STAFF REPRESENTATIVES ADDRESS SALARY EQUITY, COMPETITIVENESS AS BUDGET COMMITTEE CONTINUES UN COMMON SYSTEM DEBATE

7 November 2001
GA/AB/3477

STAFF REPRESENTATIVES ADDRESS SALARY EQUITY, COMPETITIVENESS AS BUDGET COMMITTEE CONTINUES UN COMMON SYSTEM DEBATE

7/11/2001
Press ReleaseGA/AB/3477

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

25th Meeting (AM)

STAFF REPRESENTATIVES ADDRESS SALARY EQUITY, COMPETITIVENESS

AS BUDGET COMMITTEE CONTINUES UN COMMON SYSTEM DEBATE

As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) continued its consideration of the United Nations common system this morning, it heard addresses by representatives of two staff organizations:  the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA) and the Coordinating Committee for International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA) of the United Nations system.

The President of FICSA, Bernard P. Grandjean, drew the Committee’s attention to the long-standing need to restore competitiveness to United Nations system salaries, which still lagged behind those of other international organizations by as much as 50 per cent.  The pay gap of 32 per cent with United States federal civil service employees had never been closed, as well.

Noting that the key word for the pay system review had shifted from “simplification” to “flexibility”, he said that such a shift was not innocent and warranted scrutiny.  While the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) had linked the notion of flexibility to pay, contracts, staff and organizational needs, FICSA stressed that flexibility and accountability went hand in hand.  Innovations in civil service pay must not be permitted to degenerate into a

“grab bag of changes that provided higher salaries only to select few”.  Pay equity and competitiveness should remain the foundation of the United Nations pay system.   

The President of the CCISUA, Marlene Sequeira, highlighted areas of particular concern, including the pay and benefits system, contractual arrangements, mobility, assessment of managerial skills, security and safety and work/life questions.  The whole system of contractual arrangements needed to be tuned, she said, but not at the cost of losing the best staff.  The CCISUA has often witnessed incoherence and inconsistencies in granting contracts.  The contractual arrangements were yet to be considered by the ICSC with the full participation of staff representatives, who were firmly attached to a system that would be beneficial to the staff in the interests of the independence of the Secretariat and the Organization as a whole.

Continuing, she expressed concern that the criteria of mobility, as planned in the human resources reform, would become the determining factor for promotion, as opposed to competency, hard work, knowledge and institutional memory.  In that connection, she advocated determining incentives to promote mobility and stressed

the importance of the human element.  It was also necessary to further study the

fate of the General Service staff, who could not benefit from international transfers. 

Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Chile (on behalf of the Rio Group), Argentina and Syria.

The Committee will take up revised narratives of the proposed programme budget sections on Legal Affairs and the Office of Human Resources Management at 10 a.m. Thursday, 8 November.

Background

As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning it was expected to continue its consideration of the United Nations common system.  For background information see Press Release GA/AB/3476 dated 6 November.

Statements

JUAN EDWARDO EGUIGUREN (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, reaffirmed the importance of the common system and the crucial role played by the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) in coordinating conditions of employment.  In general, he supported the recommendations contained in the report.  Since the Organization’s staff was its most valuable resource, it was crucial to integrate the best staff into the United Nations common system.  The best possible conditions of service must be ensured, which would only be possible by offering competitive conditions in the labour market.  Last year, the ICSC had presented the framework for human resources management, which was a useful instrument for a modern human resource management system.

He agreed in principle with the updated Standards of Conduct, he continued.  The review of the pay and benefits system should also take into account the framework of human resources management, approved by the Assembly last year.  He stressed the need to defend the validity of the Flemming and Noblemaire principles for determining the conditions of service for General Service and Professional staff.  A modern system should be flexible and must provide sufficient guarantees to win the trust and dedication of its staff.

Contractual arrangements should be adapted to the times and attract the most competent staff, he said.  It was crucial to make flexibility and stability compatible.  The Group supported the need to create an inventory of the types of contracts currently in use.  He took note of the level of the margin between net compensation of international civil servants and United States federal employees and the fact that the figure for 2001 was below average.  Its evolution should be closely followed.  Regarding the strengthening of the common system, he reiterated that any review of mandate and composition of international public administration should enjoy the full participation of Member States to guarantee the transparency of the process.

GUILLERMO KENDALL (Argentina) said the work of the Commission had been fundamental to strengthening the common system and had led to concrete measures to strengthen conditions for staff and the payment system.  The review of the pay and benefits system was essential to modernizing human resources management.  He agreed with the need to tackle the elements of the pay and benefits system.  He shared the objectives of the review, including a more effective link between contribution and compensation.  It was also important to analyse the alternatives.  In modernizing the system, greater competitiveness and flexibility must be balanced against the stability of posts and preservation of institutional memory.  It was important that the organizations of the system actively participate in the process.

He said the updated Standards of Conduct had been achieved with the cooperation of the organizations of the system and staff representatives.  He was also concerned with the evolution of the net remuneration margin, which since 1997 had dropped, to the detriment to staff.  The Assembly should be updated on the latest developments in that area.  Proposals to review composition of the Commission should be transparent.

Addresses by Staff Representatives

MARLENE SEQUEIRA, President of the Coordinating Committee for International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA) of the United Nations system, said that having participated in the work of the fifty-third session of the ICSC in Montreal last June, she had conveyed to other staff representatives some of the discussions that had taken place there.  There were serious concerns regarding the issues of working at the United Nations as opposed to working for the foreign service; and the framework of the reform of human resources management, including the pay and benefits system, contractual arrangements, mobility, assessment of managerial skills, security and safety and work/life issues.

Working for the United Nations was a privilege, she continued, and yet some felt that the reform undertaken by the Secretary-General was being understood in a corporate spirit, which involved competitiveness, cost-effectiveness and performance-related pay.  It was essential to remember that the nature of the Organization was different from that of corporate culture.  It did not sell anything, and its work was based on the objectives of the Charter to achieve peace, eliminate poverty and discrimination, protect the environment and prepare a safer world for generations to come.  Those ideas were not quantifiable and could not be measured with the same criteria as those of the private world.  Thus, human resources reforms should be implemented in respect of the international spirit and the objectives of the Charter.

Regarding the pay and benefits system, she said that it was often forgotten that the staff represented the main assets of the Organization.  Their conditions of work had been eroded over the years, and employment was no longer as attractive as it had been 20 years before.  The aim of staff representatives was to participate at all levels of the discussion on issues related to the future of the Organization.  There would be no Organization if there were no motivated staff to make it work, and there would be no motivated staff if nothing were done to attract, keep and reward the best.

Continuing, she said that it was necessary to go back to basics and consider the objectives of recruitment.  The job requirements needed to be clearly identified and spelled out in the vacancy announcements.  The United Nations also needed competent managers, skilled and tested for their supervisory and managerial skills.  Recruitment and promotion must be implemented in the interest of the objectives of the Organization.  The United Nations needed a workable career development plan to identify the best managers within the workforce, before the managers were recruited outside.  Cutting costs or trimming the budget did not present a solution.  The first step was to have a strategy which would involve not only money, but also the knowledge of people and their motivation.

If staff members must move around the common system, to enable the Organization to benefit from their competencies, the benefits offered to them must be commensurate with their willingness to participate in the objectives of the Organization.  It was also important to consider the issues of mobility of older staff members, who were less willing to move around, yet possessed invaluable experience.  What should be done to retain them for the benefit of the Organization?

Another important notion was that of social needs, she continued, which were different in various parts of the world.  Applying a single structure everywhere would not work.  There was no need to hasten the implementation of any pay and benefit system without carefully considering all possible avenues.  It was important to keep in mind the need to recruit and retain the best workforce, while the competition was ferocious outside.  All reform measures must also respect the independence of the Secretariat.  The staff of the United Nations was strongly attached to it and would defend it firmly.

On the contractual arrangements, she said that CCISUA was often contacted by staff representatives who witnessed incoherence and inconsistencies when it came to granting contracts.  The whole system definitely needed to be tuned, but not at the cost of losing the best staff members.  There again, the independence of the Secretariat was the bedrock of the Organization, and for decades, permanent contracts had guaranteed it.  The issue was yet to be considered by the ICSC with the full participation of staff representatives, who were firmly attached to a system of contractual arrangements that would be beneficial to the staff in the interests of the independence of the Secretariat and the Organization as a whole.

Regarding mobility, she said that CCISUA members feared that its criteria, as planned in the human resources reform, would become the determining factor for promotion eligibility, as opposed to competency, hard work, knowledge and institutional memory.  Incentives must be determined to promote mobility, and she insisted on the importance of the human element.  It was necessary to further study the fate of the General Service staff, who could not benefit from international transfers.  She advocated inter-agency moves, field missions and any other proposals that would rekindle general staff morale. 

She went on to stress the need to put in place a clear system to respond to the health, safety and security of staff, which should include:  concrete measures to enhance security on the ground; promotion of the Organization’s image; and efforts in favour of locally recruited staff who, in certain organizations, represented more than 70 per cent of the workforce.  The argument that their national governments were supposed to protect them did not hold any longer.  There must never be cost-savings when it came to security of staff.

BERNARD P. GRANDJEAN, President of the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA), supported the proposed increase in the base/floor salary scale, effective 1 March 2001.  However, he wanted to draw the Committee’s attention to the long-standing need to restore competitiveness to United Nations system salaries, which still lagged behind those of other international organizations by as much 50 per cent.  He also recalled that the comparator’s pay gap of 32 per cent with the private sector had never been closed.  He also supported the recommended staff assessment rates as set out in the ICSC report.

The FICSA supported the new salary scales for General Service staff in Rome, he continued, but it was also necessary to reintegrate the language factor into the calculations for that duty station, according to the judgement of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Administrative Tribunal.  He hoped that in future consultations through working groups, such as that for the review of the pay and benefits system, decisions based on consensus would be respected.  It was also important to fully respect the Standards of Conduct and familiarize all staff with their provisions.

On contractual arrangements, he said that a proper balance between career and time-limited appointments was required, which would ensure loyalty, independence and impartiality of staff.  The net remuneration margin between United Nations staff and that of United States federal civil service employees remained problematic, and he strongly urged Member States to address that long-standing issue.  Recent increases in post adjustment across the headquarters duty stations were welcome.  However, post adjustment was intended to provide purchasing power parity across duty stations.  It was not intended to compensate for inadequate base salaries that did not attract or help retain high-quality staff.  The FICSA fully participated in the review of the pay and benefits system, supporting at the same time the need to continue the regular biennial review of allowances.

Noting that the key word for the pay system review had shifted from “simplification” to “flexibility”, he said that such a shift was not innocent and warranted scrutiny, particularly when it came to such innovations as “broadbanding” and “Senior Executive Service”.   The Commission had linked the notion of flexibility to pay, contracts, staff and organizational needs.  Flexibility and accountability went hand in hand.  Innovations in civil service must not be permitted to degenerate into a grab bag of changes that provided higher salaries only to a select few.  The international civil service was based on equity, and the foundations of its pay system should remain pay equity and competitiveness.

He hoped future consultations would be based on consensus and respect for all parties, he said.  Member States should call for the application of universally accepted labour rights within international organizations and their incorporation into the rules and regulations of all common system organizations.  It was also important to develop new modalities for effective staff-management consultations and full staff participation in decisions on human resources issues.  To strengthen the international civil service, the Federation also called on Member States to carry through on the request to review the mandate, membership and functioning of the ICSC as an integral component of the reform process under way.

ABDOU AL-MOULA NAKKARI (Syria), noting that the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) had not issued a report on the ICSC report and the statement of financial implications, requested that it do so by Friday.

The Committee’s Acting Chairman, JOHN ORR (Canada), said that the matter would be taken up with the Chairman of the Advisory Committee.

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For information media. Not an official record.