On 11 February 2008, the Secretary-General issued a bulletin entitled "Prohibition of discrimination, harassment, including sexual harassment, and abuse of authority" for the purpose of ensuring that all staff members of the Secretariat are treated with dignity and respect and are aware of their role and responsibilities in maintaining a workplace free of any form of discrimination, harassment, including sexual harassment, and abuse of authority (ST/SGB/2008/5). During the last 12 months, several staff members have approached the Staff Council with issues that could be seen as falling under the definitions listed in the bulletin and, therefore, as requiring corrective measures (formal or informal).
In the past the Staff Union was approached for advice and information by staff members but no cases were formally submitted. Staff decided against making formal complaints because, because according to the information contained in the Secretary-General's bulletin mentioned above, such complaints are received by the responsible official (in Vienna it would be the Executive Director of UNODC/Director General of UNOV), who is supposed to promptly review the complaint or report to assess whether it appears to have been made in good faith and whether there are sufficient grounds to warrant a formal fact-finding investigation. If that is the case, the responsible office should promptly appoint a panel of at least two individuals from the department, office or mission concerned who have been trained in investigating allegations of prohibited conduct or, if necessary, from the Office of Human Resources Management roster. The investigators are selected by the administration. It is clear that staff do not have sufficient trust in this procedure, in part because the administration is not an independent entity in the process.
The Staff Union notes that in some of the reported circumstances managers and supervisors were aware of the problems and did not take prompt and concrete action in response to reports and allegations of prohibited conduct, despite the fact that it was their duty to do so. The Staff Union would like to remind all staff that, pursuant to the Secretary-General's bulletin, failure on the part of managers and supervisors to fulfill their obligations under the bulletin may be considered a breach of duty and result in administrative or disciplinary action.
In connection with that bulletin of the Secretary-General, the Joint Harassment Prevention Board was established in Vienna on 1 November 2008 by the another bulletin, entitled "Joint Harassment Prevention Boards" (ST/SGB/2008/14), pursuant to which the Board should review, on an annual basis, the use of the preventive, corrective and monitoring measures established in the previous bulletin in relation to discrimination, harassment, including sexual harassment, and abuse of authority. The Board should evaluate the effectiveness of those measures in ensuring that the objectives of the bulletin are fulfilled.
The Staff Union has continued to support the work of the harassment prevention board. It must be recognized that the board does not have very precise guidelines on how to operate and the SGB related to harassment and discrimination has several areas that need improvement. The issue of harassment is the second issues considered "very important" by staff according to the result of the survey carried out by the Staff Union at the beginning of 2010. The experience of the staff unions indicates that harassment and discrimination is a reality in UNOV and UNODC and that staff and managers need to be aware of their obligations and rights.