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36

SEPTEMBER 2016

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

M

ost Foreign Service mem-

bers have a keen under-

standing of the intricacies

of our pay scales and

benefits, but we don’t often

give much thought to how

locally employed (LE)

staff (formerly known as

Foreign Service Nationals,

still the preferred term for many) at our overseas missions are

compensated. How does the State Department account for local

conditions at more than 200 posts to ensure that LE staff are paid

adequately?

The short answer is “prevailing practice.” Local labor markets

are surveyed at each post to determine appropriate compensa-

tion for our LE staff colleagues. In economies where prevailing

labor practices are driven by free, fair and competitive labor

WHEN PREVAILING

PRACTICE

FAILS

By relying on prevailing practice to set locally employed staff compensation,

we are benefiting from the same labor exploitation that we oppose

as a matter of U.S. foreign policy.

BY J E F F ERSON SM I TH

Jefferson Smith has served as the management counselor

at U.S. Embassy Kuwait since 2014. A management-

coned Foreign Service officer since 2000, he has previously

served in Kingston, Dar es Salaam (twice), Yaoundé,

Dublin, Kuwait and Washington, D.C. Mr. Smith is the 2016 winner of

the AFSA Award for Constructive Dissent by a Mid-Level Officer.

markets, this model ensures that posts are able to attract, hire

and retain quality employees.

But many of the economies in which U.S. diplomatic missions

operate are far from free or fair; instead, they are characterized

by exploitative labor practices and human rights violations. In

such places, following prevailing practice fails to meet the need

of the State Department to maintain a corps of professional local

employees. Moreover, it puts the department at risk of following

the very practices that are condemned in our own reports on

human rights, trafficking in persons (TIP) and labor conditions.

Embassy Kuwait, where I ammanagement counselor, and

other U.S. diplomatic missions in Gulf Cooperation Council

member-states on the Arabian Peninsula have begun to advance

the argument that the U.S. government must do better when

prevailing practice fails. While we have had success in gaining

policy exceptions, the department still needs to do more to lead

(rather than follow) prevailing labor practices in exploitative

labor markets, even if it requires an act of Congress to do so.

Determining Prevailing Practice

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 requires that the State

Department base compensation for LE staff on prevailing wage

rates and compensation practices in the host country, but

qualifies this requirement with the clause “to the extent consis-

SPOTLIGHT

ON AFSA AWARDS