New York

01 May 2018

Secretary-General’s remarks on International Workers’ Day

This day has a very important meaning for me. I was born and I grew up in a dictatorship. In my country when I was a student and when I started my professional life, the 1st of May was not only not a holiday, but it was forbidden for people to do any kind of political activity or demonstration on the 1st May. Then, you might have heard about it, we had our democratic revolution on the 25th of April in 1974 and the Portuguese democracy was established. In the beginning, on the 25th April it was essentially a military coup, but then the people joined it, and on 1st May we had the largest demonstrations in the history of Portugal, with all the people in the streets celebrating the new democracy and at the same time, celebrating, for the first time in many decades, workers’ rights and the possibility of having trade unions because at that moment, the trade unions were kind of ghost organizations organized by the regime to support the regime and to make sure that workers would not have the capacity to freely express their points of view.

So, the 1st of May has not only a very important meaning from the point of view of - and I think this poster reflect exactly what we need to do together: rights, respect and dignity - but the 1st May is also for me the symbol of freedom of democracy, and the capacity of all of us to be able to organize ourselves to express our opinions and to be able to defend our rights and to make sure that our organizations are also able to do so.

Now, we are in the UN, and we have a long way to go to make the rights, the respect and the dignity fully respected. First of all, we are not well organized, and because we are not well organized there are many things we do two, and three, and four times, and there are many things we do not do and probably because of that we have some overwork. And it’s not overwork because we need to produce more, it’s overwork because things are duplicated and we are all sometimes doing the same things. That’s one of the reasons why I believe we need to re-organize ourselves and to make sure we are able to deliver more for the people we care for. That’s our raison d'être, but also that we are able to provide the staff with better conditions, full respect for decent work in all its aspects, and also a career perspective in which everybody has a possibility to fulfill their objectives in life and we are far from getting there. I’ve been ten years in UNHCR and I know exactly how far we are from getting there. To have a workforce that is well managed, able to provide what the people of the world need us to provide, and to have a workforce in which their rights are fully respected, and not only their rights are fully respected, but they can fully fulfill themselves, as people, as citizens of the world and as workers.

There are a number of things that for me are absolutely priority, and one of them is in relation to sexual harassment. We have been very committed to make sure that we put an end to this, and this is just one of the symbols in which the rights of people can be violated within the Organization. A number of measures are being taken. There is a cultural question that needs to be addressed. That’s why I’m so keen on parity - to make sure that we have full equality between men and women within the Organization. This is just one symbol. There are many other rights in which we see that we are not able to deliver according to the respect and dignity that everyone should be entitled to receive.

One thing I can tell you is that we’ll be working together. The staff organizations always have access to me at any time, whenever it’s needed. We might sometimes disagree – that’s life – but the fact that we disagree does not mean that we are not always being able to listen, to respect the positions of the staff organizations and to make them participate in our future as an Organization.
Dear colleagues, on this day, which has enormous emotionally meaning for me, I’m very glad to be here with all of you, and let’s see if we can work together in order for us not to have to work so many hours because I’m also a victim of that situation but that we are able to produce more for the people we care for and to have better conditions for all the colleagues.

Thank you very much.