By Shanta Roy
GENEVA (IDN) – A proposed salary cut – resulting from an “austerity agenda” – has triggered temporary work stoppages in UN offices in Geneva, Bangkok and Addis Ababa and is threatening to spread system-wide, including field operations.
The protest is led by three staff unions – the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA) and the United Nations International Civil Servants Federation (UNISERV) representing over 60,000 staffers worldwide – and is aimed primarily at the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC).
The ICSC is an independent 15-member expert body established by the UN General Assembly to regulate and coordinate conditions of service of UN staff.
In a letter to the Executive Heads of UN organizations and the President of the General Assembly, the three unions say: “It is with regret that we announce that staff have lost confidence in the independence and technical competency of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), following a series of failings.”
The letter dated February 22 urges them to support their calls for a process of substantive reforms. The austerity agenda, it adds, threatens to undermine the UN’s mission, particularly in the field, and potentially harms all staff and duty stations.
In recent times, the ICSC decisions have significantly reduced the salaries of general services and professional staff in places such as Cairo, New Delhi, Tokyo and Bangkok, as well as those on peacekeeping missions.
Depending on personal circumstances, it is anticipated that professional staff will also lose the equivalent of up to one month’s salary due to recent revisions to their compensation package; parents and those in field duty stations are most impacted.
“Improving the methods for reclassifying hardship, the unequal level of danger pay for local and international staff, and the absence of adequate protections for local staff against inflation and exchange rate fluctuations are examples of other important issues that we would like to address. Unfortunately, the ICSC is increasingly unwilling to find constructive solutions that benefit both staff and the UN,” the letter notes.
Ian Richards, President of the CCISUA based in Geneva, told IDN March 2: “We haven’t had any response from the ICSC, nor have they replied to a letter from the Secretary-General asking them to review their approach to certain cuts particularly in the field.”
He said there have already been work stoppages and staff around the world are asking for more. “We hope it won’t come to that because we want to find a solution to this.”
Richards also said the staff unions are very encouraged by the level of participation by staff around the world, from demonstrations and work stoppages to staff assemblies and gatherings. Participation was particularly high in the field, showing how staff who risk their lives daily have become fed up, he declared.
Staff also took photos of themselves holding up signs such as: “ICSC do you see your child every day,” “ICSC come join us in the field, in bunkers, in ditches,” “no confidence in the ICSC,” “no pay cuts”.
Richards said: “We are not opposed to reform of pay and conditions and the UN should offer value for money and be able to hire the best for the job. However, such reforms should not be arbitrary nor based on erroneous calculations inconsistent with prevailing economic data or political considerations.”
“That is why we are asking the Secretary-General to suspend implementation of pay cuts and help us reform how our pay and conditions are set so that staff can negotiate directly,” he added.
Asked about the protests, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters February 27: “I think reforming… the issue of reforming the ICSC is one that is not in the Secretary-General’s hands. I think people have grievances. They’re expressing themselves, and there are procedures through which they can continue to express themselves.”
The 15 members of the ICSC serve in their personal capacities. They are appointed by the General Assembly for four-year terms, with due regard for broad geographical representation. The Chairman and the Vice-Chairman are full-time members and are based in New York. The full Commission meets twice a year.
Meanwhile, in its letter, the staff unions also say: “We believe that the current crisis of transparency and credibility arises partly because of the ICSC’s outdated governance model and way of working.”
Specifically, the ICSC’s statutes and rules lack appropriate mechanisms to ensure the ICSC is responsive and accountable to the organisations and agencies to whom it serves. The letter reminds that this problem was particularly highlighted during discussions of the headquarter duty stations cost-of-living survey.
The ICSC neglected to formally communicate its recommendations to Executive Heads before publishing the results online in March 2017.
Furthermore: The ICSC negotiated in bad faith, reneging on an agreement reached at the July 2017 ICSC meeting to establish a tripartite working group to review the methodology and results.
The ICSC was consulted during the drafting of UN General Assembly resolution 72/255 in December 2017 that made inaccurate claims about the obligation to implement the ICSC’s recommendations combined with a misleading threat that failure to comply could have an impact on participation in the UN Pension Fund. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 March 2018]
Photo: Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA) and United Nations International Civil Servants Federation (UNISERV), along with statisticians, join the staff union in New York Headquarters. Credit: CCISUA
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