The Foreign Service Journal, September 2016

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.