunal and it will eventually fall to that body to adjudicate any unresolved complaints that might flow from UNESCO’s adverse treatment of its staff.  If a settlement to the dispute cannot be found, then a myriad of issues may be litigated within and possibly outside of UNESCO’s internal justice mechanism, such as accrued rights, fundamental and essential terms of contract, equality of treatment, dignity of the international civil service etc.

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) is an international organisation and a specialised agency of the United Nations.  Its employees are international civil servants.  UNESCO was established on 16th November 1945 and has its headquarters in Paris, France.  UNESCO’s mandate is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights and fundamental freedoms.  The Organisation is the successor to the League of Nations’ International Commission on Intellectual Cooperation.  Its web-site is

If you are an International Civil Servant facing employment and HR issues, Bretton Woods Law has considerable experience in dealing with matters relating to International Administrative Law. To contact your nearest office, please click here.