17.10.12

Amnesty International workers on strike for their own rights

 Snuffing out the candle: Amnesty’s workers fight for rights closer to home (Image: Shutterstock)

In a surprising move a group of staff from the human rights organisation Amnesty International went on strike today after senior management retracted their redundancy policy just hours before announcing changes that would result in dozens of staff losing their jobs.

In August staff at Amnesty’s International Secretariat were told that the campaigns and communications departments would be merged, leading to the loss of dozens of jobs. Two hours before announcing the merger management had informed workers’ union Unite that the organisation’s current redundancy policy would not apply to any staff who lost their jobs as a result of the restructure.

‘[Amnesty are] one of the most mendacious employers I have ever worked with… this is a struggle for the soul of Amnesty’- Unite’s Alan Scott

Dozens of staff from the global headquarters now face possible unemployment without an agreed redundancy policy.

Fighting for their rights
According to Amnesty International, a third of their 500+ staff members voted to strike. Unite predict the actual number of those on strike today was nearer to 300.

Picket lines formed around the international HQ in Clerkenwell, London and around 100 staff members gathered in a near-by church hall for a rally protest.

At the rally Alan Scott, from Unite described Amnesty’s management as ‘one of the most mendacious employers I have ever worked with,’ before describing the strike action as ‘a struggle for the soul of Amnesty.’

Messages of solidarity from Amnesty branches around the world were read out, as well as messages from other unions worldwide. The Beirut office announced they are striking in solidarity while a message from the Netherlands office recognised the ‘hard decision’ to strike given the disruption the strike will cause to staff’s human rights campaigning.

Alan Scott (Unite) addresses Amnesty staff.

 

In a previous statement Alan Scott said: ‘Amnesty International cannot be an effective or credible human rights organisation if it does not respect the rights of its workers. The organisation’s senior management must adhere to the same standards it demands of governments and corporations globally.’

Restructure
Amnesty released an official statement in response to the strike saying, ‘We very much regret that staff have taken the decision to take industrial action, while fully respecting their right to do so.’ They went on to explain the reshuffle comes as part of structural changes to the NGO which will move work from the London HQ to ‘ten regional hubs around the world, located closer to where human rights violations occur, particularly in the Global South and East.’

‘We very much regret that staff have taken the decision to take industrial action, while fully respecting their right to do so.’

A spokesperson from Unite explained that it is not the proposed changes that those on strike object to but ‘the way in which it is being done.’

This is not the first time the NGO faced criticism for its management decisions. The organisation previously came under fire in 2011 when it was revealed that a secret pay-off to former directors had cost the charity £800,000. The payments were supposedly made to former secretary general Irene Khan, who reportedly received £500,000,  and her deputy Kate Gilmore.

Speaking to press at the time Peter Pack, chairman of Amnesty’s international executive committee, said: ‘The payments to outgoing secretary general Irene Khan shown in the accounts of AI (Amnesty International) Ltd for the year ending March 31 2010 include payments made as part of a confidential agreement between AI Ltd and Irene Khan. It is a term of this agreement that no further comment on it will be made by either party.’

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