Here is the second of the Living in Nyon interviews with influential individuals who live in the La Côte area. See previous interview with Daniel Rossellat (Nyon mayor and head of Paléo) here.
Here we speak to Philip Jennings – Jennings, Welshman, rugby lover and former volunteer firefighter – was listed in Bilan magazine as one of the 300 most influential people in Switzerland. Posting regularly to the social networking site Twitter, he has over 70,000 readers following his account – @PJenningsUNI.
Philip Jennings is the General Secretary of UNI Global Union, an organisation with over 20 million members, representing 900 unions in over 150 countries and with its head office in Nyon. In May 2013 UNI Global Union was at the centre of worldwide press coverage, as the “Bangladesh Safety Accord ”, a legally binding agreement by major US and European clothes manufacturers to raise safety standards in Bangladesh factories, was negotiated in Nyon by both UNI Global union and Industriall.
Read on to find out more about Uni Global Union, about the “Nyon Spring” in 2011 (the threatened closure of the Novartis factory in Prangins), the Bangladeshi safety accord which was signed in Nyon, how Jennings became a Swiss citizen, and details of the upcoming public debate organised by Uni Global Union in Nyon on October 3rd.
Photo above: Philip Jennings outside the Buffet de la Gare in Céligny
Living in Nyon went to meet Philip Jennings over lunch at Buffet de la Gare in Céligny earlier this year. This restaurant was an appropriate venue for an interview; it used to be the favourite watering hole of the Welsh-born actor Richard Burton. Burton lived and died in the village, and his final resting place is in the graveyard in Céligny. Read more about Richard Burton and his time in Switzerland here.
We began by asking Jennings about his firefighter role.
“I live in Cheserex and back in 1986 I used to play football with a local team. As the guys in the team were also in the fire brigade, they sent the captain round to my house one night to sign me up. He appeared at my door wearing a uniform covered with medals – at first I mistakenly thought he’d come round to enlist me in the Swiss army! Once I realised what it was all about, I signed up, but I’m not sure how useful I was. Initially when a fire started, the alarm would ring out across the village and the pompiers [firefighters] who were closest to the fire would get there as fast they could. The system then changed to a call-out system by phone. As I was often travelling or at work I didn’t get too many calls, but I do like to think that during my time there I helped a little.”
Helping the community, whether on a local basis or on a global one, is what drives Jennings. A sense of justice and doing what’s right is at the very core of his work. Having just returned from Zimbabwe, he showed me a photo on his phone of a badly beaten Zimbabwean worker.
“I keep it on there to remind me that situations like his and of many others continue around the globe. Workers who protest, purely because they want fair working conditions or simply to be a member of a union, can be subjected to all sorts of pressure and violence.
“I’m proud that from UNI Global Union right here in Nyon we can step in and help in various ways. We can respond quickly to such situations, we can give messages of reassurance, intervene and let them know they are not alone. Sometimes it’s as simple as embarrassing the employer into changing their attitude, policies or anti-union stance. We’ve achieved a lot so far yet there’s still much to do. Some multinational companies still don’t see the benefits of having good management/employee relationships and working practices.
Photo above: The Uni Global Union building in the centre of Nyon
Hear Philip Jennings on Euronews – “Retailers back safety initiatives in Bangladesh factories”
“Here in Switzerland union representation is not bad, but there’s an increasing problem in the country on the intimidation of people elected by the union. The protections in Switzerland are not in compliance with global standards. Union representation is strong in the public sector, in industry and in construction, but representation in the financial sector could be better.”
The “Nyon Spring”
A great example of how the influence of unions, plus discussions with management, can work together to provide a solution that is acceptable to all, was shown with the relatively recent threatened closure of the Novartis factory in Prangins. The closure and subsequent loss of jobs not only would have been extremely detrimental to the town, but it was also completely unnecessary. The factory was profitable and had a good future in Nyon.
The community rallied around, as the workers and the unions came out in force on one day to protest. It was even labelled the “Printemps Nyonnais”. Thankfully Novartis completely reversed its position, the factory remains open and one year later they have a completely new policy. They are continuing to invest in Nyon, so this is all great news for the town. Such a happy conclusion doesn’t always happen elsewhere.
Photos above: Protests against the Novartis closure in Nyon 2011, by many members of the community.
Jennings has a heavy travel schedule in the course of his work.
“I visit Japan one a year, and I attend the World Economic Forum at Davos. It’s a great opportunity to meet world leaders, and we can get a lot of work done under one roof. I travel to Latin America twice a year, and I try to visit the USA, Africa and Australia at least once during a twelve-month period. There’s really no lull in the rhythm of work, and working on a global basis means that if I’m not careful I could be working seven days a week.”
This work pattern is in total contrast to the working life of his own parents growing up in Wales.
“My mother worked in a shop and my father worked on the night shift in a car factory. He would leave every night at 17.00 to go to work. His routine never altered, and there was a definite sense of a weekend to his and our lives back then. With my current travel schedule and work pattern the lines have become blurred, but I’m careful to manage it all and look after my health. I exercise early in the morning before leaving for the office. It’s always a full day when I’m in Nyon, although I do try to leave the building by 19:00. If I see anyone else still working late I tell them to go home. Balancing work and home life is important. I’ve also insisted on a morning coffee/tea break for staff. I encourage them to leave their office and meet other staff during this time. Perhaps it’s my one British influence on the organisation, but I feel it’s important that employees take the time to chat and discuss issues face to face instead of endless email communication.”
In 2005 Jennings was diagnosed with throat cancer. After an operation and a course of radiotherapy he is now recovered. “If I was determined to achieve many things before, I’m even more determined now. My sense of purpose of doing the right thing has been strengthened in the knowledge that every day counts.”
Regarding his own safety when entering into potentially combative situations, he says:
“There are times when it’s been tricky in countries such as Colombia, South Korea or Nigeria, but what I occasionally experience is nothing in comparison to the threats and intimidation that workers and elected union members around the world can encounter on a daily basis.
“Outside work, I like to help on a personal level by sending Twitter messages of support to many people in difficult situations around the world. The protests earlier this year in Turkey are a case in point. I was at home one Saturday night a few weeks ago and I started to see thousands of messages coming through from Turkey, many of them asking: ‘Does the world know what’s happening to us?’ I responded with one Tweet in support and in return received messages and images, all telling me about the rubber bullets and the protests. Just getting into a dialogue with them gives them a sense of not being alone.”
UNIGlobal Union, situated a few hundred metres from Nyon railway station, was purpose-built for the organisation in the town – on time and under budget.
“UNIGlobal Union was the result of the merger of four organisations: FIET (International Federation of Employees, technicians and managers), MEI (Media and Entertainment International), IGF (International Graphical Federation) and CI (Communications International, formally PTTI). When we merged we needed a new home. We were initially in Geneva, where we had a piece of land on which we wanted to construct a brand new building. But we knew the wheels of development run very slowly in Geneva. It would have taken over 10 years to build! So when someone told us there was available land in Nyon we investigated further. I realised then that this current location would be perfect for our needs. It was near all the good transport links, and in addition Nyon council and the canton of Vaud were very open and welcoming to us. So we went ahead. The building was constructed on time and under budget. We now have an excellent office space with a large conference centre, interpreting booths and media centre. There are nearly 50 staff working here (around 25 nationalities among them), and about 200 in the building itself. Funding for our organisation comes from members fees from around the world – it costs just two francs a year to be a member.”
In October 3rd the conference centre in the UNI Global Union building will be the venue for the 4th edition of the “What Next?” debate.
Note to readers – These debates are open to the public and held in French but there will be simultaneous translation facilities available on the evening.
“These debates are a way to open the doors of UNI Global Union to the general public and the local community. It’s an opportunity for them to have their say. In addition, a variety of important players in various fields are invited to speak to discuss the issues on the agenda. Our first debate focused on Corporate and Social Responsibility. The second debate was on the growth of the Lac Léman region. Leaders from Copenhagen and Utrecht were invited to speak on their experience in city growth and how to manage it. Our third debate was focused on young people”.
The next debate on October 3rd will be entitled ‘Liberty and Security’. How safe do people feel in today’s age; how do you define security; what do people feel threatened by? This debate will be held in the evening, which we hope will enable even more members of the public to engage in the conversation.” More details of this debate coming up on this site.
In 2009 Jennings became a Swiss citizen and was proud on the day he attended the ceremony to confirm his citizenship. The application process was not without its humorous points.
“The day before my official interview (when I knew I would be asked a lot of questions and facts about the country and this area), I decided to conduct a final bit of research by heading off to the Abbey of Bonmont near my village. I thought I might be asked at what height the Abbey was situated. I was hunting around for a plaque or a sign with such information but I couldn’t see anything. So I asked a woman nearby reading a book in the Abbey grounds if she knew the height of the abbey. She turned round to me, smiled, and said: ‘Don’t worry, I won’t be asking you that question tomorrow.’ It transpired she was going to be part of the citizenship interview committee! I love it that so many things here are decided on a local and communal level. I was very pleased the day I could vote in Switzerland. I don’t want to be disenfranchised; I want to use my vote.
“I very much feel part of the community here and have watched Nyon develop and change over the years, a lot of it for the better. I live in the area, and my wife is a teacher at La Chataignerie. I try to attend local festivals and local events. Having said all that, there’s a small part of me that will always have a passion for Wales, particularly during rugby matches. There’s a Welsh expression called Hyraeth. It’s difficult to define, and it certainly can’t be translated into French – but it means a sense of yearning for one’s homeland. I do have Hyraeth, but essentially Switzerland for me is home and I hope it stays that way.”