Concerns Aired over Junior-Level Post Cuts, Insufficient Geographic Diversity among Workforce, as Fifth Committee Debates Human Resource Management

GA/AB/4249
31 October 2017
Seventy-second Session, 9th Meeting (AM)

Concerns Aired over Junior-Level Post Cuts, Insufficient Geographic Diversity among Workforce, as Fifth Committee Debates Human Resource Management

Staff members were the United Nations main asset, but greater efforts must be made to bring more women into the Organization’s ranks and to tackle long-standing concerns over geographical underrepresentation, speakers said today as the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) turned its attention to human resources management issues.

They took the floor as the Secretariat introduced reports that put the number of staff members at 39,651 as of 31 December 2016, down 4 per cent from June 2013, with female staff accounting for 35.1 per cent of the total, up slightly from 33.9 per cent.  The number of Member States whose representation in the Secretariat was deemed to be desirable, or “within range”, declined from 125 in June 2013 to 102 in December 2016.  Twenty-nine Member States were deemed to have been overrepresented, 44 underrepresented and 18 not represented at all in the Organization.

Ecuador’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed concern that the largest number of appointments to posts subject to geographical distribution were of staff from overrepresented countries, an ongoing trend since 2013, while the number of Member States in the unrepresented and underrepresented categories was inversely increasing.  She also noted that the overall number of women in senior positions remained less than 50 per cent, and asked how many of them were from developing countries.

In the same vein, the representative of the United States — emphasizing that the Secretariat could do a lot more to improve the Organization’s human resources management system in an era when talented people enjoyed many employment options — said more could and should be done to increase the number of women staff members and to address the continuing challenge of underrepresentation, “including our own”.

Angola’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the African Group, noted with concern the persistent issue of the ever-increasing number of high-level posts, saying that contradicted the Organization’s objective of being more agile and field-oriented.  He said the Group also looked forward to hearing the reasons why the Secretariat had been unable to comply with guidance from the General Assembly to fill vacant posts within 120 days.  On disciplinary matters, the Group urged the Secretary-General to take more substantive steps to address allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse within the Organization.

The representative of Singapore, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said both gender and geographical equity principles must advance together.  He encouraged the Secretary-General to ensure a more refined performance management system, particularly at the managerial and leadership levels, along with continuous assessment and evaluation of those changes.

Japan’s representative, meanwhile, voiced concern that the average age of United Nations staff had continued to increase slightly over the past five reporting periods, from 43.4 years to 44.8 years.  He called for efforts to facilitate an influx of young, diverse talent, and give them opportunities to develop their abilities and rejuvenate the workforce of the Secretariat.  Creating a modern organization and global workforce took commitment, he said, looking forward to an updated human resources management framework at the General Assembly’s seventy-third session.

Martha Helena Lopez, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s reports titled “Composition of the Secretariat:  staff demographics”, “Practice of the Secretary-General in disciplinary matters and cases of possible criminal behaviour, 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017” and “Amendments to the Staff Regulations and Rules”, with Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introduced that body’s corresponding report.

The report on disciplinary matters, covering the period from 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017, informed Member States about all actions taken in cases of established misconduct and/or criminal behaviour and the ensuing disciplinary and legal action, while the report on amendments to the Staff Regulations and changes notably addressed necessary changes to reflect the General Assembly’s decision to increase to 65 the mandatory separation age for staff members appointed before 1 January 2014.

Ian Richards, representative of the United Nations Secretariat staff, supported the proposed change in the Staff Regulations that would enable all staff on board on 1 January 2018 to work until 65 years of age.  On the Secretariat’s gender strategy, he stressed the importance of tackling trends such as the departure of women mid-career, which would require addressing issues such as child care, shared and extended parental leave and increased outreach and leadership training.  It was also time to update the policy on sexual harassment, he said, expressing concern as well about a long-term trend which had resulted in fewer junior posts and an increase of senior posts.  He also drew attention to a number of departments that were still not granting five-year, fixed-term contracts to qualified staff members, saying it had led to a two-track system within the Organization.

Michel Tommo Monthe (Cameroon), Committee Chair, made a brief statement, saying the diversity of the world and gender equality should be reflected in the Organization’s make-up.  That might be an old matter, he said, but it could be looked at with a fresh point of view.  He also encouraged delegations to aim to complete the Committee’s work according to the agreed schedule.

Also speaking today were representatives of Kuwait and Pakistan, as well as the European Union.

The Fifth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m., on Wednesday, 1 November, to consider the proposed 2018‑2019 programme budget as it relates to the seismic mitigation retrofit and life-cycle replacements project at the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific premises in Bangkok.

Composition of the Secretariat and other reports

MARTHA HELENA LOPEZ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s reports titled “Composition of the Secretariat:  staff demographics” covering the reporting period from 1 July 2016 to 31 December 2016 (document A/72/123), “Practice of the Secretary-General in disciplinary matters and cases of possible criminal behaviour, 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017” (document A/72/209) and “Amendments to the Staff Regulations and Rules” (document A/72/129/Rev.1).

On the composition of the Secretariat, she said the total number of staff members on 31 December 2016 stood at 39,651, down 480 or 1.2 per cent from 30 June 2016, reflecting a decrease of staff for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and 45 other entities as well as no change or an increase of staff at 52 entities.  Over the last five reporting periods, or four and a half years, Secretariat staff had decreased by 4 per cent.  The percentage of staff holding a permanent or continuing appointment rose from 18 per cent in June 2013 to 25 per cent in December 2016, while that of staff on fixed-term appointments fell from 78 per cent to 67 per cent.  The ratios of female staff to total staff increased slightly from 33.9 per cent to 35.1 per cent over the same five reporting periods, while the average age of staff increased slightly from 43.4 to 44.8 years.  With regard to representation, the number of Member States “within range” decreased from 125 to 102 from June 2013 to December 2016.

On the report titled Amendments to the Staff Regulations and Rules, she said it contained amendments required to implement an increase to 65 the mandatory age of separation for staff members appointed before 1 January 2014, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 70/244.  It also contained amendments required to implement a revised education grant scheme, approved by the Assembly through the same resolution.  She said that, in addition to setting a new mandatory separation age, a new rule was being proposed to reflect, where applicable, staff members’ acquired right to separate at their normal retirement age — 60 or 62 — as defined under the Regulations of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund.  That proposed change would be implemented from 1 January 2018.

Changes to the revised education grant scheme would include a single-currency maximum grant amount, set in United States dollars, as opposed to the current scheme based on 15 currency/country zones, she said.  A streamlined list of admissible expenses would be applied, comprising tuition, mother-tongue tuition and enrolment-related fees, while the grant would be payable up to the end of the school year in which a child completed four years of post-secondary studies, or attained a first post-secondary degree, whichever came first, subject to an upper age limit of 25 years.  The proposed amendments would be implemented as of the school year in progress on 1 January 2018.

Turning to the report on disciplinary matters, she said it provided summaries of individual cases where the Secretary-General imposed disciplinary measures during the reporting period, as well as statistics on the numbers and types of cases received by the Office of Human Resources Management, the number of cases completed and the disposition of completed cases.  With respect to the summaries of cases, she said the report sought to better explain some of the considerations taken into account by the Secretary-General when deciding the measures to impose in a particular case.  That was a delicate task as it was important that information provided did not breach the right to confidentiality for the staff members involved.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introduced its report on Human resources management (document A/72/558), recalling the Advisory Committee’s previous recommendations regarding the analytical quality of the Secretary-General’s report on the Secretariat’s composition and the need to understand the underlying causes of several trends with a view to developing corrective measures and policy enhancements.  Specifically, the Advisory Committee noted with concern that since 2013, the number of Member States in the unrepresented and underrepresented categories was increasing and reiterated its recommendations that greater efforts were needed to address that trend.  The Advisory Committee also noted no progress had been achieved regarding the growth in senior-level appointments and the “top heaviness” of the Secretariat, and it remained concerned about the upward shift in the grade structure and resulting fragmentation of leadership responsibilities.  The Advisory Committee was concerned that the administrative instruction on investigations and the disciplinary process was still under internal review and stressed that it must be promulgated as a matter of priority.  Also needed was greater clarity in the amendments proposed under the staff rule relating to administrative leave.

IAN RICHARDS, representative of the United Nations Secretariat staff, supported the proposed change in the Staff Regulations that would enable all staff on board on 1 January 2018 to work until 65 years of age.  He took note of the decision to pause and review the mobility policy which in two years of operation had only generated moves for 22 of the 241 staff that wanted a new assignment, representing a 9 per cent success rate.  He expressed concern over the proposed Global Service Delivery Model which would eliminate the current competitive market for administrative services and replace it with a monopoly provider with no incentive to improve costs and standards or innovate.  On the gender strategy, he stressed the importance of tackling trends such as the departure of women mid-career, which would require addressing issues such as child care, shared and extended parental leave and increased outreach and leadership training.  It was also time to update the policy on sexual harassment.  He went on to express concern about the long-term trend which had resulted in fewer junior posts, while the number of senior posts increased.  He also drew attention to a number of departments that were still not granting five-year, fixed-term contracts to qualified staff members, which had led to a two-track system within the United Nations.

AMÉRICA LOURDES PEREIRA SOTOMAYOR (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that it was vital that the Office of Human Resources Management implement the United Nations mandates in an environment that exemplified diversity, flexibility and dynamism.  The Group noted with concern that the largest number of appointments to posts subject to geographical distribution were of staff from overrepresented countries, an ongoing trend since 2013, while the number of Member States in the unrepresented and underrepresented categories was inversely increasing.  The Group noted the increase in the number of female staff members in the Secretariat to 35.1 per cent, although the overall number of women in senior positions was still less than 50 per cent.  The Group was interested in knowing how many of the women in senior positions were from developing countries.

The Group noted the increase in the average age of the Secretariat staff and emphasized the need to recruit young staff members to ensure the smooth transfer of institutional knowledge and to build capacity in the wake of retirement and other forms of separation, she said.  The Group noted the reported improvements in the responsiveness of investigating entities and the enhanced quality of investigation reports, although it was concerned that the information contained in the Secretary-General’s report on disciplinary matters and cases of possible criminal behaviour did not provide a comprehensive overview of all the cases related to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse within the Organization.  The Group was concerned about the increased number of days to fill vacant posts and reiterated that the Staff Rules must comply with the Staff Regulations, whereby the latter could not be overruled or changed by the former.

DANIEL WANG (Singapore), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and associating himself with the Group of 77, said that given the increasingly complex global environment within which the United Nations must operate, a dynamic and motivated workforce was crucial.  To that end, ASEAN emphasised the need for more balanced gender and geographical representation in the United Nations system.  He was specifically concerned with the lack of equitable gender and geographical representation in the Secretariat, especially at senior levels.  But both gender and geographical equity principles must advance together, he said.

ASEAN encouraged the Secretary-General to ensure a more refined performance management system, particularly at the managerial and leadership levels, along with continuous assessment and evaluation of those changes, he said.  He noted the Joint Inspection Unit’s report on knowledge management and agreed it should be a strategic priority in all United Nations systems.  In closing, he urged the Secretary-General to deal with all cases of staff misconduct in a timely fashion and with appropriate disciplinary action.

MARCIO SANDRO ALEIXO PEREIRA BURITY (Angola), speaking on behalf of the African Group and associating himself with the Group of 77, stressed that an equitable geographic representation in the Secretariat remained a priority for the Group.  He noted with serious concern that the number of Member States within the desirable range for representation in geographical posts had decreased by 18 per cent from 125 to 102.  Moreover, the largest number of appointments to posts subject to geographical distribution were for staff of overrepresented countries.  The Group was interested in learning more about the reasons for that and sought more information on the progress in implementing the General Assembly decision on the desirable ranges system set up to address the issue of geographical representation.

The Group also noted with concern the persistent issue of the ever-increasing number of high-level posts, which contradicted the objective of the Organization to be more agile and field-oriented, he said.  The Group also expected to receive clarification from the Secretariat on the reasons for the continuing delay in implementing the 120-day guidance provided by the General Assembly to fill vacant posts, as well as the apparent lack of effort to rejuvenate the Organization.  On disciplinary matters, the Group urged the Secretary-General to take more substantive actions to address allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.  The Group also emphasized that proposals to amend the Staff Regulations and Rules must follow decisions of the General Assembly as well as the Administrative Tribunals, and in that context, the Group would carefully examine the amendments related to the staff separation age and the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.

JAN DE PRETER, European Union, describing staff members as the Organization’s main asset, welcomed the Secretary-General’s intention to improve human resources management.  The European Union also welcomed simplified human resource policies and procedures, improved workforce planning, better recruitment procedures, personnel mobility and enhanced performance management.  “The right-sizing of the Secretary should be a priority,” he said, expressing concern however that gender imbalance remained a persistent issue, especially at the senior level and in field operations.  He added that, during the current session, the focus should be on time-bound issues and other urgent business at hand, allowing sufficient time for the Secretary-General to further develop his proposals and get back to the Advisory Committee.

ALI ABDULLATIF ALI ALYAHYA (Kuwait), associating himself with the Group of 77, said his country supported the Secretary-General’s efforts to reform the United Nations, particularly regarding management reform.  Better management of human resources was essential to achieving progress.  Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals would require a great deal of effort, and in that context, he emphasized the importance of ensuring all United Nations offices, particularly those away from headquarters, were properly staffed to make the fulfilment of the Goals possible.  He went on to underscore that his delegation would like to see Kuwait better-represented across the Organization, while also pointing to the need for better geographical representation overall in all United Nations bodies.

CHERITH A. NORMAN CHALET (United States) said the Secretariat could do a lot more to improve the Organization’s human resources management system.  With talented people having many employment options, the United Nations must move faster in its recruitment efforts to remain a viable option for many candidates.  At the same time, the Organization must do more to recognize and reward outstanding performance and address under-performance.  In that regard, strong and empowered leadership was essential.  More could and should be done as well to increase the number of women staff members and to address the continuing challenge of under-representation, “including our own”.  She went on to ask that the Organization’s leadership carefully and continually review the resources at its disposal to ensure that they were optimally configured for mandate delivery.  That was among many ways in which it could act now to ensure that it remained relevant, she said.

KEISUKE FUKUDA (Japan), stressing that diversity was one of the defining features of the Organization, welcomed the Secretary-General’s initiative to launch a system-wide strategy on gender parity.  Expressing concern that the average age of the United Nations staff had continued to increase slightly over the past five reporting periods, he called for efforts to facilitate an influx of young, diverse talent, and give them opportunities to develop their abilities and rejuvenate the workforce of the Secretariat.  Creating a modern organization and global workforce took commitment, he said, looking forward to receiving an updated human resources management framework at the seventy-third session of the General Assembly.

HASEEB GOHAR (Pakistan), associating himself with the Group of 77, reiterated his country’s support for continuing human resources reforms, while also pointing out the necessity of regularly evaluating their impact in order to refine and improve them.  It was regrettable that, since 2013, the largest number of appointments to posts subject to geographical distribution was of staff members from overrepresented countries, he said, calling for enhanced representation of Member States which were either unrepresented or underrepresented.  There was merit in considering contributions to peacekeeping when revising any system of desirable ranges in terms of adequate representation, he observed, calling for the creation of a new paradigm to reduce disparities prevalent in the Organization.

For information media. Not an official record.