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A World of Decent Work: Labor Diplomacy for the New Century

Report of the Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy to the Secretary of State and the President of the United States, September 2000



Overview of the Labor Diplomacy Program

Labor Officers and Labor Reporting Officers Overseas
There are currently 49 Labor Officers deployed in 48 countries. Labor Officers undertake a broad range of activities: advocacy, investigation, reporting, and diplomacy. They must be well-versed in the political, economic and social issues of both the U.S. and the host country, and be able to advise the Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission about the general labor situation, including worker rights and working conditions in the host country. Most officers, after receiving training on labor diplomacy, spend only a portion of their time on labor issues, sharing their labor responsibilities with other duties, depending on the post.

In countries where the United States has a presence and where there is no Labor Officer, a Foreign Service Officer is usually designated as the Labor Reporting Officer, normally after arriving at post. Labor Reporting Officers have many other duties, and usually receive no special training. They have limited labor-related responsibilities, consisting primarily of reporting on labor issues in the host country as needs dictate.

The Special Representative for International Labor Affairs and the International Labor Affairs Office
The Special Representative for International Labor Affairs, a position established by the Secretary in 1999, is the highest level State Department official handling labor issues. The Special Representative and the International Labor Affairs Office develop and implement policy with regard to international labor affairs; work through the interagency process to coordinate international labor work with other agencies in the federal government; and act as the central liaison between Labor Officers in the field and Washington, including both the State Department and other agencies with a need for labor information and labor diplomacy. The Special Representative and the Office are the hub in the communications wheel on labor issues. Information about labor policy flows out to the posts through cables and documents disseminated on the classified and unclassified computer networks. Reporting on labor issues flows into the International Labor Affairs Office and Regional Bureaus, as well as to the U.S. Department of Labor and other interested agencies. The Special Representative and the Office take a global approach to labor issues and follow trends reported from the field, coordinating guidance to posts on the Administration's international labor policies as they affect country situations.

Labor Positions Overseas

As noted, the Roosevelt Administration established the Labor Attaché program in 1943. By 1966, there were 89 full-time or essentially full-time labor positions in the Foreign Service, with 73 of these positions abroad. Over 50% of those officers had been recruited from outside the State Department for their labor background (under a program which no longer exists). Seventeen of these Labor Attaché positions were senior level and 58 were mid-level positions.

From the 1980's until 1997, the number of Labor Attachés, (redesignated as "Labor Officers,") significantly decreased. In addition, the grade level of many labor positions was lowered. This occurred in the context of an overall downsizing of the State Department and the Foreign Service. By 1997, the number of labor-designated positions abroad reached a low of 33. The total number of Foreign Service Officers in 1997 was approximately 4400.

Over the period from 1998 to 2000, the number of labor-designated positions was increased to 49. However, today it is rare for a Labor Officer to work exclusively on labor issues. Labor Officers are frequently designated "Political/Labor" or "Economic/Labor," a reflection of the fact that they are required to devote a considerable portion of their time to responsibilities not directly related to labor issues.

Labor Officers are career Foreign Service Officers, except for the Department of Labor participants in the recently established exchange program described elsewhere in this Report. Well over half of the Labor Officers presently in the field are on their first tour as Labor Officers.

Currently, there are only seven senior-level Labor Officer positions in the State Department (grade FE-OC and above). [note 19]

Labor-Related Positions at the State Department

Special Representative for International Labor Affairs
The Special Representative for International Labor Affairs is the highest ranking State Department official dedicated exclusively to international labor affairs.

In 1962, the position of Special Assistant to the Secretary of State and Coordinator of International Labor Affairs was created. In 1993, the office of the Special Assistant was merged with the Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Bureau, which was renamed the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor ("DRL"). The Special Assistant's position was converted to that of a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the new DRL Bureau and eventually was assigned democracy and human rights responsibilities, as well as labor. This change was justified as "mainstreaming" labor issues at the State Department, but it was perceived as a downgrading of the top labor position in the Department.

In 1999, in a move to revitalize the labor function at the Department, the Secretary of State established the position of Special Representative for International Labor Affairs. The Special Representative has direct access to the Secretary of State, but normally reports through the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on routine matters.

The Special Representative is currently serving as a fixed-term Schedule B appointment. A request by the State Department to the Office of Personnel Management for classification of the position as a limited term Senior Executive Service position, for a maximum of three years, was recently turned down, because the State Department currently exceeds its quota for such positions.

The Special Representative is supported by the International Labor Affairs Office. The office consists of a Director (Foreign Service), Deputy Director (Civil Service), two Foreign Service Officers, one Civil Service Officer, two Department of Labor detailees, one Presidential Management Intern and two support staff.

Regional Labor Advisors
Historically, each of the State Department Regional Bureaus had a "Regional Labor Advisor." The Regional Labor Advisor served as an expert on labor issues in the region and as a liaison between the Regional Bureau and the Department's top labor advisor in the Secretary's office. Work assignments for Foreign Service Officers abroad generally passed, as they do now, through the Regional Bureaus, and the Labor Advisor in each bureau facilitated the process of clearing and monitoring the taskings. The Regional Labor Advisor was well-situated to convey to posts the labor interests of the United States affecting countries in the region and to convey to the Secretary's labor advisor the diplomatic context affecting labor issues in each country in the region.

Over time, most Regional Labor Advisor positions have been abolished by the Regional Bureaus. At present, there are only two Regional Labor Advisor positions. One is a senior position in the Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau, occupied by a senior Labor Counselor. A second position, in the African Affairs Bureau, was vacant for over a year, but is in the process of being filled by a Department of Labor detailee.

International Organization Affairs Bureau
One officer in the International Organization Affairs Bureau spends the major part of his time following United States participation in the International Labor Organization (ILO). The position is not formally designated as a Labor Officer position, but most recent incumbents have received Labor Officer training if they have not previously served as Labor Officers.

Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
The Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs has the lead in the State Department on trade, investment and other economic and business-related issues, although not on the labor-related aspects of those issues, which reside with the Special Representative for International Labor Affairs. The Economic and Business Affairs Bureau is the State Department's formal liaison with the U.S. Trade Representative, the Department of Commerce and the Treasury Department. The Bureau has one officer who covers labor and trade issues (in addition to environment and trade issues) and several officers who occasionally handle labor issues as they come up in areas for which they have some responsibility, such as the OECD and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

FY 2001 Budget Request

The FY 2001 Administration budget request contains a proposal for 22 new international labor positions as follows:

  • Twelve overseas positions in Embassies in developing countries to monitor the enforcement of domestic labor laws and to support core labor rights, to be funded through the Department of Labor;
  • Five positions at the State Department, to be funded through the State Department;
  • Five positions at the Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs, to be funded through the Department of Labor.
Authority Over Labor Officers

Regional Bureau Authority Over Labor Officers
The Regional Bureaus generally have authority over the Foreign Service Officers who serve in overseas Missions within each region, an authority shared with the Ambassador or Chief of Mission. Thus, Regional Bureaus and Missions currently have primary authority with respect to Labor Officers and the work they perform, although the International Labor Affairs Office plays a consultative role. This authority includes:

  • Establishment or elimination of Labor Officer positions (shared with the Bureau of Human Resources in consultation with the International Labor Affairs Office) and the percentage of time spent by a Labor Officer on labor work.
  • Authority to "task" Labor Officers with reporting and other responsibilities. (The International Labor Office also tasks Labor Officers, subject to the approval of the Regional Bureaus.)
  • Approval and funding of travel and other administrative expenses involving Labor Officers.
The Regional Bureaus assume administrative and budgetary responsibility for all Foreign Service Officers in the region, including Labor Officers.

Role of the International Labor Affairs Office in Labor Assignments, Tasking and Orientation
The International Labor Affairs Office plays a consultative role in the process of assigning Labor Officers and determining where Labor Officer positions will be located.

All Foreign Service Officers engage in a "bid" process for their onward assignments. The International Labor Affairs Office actively recruits Foreign Service Officers for available Labor Officer positions. Assignment panels (subject to review by the Bureau of Human Resources) have ultimate decision-making authority in the assignment of all Foreign Service Officers. In recruiting Labor Officer candidates and making its recommendations on location of Labor Officer positions, the International Labor Affairs Office consults closely with the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, and takes its views into account.

As noted, the International Labor Affairs Office also initiates taskings for Labor Officers and Labor Reporting Officers, including requests for investigation, reporting and delivering official U.S. positions to host governments, subject to the approval of the Regional Bureaus. For the past three years, the Office has also convened an annual Worldwide Labor Officers Conference, which provides a focal point for Labor Officer orientation, enrichment and sharing of best practices.

Organization and Career Path of Foreign Service Officers and of Labor Officers

The Promotion System
Foreign Service Officers enter the Service as Junior Officers at grade FS-05 or 06, and must compete for promotions to succeeding grades after achieving tenure at the FS-04 level. The divide between FS-01 and FE-OC (or "Counselor") is known as the "senior threshold," and a Foreign Service Officer in the FE-OC through FE-CM ("Career Minister") level, is said to be in the Senior Foreign Service, equivalent to the Civil Service's Senior Executive Service.

The Foreign Service promotion system operates on an "up or out" basis. An officer may spend no more than a fixed number of years in a grade and, if not promoted during that period, must leave the Foreign Service. Generally, the more senior the grade, the fewer promotion opportunities available in that grade. In addition, there is a maximum of 27 years after entry into the Foreign Service before an officer must either be selected for the Senior Foreign Service or be required to retire.

Each year, Selection Boards, composed of Foreign Service Officers, a U.S. Government official from another agency, and at least one member of the public, evaluate all candidates for promotion. It has been a longstanding practice of the U.S. Department of Labor to have a representative sit on the senior threshold Board and usually also on an FS-02 to FS-01 Board. The Selection Boards evaluate the candidates on the basis of Employee Evaluation Reports ("EERs"). These EERs are drafted in accordance with "promotion precepts," which set forth the criteria for evaluation of Foreign Service Officers. The promotion precepts do not describe substantive content, but rather focus on qualitative attributes, such as "leadership skills", "managerial skills", and "interpersonal skills." Each year, the selection boards receive a "Supplement to Core Precepts" which describes the functions of Labor Officers, as well as other specialized positions.

Selection Boards are required to low-rank 5% of all candidates. Two low-rankings in a five-year period result in a referral to another board for possible removal from the Foreign Service.

The Labor Promotion Track
In 1983, the State Department established a special promotion track to the Senior Foreign Service for Labor Officers who chose to compete as Labor Officers. This track was created due to a concern that those who specialized in labor work were disadvantaged in competition with other Foreign Service Officers, and to address the shortage of senior Labor Officers to staff the 16 Senior Labor Officer positions that existed at the time. The track allowed Labor Officers to be considered separately for promotions over the senior threshold. Several Labor Officers were promoted on this track during each of the first two years after it was created. Subsequent promotions on the labor promotion track averaged about one a year (with none in some years) and depended in part on the availability of both qualified candidates and vacant Senior Foreign Service labor positions. Moreover, there have been no promotions of Labor Officers on the labor track within the Senior Foreign Service to FE-MC (Minister Counselor) since 1991. Other special promotion tracks for Science and Narcotics Officers were also offered. In 1997, the State Department decided that these specializations should be "mainstreamed" and abolished the three special promotion tracks.

Concurrent with the abolition of the labor promotion track, the Department broadened opportunities for Labor Officers to compete for promotion in a "multi-functional" competition. Any Foreign Service Officer, regardless of cone, who serves a tour as a Labor, Science or Narcotics officer (as well as officers who serve "out of cone" in a variety of other assignments) is now eligible to compete both in cone and in a special multi-functional competition. Because so many Foreign Service Officers are eligible to compete multi-functionally, the multi-functional competition cannot be considered to be an adequate substitute for the labor promotion track, and it is unclear whether Labor Officers will see significant benefits from this program to compensate for an institutional disposition disfavoring specialization.

The Labor Department/State Department Exchange Program

In 1999, the State Department and the Labor Department implemented an exchange program, through which employees of each Department may be detailed to the other. That year, five Department of Labor officials were assigned to Embassies overseas to function as Labor Officers, and four Department of Labor officials were detailed for one year to the State Department to work on labor issues in the International Labor Affairs Office and other offices. For the fall of 2000, two additional Department of Labor detailees have been selected for overseas assignments and four detailees will be placed in Washington-based assignments. The Department of Labor pays the salaries and benefits of these detailees, while the cost of overseas assignments are borne by the State Department. The overseas employees serve in "limited non-career assignments" within the State Department.

A State Department senior Labor Officer will begin working at the Department of Labor, in the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, in September of 2000. Thus far, he is the only State Department officer participating in the exchange. His salary and benefits during this assignment will be paid by the State Department.

Labor Training at the State Department

The Labor Officer Course
Every year, the Foreign Service Institute ("the Institute") conducts a Labor Officer course for officers embarking on their first tour as Labor Officers. This three-week course, run in collaboration with the International Labor Affairs Office and the Department of Labor, provides an overview of the American labor movement and labor market; the responsibilities of the International Labor Affairs Office and the Department of Labor; the work of Labor Officers overseas; international labor institutions, including the International Labor Organization and its Conventions; U.S. law related to international labor conditions; and various other substantive international labor issues.

In the 1960's and 1970's, most new Labor Officers had eight weeks of training at the Institute, and frequently were assigned to a semester of labor studies at Georgetown or Harvard. In the 1980's, academic labor training was phased out, largely for budgetary reasons, and the Institute's Labor Officer course was reduced to six weeks, and in the 1990's, to the current three weeks.

Labor Content in Other Courses
The Institute includes labor content in some courses other than the Labor Officer course. For example, some courses treating regional issues have recently included presentations by the International Labor Affairs Office on labor issues in those regions. The basic political course now routinely includes one or more sessions on labor issues.

The inclusion of labor content in courses at the Institute, however, has not been institutionalized. The Institute is decentralized, and the curriculum of each course generally depends on the course director. Addition or deletion of labor content usually occurs on an ad hoc basis. There has been no systematic evaluation of the labor content in the Institute's courses to determine its adequacy to meet the needs of labor diplomacy.

Ambassadorial and DCM Labor Consultations
New Ambassadors attend a two week Ambassadorial Seminar prior to departing for their posts. This training is largely oriented to the special responsibilities of the job and does not include much policy material. New Deputy Chiefs of Mission attend a similar seminar.

Ambassadors and Deputy Chiefs of Mission engage in consultations with U.S. Government officials and non-governmental organizations prior to heading out to their posts. These consultations sometimes include the International Labor Affairs Office and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Strategic Planning at the State Department

The U.S. Strategic Plan for International Affairs includes the strategic goal of "Democracy and Human Rights" and calls for the following: "Advance core labor standards, strengthen independent trade union movements, and promote labor [and] human rights." It also includes, for the same goal, the building of "representative labor movements" to advance democracy.

The most recent State Department Strategic Plan, issued in 1997, contains several references to labor. For example, a Strategy related to the National Interest of Economic Prosperity includes extending international rules and agreements to areas such as core labor standards. In addition, a Strategy related to the national interest of Democracy includes building, strengthening and employing international fora to secure democratic transitions, prevent conflict and promote human rights, including labor rights. Indicators as to whether the Department is meeting Democracy goals include adherence to international standards as measured by conformity to labor conventions. [note 20]

The Bureau Performance Plan for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor includes a detailed section concerning the State Department's international labor rights goals.

The Mission Performance Plan review process allows for input from the International Labor Affairs Office and the Department of Labor. However, the Mission Performance Plans do not always include full coverage of the labor issues of importance in each country.

     19.  They are: Director of the Office of International Labor Affairs (FE-OC); Labor Counselor, Mexico City, Mexico (FE-OC); Labor Counselor, Tokyo, Japan (FE-OC); Labor Advisor, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (FE-OC); Labor Minister Counselor, Berlin, Germany (FE-MC); Labor Minister Counselor, London, UK (FE-MC); and Labor Minister Counselor, Rome, Italy (FE-MC). Each of these senior positions, except for the Director of the International Labor Affairs Office, was recommended for downgrading or elimination in the past four years, although none has actually been downgraded or eliminated.

     20.  The State Department Strategic Plan is in the process of being redrafted, and is scheduled for release later this year.

[end of document]


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