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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

SEPTEMBER 2016

67

AFSA NEWS

Compensating Local Staff in Unfair Labor Markets

THE WI L L I AM R . R I VK I N AWARD FOR A MI D - LEVEL FORE I GN SERV I CE OF F I CER

JEFFERSON SMITH

Presenting theWilliam R.

Rivkin Award for Constructive

Dissent by a Mid-Level FSO,

the Honorable Robert Rivkin

pointed out that “dissent

doesn’t have to be successful

to be important—but it sure

is nice when it does succeed.”

Recipient Jefferson Smith,

he said, is exactly the kind of

Foreign Service officer the

Rivkin family had in mind

when establishing this award;

an exemplar of his profession.

Early in his tenure as man-

agement counselor at U.S.

Embassy Kuwait, Jefferson

Smith noted that there were

more than 200 third-country

nationals (TCNs) from 27

countries working for the

embassy as locally employed

(LE) staff (formerly known as

Foreign Service Nationals, or

FSNs).

He also saw that there

were no Kuwaiti nationals

working at the embassy. The

reason for this soon became

clear—the embassy did not

pay enough to attract them.

In line with department

policy of following local prac-

tice when setting compen-

sation, many of the TCN LE

staff were earning wages and

benefits too low to support

their families.

In countries with free

and fair labor markets, local

practice guidelines work well.

But in some countries labor

markets are simply abysmal

and at times foster labor

exploitation and

support traffick-

ing in persons and

other human rights

abuses.

Mr. Smith

listened to his LE

staff’s stories of

“getting by” despite

a four-year wage

freeze and sky-

rocketing cost of

living. He found that

some 40 percent of the TCN

employees had sent their

spouses and children home

because of steeply rising

housing and education costs.

Other LE staff hailed from

conflict zones, so they did not

have that option.

Working with other posts

in the Gulf region, Mr. Smith

took the data he gathered to

the Bureau of Near Eastern

Affairs, to the Director General

and to the under secretary for

management, proposing that

the State Department define a

new standard for compensat-

ing LE staff at posts employ-

ing TCNs in an unfair labor

market.

Mr. Smith’s commitment

to this issue motivated other

sections at U.S. Embassy

Kuwait to research and

produce data about the dif-

ficulties faced by their TCNs,

including the problems faced

by all expatriates (includ-

ing Americans employed in

the local market) in holding

Kuwaiti citizen employers to

account for labor abuses.

Mr. Smith’s preparation

and encouragement to action

had an effect. The under

secretary for management

approved a Public Inter-

est Determination (a policy

exception) to create housing

and education allowances for

LE staff, and moved Kuwait to

the top of the list for the next

tranche of wage increases.

The result was a 22-per-

cent increase in salary, on

average, in addition to the new

allowances.With this, dozens

of LE staff families

have been reunited,

while productivity

and morale have

greatly improved.

In his acceptance

remarks, Mr. Smith

suggested that the

department should

establish minimum

standards below

which they simply

won’t go, regardless

of the prevailing practice in

any country.

“Our Foreign Service

depends on LE staff all around

the world,” Smith explained.

“We owe it to them, to the

Foreign Service, and to the

American people for whom

they work and sacrifice to

ensure that the most vulner-

able of our employees are paid

at least a living wage.”

Mr. Smith’s success in

Kuwait will serve as a model

as he and others continue to

fight for a more equitable way

to compensate employees

under these conditions.

Jefferson Smith has served

in Kuwait since 2014. As a

management-coned FSO, he

has had opportunities to serve

in consular, economic, political

and management functions in

six overseas assignments and

four regional bureaus, includ-

ing Kingston, Dar es Salaam

(twice), Yaoundé and Dublin,

as well asWashington, D.C. He

and his wife, Stacey, have five

children.

n

AFSA/JOAQUINSOSA

Jefferson Smith (second from right) meets with the local staff

committee members at U.S. Embassy Kuwait.

COURTESYOFJEFFERSONSMITH

AFSA CONSTRUCT I VE D I SSENT AWARDS

Jefferson Smith receives his award

from the Honorable Robert Rivkin,

son of the late Ambassador William

Rivkin.

Profiles of award recipients compiled by Gemma Dvorak.