25 November 2013
General Assembly
GA/AB/4090

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

20th Meeting (AM)


Concern Aired over Financial Impact of Proposed Mobility Scheme, Staff Recruitment


Rules as Budget Committee Takes Up Human Resources Management Reports

 


The unknown financial consequences of the Secretary-General’s proposed mobility framework for moving hundreds of staff around the globe each year evoked apprehension from many delegates in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this afternoon.


Meant to help the Organization produce a more global, dynamic and adaptable workforce as it eased the burden of staff toiling in hardship duty stations, the mobility plan could carry costs that had not been detailed in the refined mobility proposal unveiled by the Secretariat today, delegates said.


The representative of Fiji, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Secretariat still had not clearly pointed out the mobility plan’s potential costs and how they would be funded.  A new mobility framework also needed to retain the Organization’s institutional memory throughout the Secretariat.


“An effective mobility policy cannot be achieved overnight,” he said, adding the Group noted the Secretariat had not met requirements in Assembly resolution 67/255, including that there be no discrimination against external candidates during the recruitment and staffing process.  The Group and other delegates, including Pakistan’s representative, also wanted to ensure that competitive employment opportunities were provided for talented candidates from developing countries.


Stressing the importance of human resources management to overall United Nations management reform, the Russian Federation’s delegate said he wanted identical rights for internal and external candidates competing for vacancies.  He also expected significant changes in the performance evaluation area to simplify the discussion on mobility.


The United States’ representative also expressed concern over the Organization’s ineffective measurement of staff performance, a shortcoming that precluded rewarding superior performance or sanctioning under-performance.  A fair and effective performance management system and Administration of Justice reforms could be carried out to improve the Organization’s effectiveness while providing due process for United Nations staff.  These reforms would avoid moving poor performers from post to post, or job to job — moves that could be expensive for Member States and damage the morale of high-performing colleagues.  The United States would welcome a mobility policy which fully met its concerns on costs and external recruitment.


Susana Malcorra, Chef de Cabinet, introduced the Secretary-General’s reports on mobility; the placement of staff who had been traumatized by critical incidents in their duty stations; and on seconded active-duty military and police personnel.  Ms. Malcorra said the development of Umoja, the Organization’s resource enterprise planning initiative; the use of International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS); and the creation of a dynamic, adaptable and mobile workforce were the three pillars of a modern and global United Nations.  A managed mobility policy would help expand the benefits of initiatives such as Inspira, Umoja and the international accounting standards by laying down a more structured approach to management and career development.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced this body’s accompanying reports on the three management issues and said the Advisory Committee had two principal concerns with the Secretariat’s refined mobility proposal.  One was it did not provide equal opportunities for internal and external candidates since openings stemming from lateral staff movements would be filled by internal candidates.  Secondly, the enforcement of position occupancy limits under the refined proposal would likely increase the number of geographic moves and create significant financial implications.  ACABQ believed the Secretariat report did not contain realistic data projections on future mobility trends and the associated costs.


Representatives of Singapore (on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN)), the European Union, Switzerland (also on behalf of Liechtenstein), the Republic of Korea and Japan also spoke today.


The Vice-President of the Staff Management Committee also made a statement.


The Fifth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 December, to discuss the financing of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and their Residual Mechanism.


Background


As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met today to consider mobility and staff placement issues, part of its human resources management agenda item, it had before it six related reports.  They included the Secretary-General’s report titled Mobility: Towards a global, dynamic and adaptable workforce (document A/68/358), the accompanying report of the same name by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) (document A/68/601), the Secretary-General’ report on Placement of United Nations staff members who have been adversely affected by natural disasters, malicious acts and other critical incidents (document A/68/483), an eponymous ACABQ report (document A/68/580), the Secretary-General’s report on Seconded active-duty military and police personnel (document A/68/495), and an eponymous ACABQ report (document A/68/615).


Introduction of Reports


SUSANA MALCORRA, Chef de Cabinet, said the development of Umoja, the Organization’s resource enterprise planning initiative; implementation International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS); and building a dynamic, adaptable and mobile workforce were the three pillars of a modern and global United Nations.  The proposal for internationally recruited staff was important for reform efforts, she said, noting that General Assembly decisions had so far helped create a level playing field for staff through contractual reforms and harmonization of conditions of service.  The tools existed to effectively administer the global workforce.  Business processes had been modernized and harmonized across all duty stations.  A managed mobility policy would help maximize the benefits of initiatives like Inspira, Umoja and IPSAS by enabling a more structured approach to management and career development and a proposal had been presented to the Assembly one year ago.


She said United Nations staff were currently mobile.  However, when staff moved and where they moved to was not managed or guided by the Organization’s strategic needs.  “Staffing of each position is considered in isolation and is based solely on the desires of staff members to move and the selection decisions of individual programme managers,” she said, adding that some rarely changed positions, others moved solely within headquarters and others became “stuck” in more difficult duty stations.  A more structured approach to career development and mobility was needed.  She called for position occupancy limits and centralized Job Network Boards, which could allow more strategic selection and reassignment of staff as well as facilitate progress on gender and geographic diversity and a fairer sharing of the burden in more difficult duty stations.


The current report responded to the Assembly’s requests for additional information and data, for a refined version of the original proposal and an alternative approach based on incentives, she said, pointing to significant changes to the original proposal in relation to external candidates, which had previously held that internal staff would be considered first for positions before competition was opened.  Member States were concerned about that, however, and internal and external candidates would continue to compete equally for positions.


There were costs associated with implementation of the system, she said, but added that the model developed sought to ensure no increase in indirect costs.  Mobility did not mean staff would necessarily have to make more moves between duty stations, which carried associated direct costs.  Instead, change was sought in the pattern of geographic movements.  The aim was to ensure that moves were strategic and benefited the Organization.  The report provided a baseline of 1,635 duty station moves currently taking place each year and a scenario had been developed that suggested mobility targets could be met without increasing the average number of moves.  She added that a voluntary system, based on incentives, would not bring the same benefits as management of staff.


She then went on to introduce the Secretary-General’s report on placement authority (document A/68/483), which requested the authority to place staff who had been traumatized by critical incidents in their duty stations and who were unable to continue to perform their functions at that location but could contribute elsewhere.  She also introduced a report on seconded active-duty military and police personnel (document A/68/495), which addressed difficulties arising from conflicts between the United Nations Staff Regulations and Rules and the national legislation of some Member States with respect to active-duty seconded military and police personnel.


JANNE TAALAS (Finland), Committee Chair, then drew the attention of the Committee to a letter dates 22 October 2013 from the President of the General Assembly contained in document A/C.5/68/10.


CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced the body’s three reports on human resources management matters: documents A/68/601, A/68/580 and A/68/615.  Regarding the Secretary-General’s report that included two options for staff mobility, the Advisory Committee continued to back the promotion of staff mobility and welcomed the Secretariat’s efforts to develop both a refined and an alternative proposal.  The Advisory Committee had two principal concerns with the refined proposal.  One was that it did not provide equal opportunities for internal and external candidates since openings stemming from lateral staff movements would be filled by internal candidates.  Secondly, the enforcement of position occupancy limits under the refined proposal was likely to increase the number of geographic moves and create significant financial implications.  ACABQ believed the Secretariat report did not contain realistic data projections on future mobility trends and the associated costs.  A more prudent approach was warranted and ACABQ recommended adoption of the alternative proposal, subject to some recommended adaptations.


ACABQ did see merit in the adoption of a Job Network Boards, but recognized their use would fundamentally change the nature of staffing decisions, he said.  Regarding the creation of a senior review board, the Advisory Committee did not agree with the Secretariat’s proposal that appointments at the D-1 and D-2 level should be considered by this Board.  It did not believe that adequate justification was given to justify a different treatment for staff selection at the D-1 level, compared with those lower levels.


In addition, he said the Advisory Committee addressed several pertinent issues: the increased application of the Secretary-General’s existing authority to move staff across the Organization under Staff regulation 1.2 c and subject to the provisions of relevant Assembly resolutions on staff selections; the need for more equitable sharing of the burden of service in hardship duty stations, including the upcoming review of the field service staff category; support for existing financial incentives to encourage mobility; and concurrent improvements to the Organization’s performance management system and workforce planning tools.


Turning to the Advisory Committee’s second report (document A/68/580) on the Secretariat’s proposals for arrangements for placement of staff impacted by malicious acts, natural disasters and other critical incidents, he said the proposal sought to broaden the Secretariat’s existing placement authority outside the regular staff selection system.  The Advisory Committee noted that the current number of unresolved cases was minimal and did not appear to justify any change at this time to the Secretariat’s exceptional placement authority.  Yet ACABQ would not object to including related proposals in the next biennial overview report on human resources management reform.


Finally, regarding the Advisory Committee’s report on seconded active-duty military and police personnel (document A/68/615), ACABQ sought to gain a better understanding of how the national legislations of Member States conflicted with United Nations regulations and rules, he said.  It sought greater clarity on the ramifications of the suggested amendments and believed Member States should be informed of the issue and given the opportunity to consider reviewing their respective laws.  All other options should be considered before the Secretariat suggested amendments.  It recommended the Assembly extend the exceptional measures authorized in paragraph 21 of its resolution 67/287 for two more years and it asked the Secretariat to intensify its engagement with Member States to find solutions to address the difficulties.


Statements


IAN RICHARDS, Vice-President of the Staff Management Committee, said that he spoke on behalf of the unions of the United Nations, representing 60,000 staff.  Those staff knew that their work could be tough and compromising, and they did not expect special treatment, but they did expect the Organization to do all it could to protect them and their families.  Right now that was not happening.  In the 10 years after the Baghdad bombing, 555 colleagues had been attacked and 200 killed.  With the United Nations flag now a “target rather than a shield”, staff were desperate for negotiations on safety and security, and yet the inter-agency security management network did not allow for negotiations with staff unions.


For that reason, he called upon the Secretary-General to restore negotiating rights with staff.  A Staff Management Committee in which the management team was empowered and agreements were binding was needed.  The Staff Management Committee was not asking for the right to veto reform or co-manage the Organization, simply for United Nations staff to have their negotiation rights restored.


Turning to the issue of mobility, he highlighted in 2012’s proposal that had been developed together by the unions, with the exception of colleagues in New York, that contained points considered essential to make mobility work.  Among several proposals in that regard, he noted in particular that it was difficult to have a mobility policy without preference for internal candidates.  Priority for such staff would not “prevent new blood”.  Furthermore, having read ACABQ’s recommendations, the Staff Management Committee did not believe those would aid career development, and instead reiterated support for what had been presented in 2012.


Regarding the Assembly’s request to the International Civil Service Commission to establish a methodology in which United Nations salaries would be pegged to their United States civil service equivalents by a margin, he said that while the system was working to keep the margin below 120 and above 110 of local pay, closer examination showed that it did not take into account all elements of the United States compensation package, and the real margin was significantly less than 119.


Noting that “times were hard”, he said the 2014-2015 budget would have a serious impact on colleagues, and hoped the Fifth Committee would urge the Secretary-General to ensure reasonable measures were taken to minimize the impact on hard-working colleagues, particularly in certain offices where staff and families lived in daily fear of bomb attacks.  Urging delegates to “take a pause” to think about members of staff working in some of the world’s most dangerous places to deliver their mandates, he appealed to them to “do what is right by our colleagues” on those and other issues.


PETER THOMSON (Fiji), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” and China, said a well-planned and implemented mobility scheme could provide much needed opportunities for staff to develop their skills and expertise.  But mobility was not a stand-alone issue and had to be considered within a comprehensive workforce and succession plan that incorporated the Organization’s objectives, as mandated by Member States.  Mobility also needed to address issues of geographic representation of staff, gender parity, recruitment, workforce rejuvenation and career development and retirement.  A mobility framework had to satisfy the Organization’s requirements and consider staff views and work/life balance issues.


The Group continued to support the concept of staff mobility and agreed with the Advisory Committee that a Job Networks Boards could help increase the strategic movement of staff and help reduce vacancies in the Secretariat, he said.  But clarification around the functioning of these Boards was needed.  It was essential that the Boards did not create barriers to the movement of staff between different Job Networks.  The Group would seek additional information on the lines of accountability, authority and configurations.  It also wanted more information about the definition of the envisioned non-rotational positions in the Secretariat.


“An effective mobility policy cannot be achieved overnights,” he added. The Group was concerned that the Secretariat had not elaborated on many issues requested in Assembly resolution 67/255, so as to ensure there was no discrimination against external candidates during the recruitment and staffing process and to ensure competitive employment opportunities were provided for talented candidates from developing countries.  The Group believed the enhanced representation of developing countries at the professional level in the Organization’s four main offices was very important.


The Group also was concerned that the Secretariat had not clearly pointed out the likely costs and how any additional costs would be funded, he said.  It also wanted to know how a new mobility framework would address the issue of retaining institutional memory throughout the Secretariat.  A mobility policy should promote greater burden-sharing in hardship duty stations and provide opportunities for advancement through rotation.  The Group agreed with ACABQ that the Secretariat had not sufficiently addressed this issue.  Regarding the placement of staff adversely affected by natural disasters and critical incidents, the Group regretted the Secretariat’s delays in presenting its proposal and agreed that the proposal should consider the needs of all United Nations staff and their families, not just internationally recruited staff.


Finally, the Group aligned itself with the Advisory Committee’s views on the Secretariat’s measures for the secondment of active duty military and policy personnel, he said.  The principal of equal pay for equal work was critically important.  It maintained that any amendments to staff rules and regulations had to be carefully planned and all other alternatives adequately considered before any action was taken.  It agreed with ACABQ that more analysis of the conflict between national legislation and United Nations rules and regulations was needed.  The Group thanked the 25 Member States that provided highly qualified military or police officers on secondment to the United Nations.


KAREN TAN (Singapore), speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and aligning with the Group of 77 and China, said she supported mobility and a well-designed framework to allow the United Nations to serve the Organization’s needs.  It was important to know exactly what mobility entailed in several key areas.  In terms of scope, mobility would apply to around 14,000 Professional staff of professional grade or above but reconfiguration of job networks and families had not yet been completed.  She urged the Secretariat to continue allowing candidates to transfer between job families to build a truly versatile workforce.  While the equal treatment of internal and external candidates might seem less efficient than prioritizing internal candidates, it was necessary to ensure the Organization selected the best candidates on as wide a geographical basis as possible.  “Under-represented nationalities, particularly those from developing countries, must be given a fair chance,” she said.  The report did not detail implementation costs and she noted that in both proposals, staff were able to apply for moves after one year.  That might not be optimal in terms of cost and building institutional capacity.


CARMEL POWER, a representative of the European Union Delegation, underlined her support for human resources management reform.  It could not be achieved overnight but an ongoing effort to implement and consolidate past reforms and build on them by taking forward new measures was key to ensuring fulfilment.  Though she saw progress, more work was needed in certain important areas like performance management.  Motivated staff members who were proud of the Organization were the only ones who would go the extra mile and perform to the highest possible standard and she was concerned that new approaches on performance management were not being embraced by staff or managers in practice.  Underperformance needed to be tackled and the rate of improvement of gender balance must accelerate.  She strongly supported managed mobility and looked forward to carefully considering the refined proposal.  Better explanation of the financial implications of the new scheme was needed, as was a better description of the potential implications for externally recruited candidates.  Robust performance management was vital to ensuring valid decisions by the Job Network Boards.


MATTHIAS DETTLING ( Switzerland) spoke also on behalf of Liechtenstein, stressing his support for managed versus voluntary mobility as a way to more strategically manage human resources and thereby optimize mandate implementation.  The refined version of the framework was a good starting point for future deliberations by Member States.  He supported minimum and maximum post occupancy limits and establishment of Job Network Boards.  A strong link between mobility and career development should be established as the current situation of rotation was unsustainable.  Even if managed mobility impacted the method by which external candidates were recruited, it should not reduce the number hired.  It might also be the right time to consider introducing mobility support measures to ensure the Organization could hire new talent where necessary.  Stressing the complexity of introducing the system, he supported step-by-step implementation.  For example, he pictured the testing of managed mobility within job families needing it most, like peacebuilding and humanitarian work.  Such a pragmatic approach would support reform, reduce costs and optimize coordination and synergies of various major initiatives currently under way.


OH JOON (Republic of Korea) said that “now is the time” to introduce a managed mobility system that ensured staff moved between duty stations of different categories, acquired diverse experiences and had fairer opportunities to serve both in hardship and non-hardship posts.  Most Member States already had such a scheme in place, especially in their foreign services.  “It is only reasonable to expect that the UN of the 21st century should be equipped with such a tool to meet the challenges in this globalized world,” he said.  The Secretary-General’s refined mobility proposal incorporated the requests in Assembly resolution 67/255 and addressed the issue of equal opportunities for external candidates, among others.  The Secretariat should explain in further detail how the lateral reassignment took place, how it differed from the current recruitment system, and its impact on the recruitment ratio of external and internal candidates.  The managed mobility proposal, along with Job Network Boards and maximum position occupancy limits, would surely lessen the burden of long-serving staff in hardship duty stations.  Regarding cost estimates, the Secretariat could develop figures based on different assumptions and include in the future costs its own strategic goals, such as the target number of geographic mobility.  If that data could be presented early in the session, Member States would have a better opportunity to make a well-informed decision.  The strategic combination of performance management, communication between managers and staff, administration of justice, Umoja and human resources development would allow the United Nations to maximize its workforce’s full potential.


ERIKO YAJIMA ( Japan) said a fair and merit-based recruitment system would provide a diverse, multi-skilled and versatile staff.  Mobility could make an essential contribution to the development of professional skills and expertise, improvement of morale and cross-cultural understanding.  It could provide broader opportunities, share the burden of service better and improve vacancy management.  He wished to consider carefully the potential effects of the proposals on the table, especially on external recruitment, while he also called for careful consideration of the potential costs involved.  The new mobility framework would be most effective when considered in conjunction with performance management and workforce planning.  He also reiterated that human resources management was a core element of the Organization’s effective and efficient operation.


MUHAMMED IRFAN SOOMRO ( Pakistan) said his delegation had consistently supported reform to create an Organization that could better deliver its mandates through an efficient, global workforce.  It supported steps the Organization could take to let its workforce become more dynamic and all measures to provide a more equitable sharing of service in hardship duty stations.  The Secretariat’s reports would enrich the Committee’s deliberations and help it achieve consensus on these human management issues.  Pakistan hoped the Organization also would address the weaknesses in the human resources management system during the reform process.  This included attention to the recruitment and selection of staff, greater transparency and increasing the underrepresentation of staff from developing countries, especially at senior levels.  More attention was needed on the geographic representation of staff and the promotion of women.  Pakistan saw merits in the creation of Job Network Boards, including their ability to create a holistic view of the Organization’s staffing needs.  The Organization’s present accountability tools must be strengthened during the reform process.  The Secretariat needed to provide accurate data about the impact of changes to the mobility framework, information on how the framework would impact staff and a detailed accounting of costs.


STEPHEN LIEBERMAN ( United States) said that a sound mobility policy would help the Organization more effectively achieve its mandates.  His delegation’s primary concerns with the Secretariat mobility plan laid out last year focused on the lack of clarity on costs.  He also wanted to ensure that mobility would not significantly reduce the prospects for external candidates, a source of fresh perspectives and talent that were vital for any dynamic organization.  He was pleased that the Secretary-General’s refined proposal this year addressed its main concerns.  The United Nations now carried out 1,635 geographic moves at a cost of $150 million year, not including financial incentives, and the Secretariat believed the number of geographic moves would not change significantly if mobility was implemented.  Yet the report did not explain why 1,635 geographic moves, and not 500 or 2,000, were necessary to achieve mobility objectives.  He wanted to know how the Secretariat would determine the number of moves necessary each year to achieve the proposed mobility policy’s goals and if the figures given represented all current costs.  He was encouraged that the refined proposal appeared to improve external candidates’ opportunities by letting them compete equally for all open posts. But the report did not provide enough clarity on this issue.  He asked the Secretariat to quantitatively demonstrate the refined proposal’s effect on external candidates.


The United States had long noted that the United Nations did not effectively measure performance, he said.  This shortcoming precluded rewarding superior performance or sanctioning underperformance.  Even when used, sanctions, including separation, were too frequently appealed to the Administration of Justice system for long periods before being implemented.  In many cases, the sanctions were overturned because of an ineffective performance management system.  A fair and effective performance management system and Administration of Justice reforms, sought in the Fifth and Sixth Committees, could be implemented in a way that improved the Organization’s effectiveness while providing due process for United Nations staff.  These reforms were necessary to avoid moving poor performers from post to post, or job to job -- moves that could be very expensive for Member States and damage the morale of high-performing colleagues.  The United States would welcome a mobility policy if it fully addressed the delegation’s concerns on costs and external recruitment.  It needed to be part of a broader human resources management reform package that would recruit, develop and retain an international civil service composed of highly dedicated and capable professionals.


DMITRY CHUMAKOV ( Russian Federation) stressed the importance of human resources management to overall United Nations management reform.  The proposals presented needed to be considered in the context of several Assembly resolutions on staffing policy, such as resolutions 63/350, 65/247 and 65/248, and how well they improved the effectiveness of staffing policy and met the United Nations’ requirements to attract highly qualified staff, as well as their effects on efficiency and effectiveness of Secretariat operations and their financial feasibility.  He was committed to ensuring identical rights for internal and external candidates in competition for vacancies and expected significant changes in the area of performance evaluation to simplify discussion of mobility.  He pointed to “huge changes in procedures” on staffing decisions being brought about by Job Network Boards, and was concerned by the justification for such changes.  Mobility did not mean constant redeployment of staff.  Staff should have excellent knowledge of the subject area and not just be thinking about travel to the next duty station.  He was concerned by some elements of the proposed parameters of the alternative proposal and about uncertain assessments of the financial implications and doubts expressed about them by the Advisory Committee.  Even the alternative version involved a huge change in the United Nations’ culture and would have significant implications for staffing and processes.  That called for thorough analysis.


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