Budget Committee Takes Up Report of International Civil Service Commission; End-of-Service Severance, Changes to Retirement Age among Issues

20 October 2009
GA/AB/3922

Budget Committee Takes Up Report of International Civil Service Commission; End-of-Service Severance, Changes to Retirement Age among Issues

20 October 2009
General Assembly
GA/AB/3922
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

7th Meeting (AM)

Budget Committee Takes Up Report of International Civil Service Commission;

End-of-Service Severance, Changes to Retirement Age among Issues

Discussing a variety of questions involving the United Nations common system this morning, members of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) and representatives of concerned organizations considered, among other things:  proposed introduction of end-of-service severance pay for staff on fixed-term contracts; possible changes to the mandatory retirement age; salary adjustments in New York and other duty stations; job evaluation standards for General Service and related categories; base/floor salary scale and evolution of the margin; and gender balance in staffing.

Two issues received particular attention from today’s speakers:  the recommendation to provide an end-of-service severance payment for fixed-term staff separating from the Organization upon completion of their contracts, if they had served continuously for 10 years; and a change in the mandatory age of retirement.

On the latter, the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) had considered proposals to extend the mandatory age of separation to 62 for all staff as of 1 January 2012, without prejudice to the acquired right of eligible staff to retire at 60, and the possibility of raising the mandatory age of separation to 65 for all staff members once the Pension Fund had completed its actuarial study in 2010, but had been unable to make a concrete recommendation, at this time.

During its initial review of the matter, it concluded that the complexity of issues that would be affected by such a change, ranging from rejuvenation of the Secretariat and vacancy rates, to career development and succession planning, required further study.  To that end, the ICSC had requested its secretariat, in cooperation with the organizations of the common system and the Pension Fund, to prepare a comprehensive report to be considered at the ICSC’s seventy-second session in 2011.

Introducing the Commission’s report, Wolfgang Stockl, its Vice-Chairman, said that end-of-service severance pay would not only address the issue of inequitable treatment of staff, but also facilitate the acceptance of fixed-term contracts by prospective staff and non-extension of such contracts by the Organization.  Thus, it would allow more flexibility in attaining an appropriate mix of continuing and fixed-term appointments.

On that subject, the representatives of Japan and the United States recalled that, last year, the General Assembly had decided, in resolution 63/250, that “there shall be no expectations, legal or otherwise, of renewal or conversion of a fixed-term contract, irrespective of the length of service”.  Reflecting upon the discussion and decision by the Assembly to date, Japan could not find, among any of the reasons enumerated by the Commission, valid grounds for introducing end-of-service severance pay for fixed-term staff whose contracts were not renewed.  The United States delegate noted that the legal obligations of the United Nations to individual staff members ended with the expiration of their contracts.

The representative of the United Nations International Civil Servants Federation (UNISERV), speaking on the matter, objected to the proposal’s requirement that only those fixed-term staff members with 10 years of continuous service receive severance payments, noting that once the new contractual framework was fully implemented, there would be very few fixed-term staff left who met that requirement.  The current recommendation was entirely incompatible with the concept of One United Nations.  In fact, it created two distinct payment schedules within the common system.

Concurring, the representative of the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA) said that end-of-service severance pay for fixed-term staff could help address the inequity in the treatment of longer-serving staff, in that those on continuing contracts could receive up to 12 months base salary if terminated, while those on fixed-term contracts received no payment if not renewed.

The representative of UNISERV also expressed disappointment at the deferment of a decision on the mandatory age of retirement.  “An effective staff member possesses both competence and experience, the latter of which is at least partly acquired through service in the Organization”, he said.  Further, bringing in increasingly younger staff might create retention problems.  The lack of opportunities for promotion could result in departures, thus, denying the Organization the opportunity to rebuild fresh institutional knowledge.

China’s delegate also cautioned against hastily changing the age of separation.  While such a change might have an advantage in maintaining the stability of the composition of the Secretariat staff, it might also have a negative impact on new recruitment and competitiveness among staff members, she said.

The Russian Federation representative said that changing the mandatory retirement age could affect, among other things, gender balance and geographic distribution.  A whole number of issues on final career stages must also take into account the actuarial review of the Pension Fund.  Given the current financial situation of the Fund, he saw no grounds for a rise in the mandatory retirement age.

Also speaking this morning were representatives of:   Sudan, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China; Sweden, on behalf of the European Union; New Zealand, speaking also on behalf of Canada and Australia; Bangladesh; and Mexico.

Reports were also introduced by the Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division, and the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).

The President of the Coordinating Committee for International Staff Unions and Associations also addressed the Committee.

The Fifth Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 23 October, for a discussion on improving the financial situation of the United Nations.

Background

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to consider various questions relating to the United Nations common system, including the latest recommendations of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC).

The common system represents common standards, methods and arrangements applied to salaries, allowances and benefits for the staff of the United Nations, those specialized agencies that have entered into a relationship with the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and a number of other international organizations.  Covering over 52,000 staff members at various duty stations, the system is designed to avoid serious discrepancies in terms and conditions of employment and to facilitate the interchange of personnel.

The ICSC, in its annual report for the year 2009 (document A/64/30), presents its recommendation that all organizations align their termination indemnity schedules, as well as the eligibility provisions for the repatriation and death grants, with those applicable in the United Nations.  The ICSC also recommends that an end-of-service severance pay for fixed-term staff separating after 10 or more years of service be introduced in those organizations which have adopted the new contractual framework.

The Commission also recommends, for Assembly’s approval with effect from 1 January 2010, the base/floor salary scale for the Professional and higher categories.  The report draws the Assembly’s attention to the fact that the margin between the net remuneration of United Nations staff in grades P-1 to D-2 in New York and that of the United States federal civil service in Washington, D.C., for the period from 1 January to 31 December 2009, stands at 113.8.  The average margin level for the past five years (2005-2009) amounts to 113.6.

In connection with the Senior Management Network, the Commission decided to report to the Assembly that the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) had discontinued further work on the matter.  While work on the Network itself has made little headway since it was approved by the High-level Committee on Management on behalf of the CEB in 2004, work continued on the development of the leadership development programme that would underpin it.  At the sixty-ninth session of the Commission, the Human Resources Network reported that the newly redesigned programme, now entitled “United Nations Leaders Programme:  Developing Strategic Leaders”, had been rolled out by the United Nations Staff College in May 2009, meeting the aims and objectives of the Senior Management Network.  The Human Resources Network, therefore, concluded that direct CEB involvement in managing a separate network is no longer required.

The ICSC also considered several proposals by the CEB Human Resources Network in connection with the possibility of changing the mandatory age of separation.  Those recommendations included a proposal that the age of separation for all current staff members be set at 62 by 1 January 2012.  Staff currently eligible to retire at 60 would retain that right with full retirement benefits or remain in service until the age of 62.  The Human Resources Network further informed the Commission that a few organizations had expressed concern about the proposal owing to current operational requirements.  In addition, the Human Resources Network agreed to review the possibility of raising the mandatory age of separation to 65 for all staff members once the Pension Fund had completed its actuarial study in 2010.

In connection with those proposals, the Commission requested its secretariat, in cooperation with the organizations and the Pension Fund, to prepare a comprehensive report on the possibility of changing the mandatory age of separation, taking account of various implications in the human resources and pension areas, such as geographical distribution, rejuvenation of the workforce, career development, the actuarial situation of the Pension Fund, and the financial situation of the organizations.  The ICSC intends to revert to the issue at its seventy-second session.

Among other issues considered by the Commission were gender balance within the common system and review of the standards of conduct.  On yet another question, the Commission decided to request its secretariat to include in its next biennial report information on the implementation of contractual arrangements in organizations and the harmonization of the conditions of service.

On General Service and related categories of staff, the Commission decided to approve a new job evaluation system, consisting of a master standard and grade level descriptors.  It also approved a new definition of General Service work, as well as changes to the Common Classification of Occupational Groups.  The ICSC secretariat was requested to finalize work on the new job description format, a glossary and written guidelines in the use of the system, as well as benchmark post descriptions, and to present the final elements at the Commission’s seventieth session for final promulgation of the standard.

Another report before the Committee details the administrative and financial implications of the decisions and recommendations of the International Civil Service Commission on the common system (document A/64/358), which would amount to $2.59 million for the budget of the United Nations, $280,700 for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and $112,600 for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for the biennium 2010-2011.  The recommendations and decisions of the Commission that have budget implications will be reflected in the recosting of the proposed budget estimates prior to the Assembly’s action on the budget in December 2009.

In particular, the report details the Commission’s decisions with regard to end-of-service severance pay for staff under fixed-term appointments and separation payments for staff in the Professional and higher categories.

For staff under fixed-term appointments, the ICSC proposed an “end-of-service severance pay” package to longer-serving staff separating from organizations involuntarily upon expiration of their contracts.  Deemed to be less than the amounts that would be required if buy-out packages were to be offered, this compensation package would be intended solely as severance pay to assist separating staff during their search for alternative employment.  Moreover, it should not be construed as giving any expectancy, legal or otherwise, for the renewal of a fixed-term contract or its conversion to a continuing appointment.  The annual financial implications resulting from the introduction of an end-of-service severance pay have been estimated by the Commission to be approximately $4.6 million system-wide.

The financial implications of the above recommendation for the proposed programme budget of the United Nations and the proposed budgets for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for the biennium 2010-2011 have been estimated at $2.1 million, $214,200, and $30,700, respectively.

Another decision of the Commission relates to the combined effect of the gross salary increases and tax changes in the United States, which resulted in the comparator’s reference salary (GS-13/GS-14 salary levels) being 3.04 per cent higher than the net salary of a P-4/VI in the current United Nations base/floor salary scale, as of 1 January 2009, as compared with the 2008 levels.  In accordance with the approved procedures and past practices, that would call for an upward adjustment of 3.04 per cent in the common system salary scale for staff in the Professional and higher categories, as from 1 January 2010, to be implemented through the standard method of consolidating post adjustment multiplier points on a no-loss/no-gain basis.  The annual financial implications of such an adjustment have been estimated at about $1.45 million system-wide (in respect of separation payments), with no financial implications for duty stations with low post adjustment that would otherwise fall below the level of the new base/floor.

For 2010-2011, the financial implications of that recommendation would amount to $493,600 for the United Nations; $66,500 for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; and $81,900 for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

In connection with end-of-service severance pay and separation payments proposed by the ICSC,the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), in a related report (document A/64/7/Add.2), states that it remains unclear why a comparison is being made between the amounts that would be required if buy-out packages were to be offered and those that could be incurred in connection with end-of-service severance payments upon the expiration of contracts.

Further, the Advisory Committee points out that estimated costs, which are based on past trends, will be subject to change because, under the new contractual framework, staff on assignments of limited duration will be converted to fixed-term contracts.  It will also be affected by the actual number of conversions of fixed-term contracts to continuing contracts in connection with the new contractual framework.  The proposed adjustment of the base/floor salary scale for staff in the Professional and higher categories would also have an impact on the amount of financial resources required.

The Advisory Committee has no objection to the Secretary-General’s approach with respect to separation payments for staff in the Professional and higher categories, in that these requirements will be reflected in the recosting of the proposed budget estimates for the biennium 2010-2011.

Introduction of Documents

Presenting the report of the ICSC, WOLFGANG STOCKL, Vice-Chairman of the Commission, said that “a strengthened United Nations firmly anchored in the twenty-first century and which is effective, coherent and accountable” was the Secretary-General’s articulation of his vision of the Organization.  Indeed, it was everybody’s dream and the goal towards which the ICSC had focused its work during the past year.

On the review of separation payments, he said that introduction of end-of-service severance would not only address the issue of inequitable treatment of staff, but also facilitate the acceptance of fixed-term contracts by prospective staff and non-extension of such contracts by the Organization.  Therefore, it would allow more flexibility in attaining an appropriate mix of continuing and fixed-term appointments.  It would also reflect the realities of the international civil service, where, for budgetary and other reasons, governing bodies could impose limitations on the use of continuing appointments, not necessarily related to the continuity of functions performed by the affected staff.  Introducing the end-of-service pay, as recommended in the report, would cost an estimated $4.6 million per annum, system-wide.  The Commission would, of course, keep the introduction of the new arrangements under close review.

On the review of job evaluation standards for General Service and related categories, he said that reforming those standards had long been a priority for the Commission.  A technical working group comprising members of staff from six common system organizations, staff representatives and representatives from the secretariats of the CEB and the ICSC had been established to assess the impact of changes in the work of staff and to develop a global job evaluation standard, which would replace the eight classification regimes currently applied across the system.  The structure of the proposed standard and details relating to its use were set out in the report before the Committee.  Some technical details remained to be fine-tuned, and their completion was being coordinated.  The Commission was planning to promulgate the standard at its next session in spring 2010, on the understanding that all the necessary features would then be present for smooth implementation.

Among other things, the Commission had also approved the agenda for the thirty-second session of the Advisory Committee on Post Adjustment Questions (ACPAQ), and it was anticipated that the Committee would submit its final recommendations regarding methodological issues and practical arrangements in connection with the upcoming round of surveys at the next session of the ICSC, he said.  There might also be some modifications to the operational rules underlying the post adjustment system, after concerns expressed by some organizations about the evolution of net take-home pay of Professional staff at some European duty stations were examined.  In its continuing efforts to improve communications with organizations and staff federations, the ICSC secretariat had put in place a new system that provided detailed reports of annual reviews of post adjustment classifications of duty stations.  The secretariat was fully engaged in preparations for the 2010 round of cost-of-living surveys.

SHARON VAN BUERLE, Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division, then introduced the Secretary-General’s statement on the administrative and financial implications of the decisions and recommendations of the ICSC.

SUSAN MCLURG, Chair of the ACABQ, then introduced that body’s report.

In connection with the end-of-service severance pay, she clarified paragraph 14 of the Advisory Committee’s report, that the conversion of staff on assignments of limited duration to fixed-term contracts under the new contractual arrangement would not have any impact on the estimate for the 2010-2011 period.  It clearly might, in future bienniums, should the Assembly endorse the recommendation of the Commission to establish end-of-service severance pay.

Statements by Staff Associations

Addressing the Committee, EDMOND MOBIO, President of the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA), supported the proposal to extend the mandatory age of separation to 62 for all staff, without prejudice to the acquired right of eligible staff to retire at 60.  The decision to retire or to continue service should not be left to the discretionary authority of the executive head and should rest solely with the staff member concerned.  The FICSA would also call for a further review to increase the mandatory age of separation to 65 for all staff, following the completion of the actuarial study by the Pension Fund in 2010 and a decision by the Pension Board in that regard.  The FICSA noted that the Commission would continue to study that issue based on a comprehensive report prepared by its secretariat.

Turning to the standards of conduct for the international civil service, he said that FICSA had solicited comments from its membership and identified certain areas, which indicated that a review of the standards should be carried out.  Those included:  protection of whistle-blowers from retaliation; identification of what constituted abuse of authority; privacy laws; and language that would ensure that internal justice systems would remain fair and balanced.  The FICSA, therefore, supported the decision of the Commission to undertake an initial review of the standards, in conjunction with the organizations and staff, and to define areas that might need updating.

The FICSA welcomed the ICSC’s decision to ask the organizations to harmonize their termination indemnity schedules, he continued.  However, it considered that the schedule should be based solely on the length of service and should not vary depending on the contract type held by a staff member.  The FICSA also welcomed the introduction of end-of-service severance pay for fixed-term staff.  That could help address the inequity in the present treatment of longer-serving staff, in that those on continuing or fixed-term contracts could receive payment of up to 12 months base salary if terminated, while those on fixed-term contracts receive no payment if not renewed.  The FICSA did not agree that eligibility for severance pay should be after 10 or more years of service and requested that the Fifth Committee give consideration to reducing the eligibility requirement to five years.  That would address the needs of the International Criminal Tribunals and other bodies whose mandates were limited in time and whose staff did not now -- and would not in the future -- benefit from either a termination indemnity or an end-of-service grant, because they had fewer than 10 years of service.

Continuing, he noted the Commission’s work on the base/floor salary scale and margin and requested that a one-time adjustment be made to restore the margin to 115 for grades P-3 through P-5.  On gender balance, he said that FICSA did not consider that the establishment of a roster of qualified women would be cost-effective, owing to the current low utilization and success rate of the rosters in use today, and also would not be useful in the absence of robust strategic workforce planning, serious action by managers and effective implementation of work/life policies.  The FICSA, thus, supported the Commission’s decision not to recommend the establishment of a roster and agreed with its other decisions on that issue.

With regard to the predictability and stability of remuneration, particularly in field duty stations, FICSA was strongly disappointed that the Commission felt that no further studies were needed or warranted, he continued.  The FICSA had been an active participant in the working groups on the just evaluation standard for General Service staff and related categories and had presented a conference room paper to the Commission, stressing that the job evaluation system should not be promulgated until all the supporting elements were complete.  The FICSA requested that those elements be completed before the job evaluation system was approved and implemented.

In conclusion, he said that FICSA welcomed the recommendations of the High-Level Committee on Management Steering Committee on security and safety for United Nations staff, especially the recommendation to extend the security-related entitlements and benefits outlined in the Field Security Handbook related to Minimum Operating Residential Security Standards (MORSS) to national personnel, subject to a security risk assessment by the Department of Safety and Security.

CHRISTOPHER LAND-KAZLAUSKAS, President of the Coordinating Committee for International Staff Unions and Associations of the United Nations (CCISUA), drew attention to the issue of safety and security of staff, saying that among CCISUA’s members, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) alone had lost nine staff members this year.  While the subject of staff safety and security had not figured directly into the ICSC’s workplan this year, consideration had been given to that matter in a number of inter-agency forums, serving as a backdrop for everything that took place in the common system.  The Assembly must acknowledge that the threats facing United Nations staff were different and more immediate than those facing staff of other international organizations.  Both state and non-state actors continued to attack the United Nations and its staff with impunity.  He called upon the Member States to ensure that those who carried out the work of the Organization were afforded the protection that was required by the Charter.  “We cannot fulfil the mandate of the Organization if we must work in fear for our lives”, he said.

Turning to end-of-service payments, he said that a research paper commissioned by the Federation had shown that 18 of 22 Member States that had been surveyed in all regions had some form of severance payment to staff who had worked on an equivalent of a continuing contract.  International Labour Organization (ILO) research had shown that such measures had the effect of balancing flexibility and adaptability with the security needed by employees.  Where the United Nations differed from most national civil services was that approximately 80 per cent of its staff were on fixed-term appointments, due to limitations placed almost two decades ago on the use of permanent contracts by the Assembly.  United Nations staff had not been given the choice of having the protections available to Member States nationals.  Only last year, the Assembly had approved a new contractual framework, but that would still leave staff who had been faithfully serving the Organization without normal protection on expiry of a long series of contracts.

While appreciative of the support to the separation payments from the ICSC, he believed that separation payments should be payable upon expiration of contracts after five years of continuing service to the Organization, he said.  In the United Nations context, that would have the effect of increasing the Organization’s ability to both attract and retain capable staff, while leading to increased mobility.

Referring to the mention in the report that the comparator (the United States federal civil service) had no termination indemnity, severance pay and end-of-service bonus for staff who served on term appointments, he pointed to a considerable difference between the United Nations and the United States in that regard.  In contrast to the United Nations, in the United States federal civil service, nine out of every 10 employees were on permanent appointments.

As for the cost, the end-of-service payments came at zero cost upfront and would only entail costs when they were used.  He firmly believed that the alternative, while perhaps seeming like cost-savings now, would have much greater financial implications in the future.  The issue related not only to staff, but to the continuing mission of the United Nations.  For example, the lead-up to the forthcoming downsizing initiatives at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had led to an increase in attrition, to the point that the Office of the Prosecutor had found itself unable to commence one trial, as the whole trial team had left the Organization.  At the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where major downsizing would not commence until next year, the attrition rate had increased dramatically.  Unfortunately, with each passing day, the situation at the Tribunals became more and more of a case study in how not to engage in effective and socially responsible downsizing.

The end-of-service grant would offer some job security that would reduce attrition and could only be seen as an essential tool for managing human resources; for balancing flexibility and security in a rapidly changing global environment.  The call for severance pay was not intended to increase staff costs or gain “yet another” entitlement for staff.  It had been put forward in the interest of the United Nations, as its goal was to guarantee the permanence, loyalty and independence of the international civil service.

He went on to support the proposal to raise the mandatory age of separation to 62, without infringing on the acquired rights of staff engaged prior to 1990 to retire with full benefits, should they so wish.  He also supported future consideration of increasing the retirement age.  However, the choice of whether to stay beyond the normal retirement age should be at the discretion of the staff member, and no mandatory extension should be imposed.

On gender balance, he said that women continued to be underrepresented at senior levels and overrepresented in the junior ranks.  More resources needed to be allocated to the important issue of gender and diversity.  It would be much easier to achieve gender parity and diversity if efforts were made to identify and develop internal talent, including women in the General Service and national Professional categories.  The Organization also needed to pay attention to the issue facing women of child-bearing age.  A roster was not likely to fix the fundamental barriers to the hiring, promotion and retention of women.

With regard to the evolution of the United Nations/United States net remuneration margin, the CCISUA noted that the margin had consistently fallen below the desired midpoint for many years -- and well below the midpoint for the vast majority of Professional staff.  All efforts should be undertaken to bring the base floor margin to the desired midpoint of 115 for all staff.

He added that the CCISUA had been a partner in the work on the General Service job evaluation standard.  Considerable progress had been made.  He welcomed the Commission’s decision to adopt a cautious approach.  It was important that all elements of the system were finalized and in place before the standards were approved and promulgated by the ICSC.

CLAUDE JUMET, Vice-President of the United Nations International Civil Servants Federation (UNISERV), speaking on end-of-service severance pay, said that United Nations staff members were not eligible for unemployment in their home countries and could lose their professional identities and networks upon returning home after having developed careers as multi-skilled United Nations employees.  The ICSC recommendation’s requirement of “at least ten years of continuous service” did not support the concepts of “harmonization of conditions of service”, and discouraged inter-agency mobility, he said.

In addition, he said that there would be very few staff left with fixed-term contracts, once the new contractual framework was fully implemented, with 10 years of continuous service.  The introduction of end-of-service severance pay, as recommended, was entirely incompatible with the concept of One United Nations.  In fact, it created two distinct payment schedules within the common system.  He proposed that end-of-service pay, as recommended, be instituted throughout the common system after five years of continuous service.  Staff members, especially those serving in field missions, who had served for at least five years, had a proven commitment to the Organization and expected a similar commitment from their employer, the Member States, he said.

He expressed disappointment at the deferment of a decision on the mandatory age of retirement.  With greater life expectancy and a later average age for entering into duty at the Organization, due to greater educational requirements, among other things, it was ironic to let go a staff member at the age of 60, while the average age of decision makers at the Under-Secretary-General/Assistant Secretary-General level was much higher.  “An effective staff member possesses both competence and experience, the latter of which is at least partly acquired through service in the Organization”, he said.  Further, bringing in increasingly younger staff might create retention problems.  The lack of opportunities for promotion could result in departures, thus, denying the Organization the opportunity to rebuild fresh institutional knowledge.

Mandatory age separation at 60 or 62 was at odds with policies in many Member States, where the retirement age was at least 65, and contravened the Political Declaration of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002, he said.  Further, the age of separation should be harmonized at 62 immediately for all staff, as of 1 January 2010, without prejudice to acquired rights of staff desiring to retire at 60.  He also said that, conditionally, UNISERV would welcome any optional increase resulting from the review of the pension system in 2010.

On job evaluation standards for the General Service and related categories, he joined the doubts already cast on the Grade Level Descriptors, which differed from the objective of the new Master Standards.  The latter aimed at creating a classification of General Service posts across the United Nations system, based on a common understanding of the nature and roles of General Service work, posts and classification policies.  In contrast, Grade Level Descriptors were too broad and could be used, at best, for initial budgetary determinations or organizational design, but should not be associated with the Master Standard.  In view of the time and work invested in developing the Professional Master Standards, he requested that a pilot implementation of only the General Service Master Standard be considered.

On the improving gender balance, he said that the affirmative action taken in the past 15 years “was a fix, not a plan”.  Most women had been promoted at the end of their careers, due, in part, to a legacy of long time-in-grade requirements.  It was necessary to consider why highly qualified staff, especially women, were not attracted to the Organization’s common system and why existing female staff members continued to face impediments to progression to senior levels.  The use of exit interviews and a review of the demographic career trajectory and work/life profiles of current staff might prove informative.  A thorough consideration of work/life issues could help in devising long-term measures to attract and retain competent staff, regardless of gender.

On other matters, he welcomed a review of the standards of conduct for the international civil service to include issues not currently addressed.  It was also necessary to harmonize the proposed Code of Ethics with the Standard of Conduct to avoid ambiguity, redundancy and confusion.  On the United Nations/United States net remuneration margin, he raised the “perennial problem” of falling short of the desired 115 margin.  He proposed that the margin be harmonized at a single level of 114.3 for all grades, with a view to reaching 115.

Statements

MAGID YOUSIF (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, reaffirmed the Group’s support of the ICSC’s mandated role and expressed appreciation for its report.  The ICSC was crucial to ensuring the alignment of the United Nations common system to the new contractual framework, and for providing technical guidance to the General Assembly on how to offer conditions of service more suitable to United Nations employees and more attractive to those who wished to work for the Organization.

Staff members were eager to belong to the Organization, because they believed in its goals and objectives, he said.  Therefore, Member States had a responsibility to provide them with a well-deserved and respectable remuneration package, containing sufficient incentives and allowances to enable them to perform their work efficiently and effectively in the midst of ongoing challenges.  In that context, he expressed support for the recommendation of end-of-service severance pay for fixed-term staff.

HENRIC RASBRANT ( Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that the work of the Commission was invaluable for the purpose of harmonizing the conditions of service to enhance the effective functioning of the organizations of the common system.  The work of the ICSC also supported the efforts to deliver as one.  The Union noted the programme of work for 2010-2011 as outlined by the ICSC in Annex I of its report and supported the Commission’s continued efforts as it considered the items before it.

With regard to the review of separation payments, including termination indemnity, repatriation grant and death grant, the Union supported the efforts to streamline the practices within the common system, he said.  As for the recommended end-of-service severance pay for fixed-term staff, the Union would carefully examine that proposal and its administrative and financial implications in light of the ongoing contractual reform and the overall economic situation, bearing in mind that it was an entirely new concept.  He looked forward to discussing those issues further with all Member States, as well as the Secretariat, in informal consultations.

TAKASHI KANAMORI ( Japan) said that his delegation had expressed its support for the purpose of the common system to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the conditions of service of all participating organizations.  As was done every year, the decisions and recommendations of the ICSC on the level of basic salary of the Professional and higher categories should be approved, as proposed.

In connection with the recommendation on the end-of-service severance pay for fixed-term staff, he recalled that, last year, the Assembly had decided, in resolution 63/250, that there would be no expectations, legal or otherwise, of renewal or conversion of a fixed-term contract, irrespective of the length of service, as clearly stipulated by Staff Regulation 4.5 (c).  Reflecting upon the discussion and decision by the Assembly to date, his delegation could not find, among any of the reasons enumerated by the Commission in paragraph 50 of its report, valid grounds for introducing end-of-service severance pay for fixed-term staff whose contracts were not renewed.  Therefore, it was not acceptable for his delegation to introduce end-of-service severance pay.

On gender parity, his delegation shared the view of the Commission on the importance of targeted outreach efforts to attract qualified women for positions at all levels, he continued, encouraging the Commission to take further action in that area.  According to the latest report on the composition of the Secretariat, gender parity had already been attained at the P-1 and P-2 levels.  In addition, taking into account the general practice among international organizations of giving internal candidates priority over external candidates, it was inevitable that the Assembly would re-examine the staff selection system and its practices in order to achieve the ultimate goal of gender parity, including at the D-1 and higher levels.  It was to be hoped that the Commission would take up that challenge, beginning with its next session.

He went on to express serious concern over the fact that the Commission, even as it addressed the issue of gender balance, continued to give scant attention to geographical distribution.  Staff characterized by geographical diversity could enhance the Organization’s ability to handle a wide variety of problems.  His delegation would provide every assistance to the ICSC if it bravely put that enduring problem on its agenda and formulated recommendations on appropriate measures that could be taken to improve participating organizations’ staff regulations and rules, staff selection systems and practices.

EUGENE CHEN (United States) expressed concern over the proposed end-of-service grant, saying that the legal obligations of the United Nations to individual staff members ended with the expiration of their contracts.  Moreover, any payment, which served as reimbursement to staff for the non-renewal of their contracts, violated the principle -- clearly stated in resolution 63/250 -- that “there shall be no expectations, legal or otherwise, of renewal or conversion of a fixed-term contract, irrespective of the length of service”.

Regarding the termination indemnity, he said that the purpose of severance pay was to compensate staff for the loss of their expectation of employment.  As such, the amount of reimbursement provided through the termination indemnity must be tied to the unexpired portion of the term for staff on fixed-term contracts.  Payment based on any other criteria, such as length of service, changed the actual purpose of an indemnity from compensation for curtailed service to reimbursement for non-renewal.  Making such a correction would not only bring the termination indemnity in line with the Assembly’s instructions that there be no expectation of renewal, but would also resolve the inequity in treatment between long-serving staff who were terminated and those whose contracts expired.

The fiscal pressures imposed by the ongoing financial and economic crisis were keenly felt by all delegations, he continued.  The United States believed that certain benefits were necessary for attracting and retaining highly-qualified and dedicated staff members, but those benefits must be both conceptually sound and fiscally responsible.  Staff costs already represented a super-majority of expenditures under the biennial budget.  With that in mind, he looked forward to working with all delegations to decide on those important issues and adopt fair and judicious decisions that would make the most efficient and effective use of resources, to ensure continued promotion of the highest standards within the international civil service.

HE YE ( China) associated herself with the position of the Group of 77 and China and expressed appreciation for the efforts of the ICSC to develop the common system.  On the mandatory age of separation, she expressed concern over the indication in the report that the Secretary-General and the ICSC might explore the possibility of changing the age of retirement.  While such a change might have an advantage in maintaining the stability of the composition of the Secretariat staff, it might also have a negative impact on new recruitment and competitiveness among staff.  It could also affect the quality of work at some posts.  Her delegation believed that it was necessary to adopt a comprehensive approach to the issue, taking into consideration various factors and soliciting the views of everybody concerned.  She cautioned against hastily changing the age of separation.

Turning to the standards of conduct for international civil service staff, she said that those standards reflected the basic values of the United Nations.  Many organizations had incorporated them into their rules and regulations.  The amendment of standards should be coordinated with the Ethics Committee and be consistent with the Code of Ethics.  Continuous improvements should be made on the basis of practical needs of organizations.

True gender balance had always been an objective of the Organization, she continued.  Her delegation appreciated the Commission’s efforts to promote women’s representation in the common system.  It was important to further study the situation and establish a monitoring and incentive mechanism for the achievement of gender balance, incorporate gender objectives in managers’ Performance Appraisal System, and achieve the gender objective through an improved and balanced system.  She also regretted the discontinuation of the consideration of the Senior Management Network, stressing that, despite that decision, senior management should still receive adequate attention and be strengthened in the common system.  She noted with pleasure that the Commission had strengthened its strategic development planning and deepened its communications with various organizations, the Fifth Committee and other parties.

DMITRY S. CHUMAKOV ( Russian Federation) said that the trilateral aspect of the Commission’s work had been strengthened in recent years, particularly through the increased participation and influence of trilateral working groups.  However, he noted that the trilateral aspect was not a negotiating process, but a consultative one.  The decisions of the Commission should be taken by its members.  In addition, he expressed appreciation for ICSC’s work, as it was important to have an economically functioning Organization, without competition between organizations within the common system.

With regard to increasing the age for mandatory separation from service, he noted that the ICSC had not made a definitive recommendation at this time, but had requested the Secretariat to prepare a comprehensive report on the matter to be considered in 2011.  Such a change could affect, among other things, gender balance and geographic distribution, he said.  A whole number of issues on final career stages must also take into account the actuarial review of the Pension Fund.  Given the current financial situation of the Fund, he saw no grounds for a rise in the mandatory retirement age.

On introducing end-of-service severance pay, he said that it must be given serious consideration and that its introduction should be delayed.  Such remuneration must not become an expectation.  Rather, it should be seen as providing assistance to staff members in finding new jobs after having been out of the labour market for a long time.  Such payment would also help to broaden the use of fixed-term contracts and so enhance the flexibility of the work force.

ANTHONY SIMPSON (New Zealand), speaking also on behalf of Australia and Canada, noted the important work carried out by the ICSC in regulating and coordinating staff conditions across the United Nations system and providing advice to Member States on the management of human resources within the common system.

On end-of-service severance pay for staff on fixed-term contracts, he noted that there had been differences of opinion among members of the Commission.  Further, the creation of new entitlements entailing significant ongoing financial obligations should be approached with caution.  He sought clear justifications for the proposal and assurances that it had been based on sound analysis.  The proposal also should be considered in the context of the new staff contractual framework contained in General Assembly resolution 63/250.  Noting that agreement on some key aspects of its implementation, including some with implications for the future role of fixed-term contracts, were still pending, he said that “reaching firm conclusions at the present time on the necessity and cost of this proposal may prove challenging”.

MUHAMMAD A. MUHITH ( Bangladesh) aligned himself with the position of the Group of 77 and said that his delegation attached great importance to the work of the ICSC.  While appreciating the rationale for the introduction of the end-of-service severance pay -- which he found quite reasonable -- he would appreciate an explanation regarding the statement of the ICSC representative on one issue.  Mr. Stockl had said:  “furthermore, this severance pay would reflect the realities of the international civil service, where, for budgetary or other reasons, governing bodies could impose limitations on the use of continuing appointments, not necessarily related to the continuity of functions performed by the affected staff”.  He wanted to know, in that connection, what realities the ICSC was talking about and how it could presume or prejudge that governing bodies could impose limitations in the future on the use of continuing appointments.  The Fifth Committee had not yet decided on that issue.

INGRID BERLANDA ( Mexico) expressed her gratitude for the work of the ICSC.  She would give further consideration to the issue of end-of-service severance pay for those with fixed-term contracts, but believed that it did not comply with General Assembly resolution 63/250, which said that there would be no expectation of further remuneration at the end of a fixed-term contract.  The reasons provided for introducing such remuneration in the ICSC report were insufficient to overcome that condition at the present time.

Responding to the query by the representative of Bangladesh, Mr. STOCKL said that his statement had been based on the practice within the common system.  Many organizations of the system had never used permanent contracts and had already stated that they would be reluctant to use continuing appointments.  That situation related to the fact that some organizations were voluntarily funded, experienced funding difficulties or faced changes in workloads.  For the United Nations Secretariat, of course, that was a decision for the Fifth Committee and General Assembly to make.  In that connection, he recalled that, for the use of permanent contracts, the Assembly had made a decision of putting certain limitations of their number.  It was just the view and experience of the ICSC that the Assembly could not decide for the whole system.  Every organization had to decide for itself through its governing body.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.