Fast By Senior WIPO Official Raises Old Staff Questions At UN Agency

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A senior official at the World Intellectual Property Organization recently sent an internal letter to WIPO Director General Francis Gurry announcing that he would be undertaking a fast, depriving himself of food during a period of reflection in protest of his treatment as staff after more than two decades there. And while the complaint is a personal one, the official’s letter brings attention to the sometimes uncomfortable strategic realignment taking place at the UN agency.

The letter, dated 1 May and available here [pdf], is from Anil Sinha of India, a counsellor in the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Section of the new WIPO Innovation Division. Sinha said in the letter that he had been happy as the head of the Executive Program in the WIPO Academy, and was upset at the closing of the academy and his move to the SME Division. And now with the SME Division being moved under the Innovation Division, he felt the need to take action.

He said a meeting with Gurry did not resolve his concerns, and that “in my quest for justice and fair treatment, I am compelled, as of today, May 1, 2012, to go on a fast.” The fast was still continuing this week, according to sources.

Sinha said in the letter that he does not question the right of the director general to reorganise the organisation, and praised the progress made in regularising some of the workers who have been on short-term contracts for years.

But, he said, “there is a palpable sense of injustice, insecurity and fear plaguing many hearts and minds in this Organization. … [T]he mechanical and inhumane manner in which the reforms have been carried out has left many of us feeling shortchanged, aggrieved and alienated.”

“Being a conscientious human being and having served as a staff representative for the past four years, I cannot remain indifferent to the pain and suffering of fellow colleagues,” he said. The staff council has taken a somewhat adversarial role in the past, possibly earning it disfavour with leadership.

The WIPO secretariat declined to comment on this matter, as it does not comment on personal issues.

Gurry took office in 2008 with a narrow one-vote victory, and set out to lead a new era of productivity by patching up a severe internal rift within the organisation, while also conducting a major structural realignment aimed at addressing costs and efficiency. The results have generally been seen as positive, but there are some who have continued to harbour concerns, including about whether opponents within the building might be being shown the door more often, while supporters are promoted. Human resources data confirming or rejecting this theory would be needed for the membership to consider its validity.

Gurry’s term of office runs until October 2014, so this might be seen as the very early beginning of the election season, but there was no suggestion in the letter about a political motive, but rather only concern about treatment of staff. But that concern is strongly held.

“When a program is discontinued or downgraded, when one’s hard work is not acknowledged or is negated or destroyed, when one does not obtain a career advancement because the avenues of promotion on merit or reclassification have been shut down or suspended, when one realizes that appointment process lacks transparency and does not necessarily result in the appointment of the most qualified candidate, one cannot but feel dejected, disappointed and discouraged,” Sinha wrote.

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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