With a Rise in Infections, UN Advises Staffers to Work Remotely—and Return to their Homes

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — The United Nations, which temporarily dropped its defences and partially lifted its 20-month-old lockdown last month, has reacted swiftly to the rise in COVID-19 infections in New York city by suspending its “flexible working arrangements” and advising staffers to work remotely—from their homes beginning December 20.

The new restrictions will continue through January 9, 2022.

In a circular to UN staffers in New York, numbering over 9,900, the UN says: “We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation in New York City and will provide you with our next update before January 8, 2022.”

With the sudden upsurge in infections, City authorities have confirmed one million new cases of Covid 19—and are enforcing rigid restrictions, specifically against those who are unvaccinated.

According to the New York Times, thousands of workers in the private sector, including banks, commercial enterprises and academic institutions, who returned to their offices last month, have now been told to work from their homes.

The US reached a milestone last week with a total of over 800,000 Covid deaths and the number of virus cases in the country rose to more than 50 million, according to the latest statistics.

In a letter to New York-based staffers in November, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “in the light of improved conditions” relating to the spread of coronavirus infections, “the exception, which currently allows staff members to telework up to four days per week, will be discontinued, beginning November 15″.

As of that date, he said, requests for telecommuting may be authorized by managers in line with the policy on Flexible Working Arrangements, ST/SGB/2019/3, and subject to the nature of the functions being performed, as well as to work exigencies.

“Managers are encouraged to afford flexibility to staff members in line with the lessons learned over the past 20 months regarding adaptability and flexibility in our working methods. Furthermore, the requirement for core working hours will remain suspended,” the letter added.

One UN staffer said jokingly: The only staffers who cannot work from their homes are security officers who are protecting the building and manning the entrances.

In November, New York city Mayor Bill de Blasio mandated vaccinations for thousands of City employees, including police, fire fighters, sanitation workers, hospital staff and municipal employees who will be put on “no pay leave” if they are not vaccinated —either for medical, personal, political or religious reasons.

But the UN did not impose any such penalties on un-vaccinated staffers—even though some private sector employers in the US told their employees: “Get Vaccinated or Get Fired.”

The Secretary-General’s authority, as the UN’s chief administrative officer, applies primarily to staffers, not to hundreds of diplomats, who are subject to restrictions only by the 193-member General Assembly, the UN’s highest policy-making body.

UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters late October “the vaccination rate for UN staff … is about 87.08 per cent that is fully vaccinated, staff in total”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 December 2021]

Photo: The 17 Sustainable Development Goals projected on UN headquarters, New York, 2015. UN Photo/Cia Pak

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