FAO cancels contract of founder of fledgling consultants' trade union

 ROME – The FAO, in an apparent reprisal, has not renewed the contract of an Italian consultant who announced last year he was, together with other like-minded consultant colleagues, forming a trade union of consultants to combat worsening conditions at the Chinese-run agency, FAO sources said Monday.

 Consultants now make up as much as 80 percent of the professional work force at the Rome based agency but they are not eligible to join the AP in FAO professional association, whose leaders rarely give anything other than informal advice to consultants, who are regarded as second class workers under the FAO caste system. FAO has lagged behind its sister agency WFP in working conditions for consultants and employees generally especially in health insurance and flexible retirement deadlines.

 Last September a group of consultants including their leader whose contract now has not been extended, decided it was time the majority of the professional work force flexes its muscles following the example of WFP where consultants are represented. There was however criticism of the group by some consultants for what weas seen as dragging their feet on actually setting up the new union.

 Meanwhile the FAO Director General Qu Dong Yu evidently moved to nip in the bud the new organisation by decapitating its leadership by not renewing the contract of one of its main movers. The consultant in question told Italian Insider he did not want to comment on the matter and asked that his name not be used.

 It is not uncommon for consultants to be told they have to wait until their 50s to get staff contracts and only the brightest can obtain such contracts by threatening to leave, while many others do leave to join WFP or IFAD where corporate culture is perceived as more meritocratic in contrast with the croneyism at FAO.

 One of the most resented aspects of consultants' treatment is that those who are not EU citizens are obliged to leave Italy for one month a year of unpaid leave so that they do not qualify over time for staff positions under UN rules.

 FAO consultants are usually highly educated and dedicated idealists unlike many directors who are political appointees who have milked the UN system during long careers to enjoy the dolce vita of the full package in the Eternal City.

The policy by successive DGs of saving money by using more consultants could backfire if the new union takes militant industrial action that could bring the agency to a standstill, FAO watchers say.

 It remains to be seen whether the failure to extend the consultant’s contract will lead to reaction from other consultants.

 One sceptical observer opined that “it may have been that his contract was not renewed as a punishment for trying to organise a union but it could have been seen as his trying to protect his job by organising the union, in which case it evidently backfired.”