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GA/AB/4377
16 November 2021
Seventy-sixth Session, 8th Meeting (PM)

Speakers Support Proposals for Education Grants, Hardship Duty Station Allowances, as Fifth Committee Considers Annual Report on United Nations Common System

Recognizing employees as the United Nations most valuable asset, delegates today urged the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) to ensure working conditions are fair and equitable and the Organization can retain a competent, dynamic and motivated workforce, as the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) considered the Commission’s proposals for the coming year.

An independent body, the Commission regulates service conditions for thousands of staff at the Secretariat as well as agencies, funds and programmes around the world.  Delegates examined ICSC’s 2021 report, which set forth several recommendations concerning the compensation package that applies to staff across the United Nations common system.

The speaker for the European Union, noting that this is the first review of the package since 2015, stressed the importance of further adjusting and strengthening the compensation system to ensure it continues to serve its objectives in an equitable, transparent and cost-effective manner.

The representative of Guinea, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, urged the Commission to invest in expanded communications with staff to demystify what can be complex policies and methodologies.  While answering to the General Assembly, the Commission’s decisions can be carried out more easily with the buy-in of the various organizations and staff members.

Several speakers said ICSC’s recommendations concerning base/floor salary, education grants and allowances for duty stations with a hardship classification are fully justified.

The representative of Uganda, who spoke on behalf on the African Group, joined others in supporting the proposal to extend a pilot measure of granting a reduced amount of the non-family service allowance — $15,000 a year —  to staff members with eligible dependants at duty stations with a hardship classification of E, in lieu of the option to install eligible dependants at the duty station.   Also voicing support for equitable geographical representation of staff members and attracting youth to revitalize the Organization, he backed the Commission’s aim to create opportunities to recruit younger candidates at the entry level and financially back internships and similar programmes for candidates from developing countries.

The delegate for the Russian Federation said he supported clear benchmarks to assess the progress in equitable, geographic representation in all areas.  He added that the financial implications of the Commission’s recommendations should not block the General Assembly’s approval of them.

 The representative of the United States noted that his delegation works with all stakeholders — including organizations of the United Nations common system, staff federations, Member States and ICSC — to strengthen high standards and support for international civil service staff.  The United States also aims to protect the system’s compensation practices from influences that work against transparency and accountability.

Mark Polane, speaking on behalf of the United Nations International Civil Servants Federation, joined representatives of the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA) and the Coordinating Committee for International Staff Unions and Associations of the United Nations System (CCISUA), to support the recommendation for adjusting the education grant’s sliding scale.  The education grant scheme is an important part of the compensation package, particularly in attracting and retaining a workforce that is field-based, mobile and motivated to deliver on United Nations mandates, he said.  He also noted the Federation’s interventions related to age diversity within the United Nations and its support for proposals to attract younger staff.

Larbi Djacta, ICSC Chairperson, introduced the Commission’s 2021 annual report.  Yacine Hamzaqui, Chief of Service for Programme Planning, Finance and Budget in the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, presented the Secretary-General’s statement on the budgetary implications of the Commission’s recommendations for the 2022 proposed programme budget, noting they are estimated at $1.77 million.  There would be no implications for the United Nations 2021 programme budget.  Conrod Hunte, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced the Advisory Committee’s related report.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Switzerland (also on behalf of Liechtenstein), Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh and the Republic of Korea.

The Fifth Committee will meet again at a date and time to be announced in The Journal.

United Nations Common System

LARBI DJACTA, Chairperson of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), introduced the body’s 2021 annual report (document A/76/30).  To reflect the 2021 combined effect of the movement of the gross salaries under the General Schedule and the tax changes in the United States and to maintain the common system salaries in line with those of the comparator, the Commission is recommending a 0.92 per cent increase in the United Nations base/floor salary scale, effective 1 January 2022, he said.  As is the usual practice, the increase in the base/floor salary scale would be implemented with no-loss/no-gain in net take-home pay.  Based on the most recent staff statistics, he announced that the net remuneration margin for 2021 amounts to 113.3.  The revised education grant scheme had been working as intended and was more streamlined, simple and cost‑effective than the previous scheme.  ICSC reconfirms its 2019 recommendation to the General Assembly regarding the adjustment to the declining scale for the education grant and the boarding lump sum, he said.

The Commission recommends formalizing the pilot measure of granting a reduced amount of the non-family service allowance in the amount of $15,000 per year to staff members with eligible dependants at duty stations with a hardship classification of E in lieu of the option to install eligible dependants at the duty station, he said.  This measure needs also to be extended to category D duty stations not designated as non-family.  ICSC launched a new round of cost-of-living surveys, he said, noting that the system of operational rules was modified to ensure higher transparency, stability, and predictability in the adjustment of net remuneration.  These revised rules enhance the stability and predictability of salary adjustments, and help limit the growth in the gap between post adjustment and pay indices that sometimes occur in the updating process between surveys for group I duty stations, he said.

The developments concerning the post adjustment multiplier in Geneva highlighted the existence of two distinct tribunals, one of which did not have an appeals mechanism and had shown how the system could severely hinder the uniform application of the common system, he said.  With this in mind, the General Assembly invited ICSC to comment on a related report (document A/75/690) prepared by the Secretary‑General in his capacity as Chair of United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB).  In that regard, two Commissioners were appointed as focal points on a Working Group of the United Nations Legal Advisers Network on the Review of the Jurisdictional Setup of the United Nations Common System.  Turning to the Commission’s monitoring role, he said it is reporting on several areas within the common system and making recommendations for improvement systemwide.  The areas include age distribution, geographical diversity, gender policies as well as the implementation of decisions and recommendations of ICSC and the General Assembly.

YACINE HAMZAOUI, Chief of Service, Programme Planning and Budget Division, Office of Programme Planning, Finance and Budget, Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, introduced the Statement submitted by the Secretary‑General in accordance with rule 153 of the rules of procedure of the General Assembly, “Programme budget implications arising from the recommendations contained in the report of the International Civil Service Commission for 2021,” (document A/C.5/76/3).

The Commission’s report contains two recommendations which would affect the proposed programme budget:  an increase of the base/floor salary scale, which impacts separation payments; and the implementation, as from the academic year in progress on 1 January 2022, of the adjustment of the sliding reimbursement scale for the education grant and the boarding lump sum, he said.  This was outlined by ICSC’s 2019 annual report.  The budgetary implications of these recommendations for the 2022 proposed programme budget are estimated at $1.77 million.  There would be no implications for the United Nations 2021 programme budget.  The effects of the decisions and recommendations contained in the ICSC report will be reflected in the revised estimates:  the effect of changes in rates of exchange and inflation.

CONROD HUNTE, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced its eleventh report on the proposed programme budget for 2022, titled “Programme budget implications arising from the recommendations contained in the report of the International Civil Service Commission for 2021,” (document A/76/7/Add.10).   He noted the Commission’s recommendations for an increase in the base/floor salary of 0.92 per cent as of 1 January 2022 and its reconfirmation of its 2019 recommendation to the Assembly regarding the adjustment of the sliding scale for the education grant and the boarding lump sum, as beginning 1 January 2022.  The Secretary‑General states that ICSC’s recommendations would not produce financial implications for the 2021 programme budget.  He noted the financial implications for the proposed programme budget for the year 2022 are estimated at $1.77 million and would be taken into account in the context of the revised estimates:  the effect of changes in rates of exchange and inflation for the period.  The resource requirements for peacekeeping operations are estimated at $628,600 for the financial period 2021/22, and the requirements for the financial period 2022/23 are estimated at $1.26 million.

The Advisory Committee recommends that the Assembly note paragraph 9 of the Secretary‑General’s statement, and if it approves the recommendations of the Commission, requirements for the year 2022 would be taken into account in the context of the revised estimates, such as the impact of exchange rate changes and inflation.  In addition, requirements for the budgets for peacekeeping operations would be addressed, as necessary, in the performance reports for the period from 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022 and in the upcoming proposed budgets for the financial period from 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2023.

TANYA QUINN-MAGUIRE, President of the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA), stated that the education grant is an essential element of a modern and comprehensive compensation package.  She expressed support for the proposed adjustment outlined in paragraph 85 of the report regarding the sliding scale and strongly agreed with the proposal to increase the lumpsum boarding assistance as originally recommended by ICSC to the General Assembly in 2019.  Furthermore, she encouraged the Fifth Committee to recommend to the Assembly that the measure be formalized, and that due consideration is given to the original ICSC proposal to also extend the scheme to category D duty stations.

FICSA was an active participant in the recent ICSC working group on the contractual framework, she said.  In the context of the “Future of Work” debate, there was a robust discussion with all stakeholders and the outcome was in line with the position long held by all three staff federations that the current contractual framework remains fit for purpose.  She noted that the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund continues to be in a very healthy situation to fully discharge its obligation to provide retirement, death, disability, and related benefits to over 215,000 staff.  In this context, she supported the recommendations related to the Pension Board and the proposed Ethics policy and amendments to its Regulations and Rules.

PRISCA CHAOUI, speaking on behalf of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), supported the proposed adjustment to the sliding scale for the education grant and the boarding lump sum to reflect the reality of school fees around the world.  CCISUA also supports formalizing a payment instead of a settling-in grant to staff who do not bring their dependents, and its extension to D family duty stations to improve the attractiveness of these duty stations.  The mobility incentive should be extended to the H duty stations, she said, failing to see the link between the mobility incentive and the classification of the duty station.

Turning to the 2021 cost-of-living survey, she underlined that the data was not representative of normal patterns of consumption due to the COVID‑19 pandemic, pointing to the use of feasibility criteria instead.  Regarding the age distribution of the workforce, she welcomed the decision by ICSC to encourage the recruitment of young professionals and to financially support internships for candidates from developing countries.  She went on to stress that ensuring a better geographical diversity could be a means to combat the racism that exists within the Organization, recommending the creation of a working group toward that end.  Regarding gender parity, she requested a definition of gender that covers all sexual orientations within the workforce while underlining the importance of upholding article 101.3 of the Charter of the United Nations.

On compliance with ICSC decisions, she reiterated CCISUA’s attachment to the independence of the judiciary system within the common system, calling for greater involvement of the staff federations as part of the decision-making process.  Regarding the compensation package, she drew attention to the negative impact coming from the changes in the step periodicity, the discontinuation of the accelerated home leave, the discontinuation of boarding assistance and of mobility incentives at category H duty stations, as well as the changes in the admissible fees within the education grant scheme.

MARK POLANE, speaking on behalf of the United Nations International Civil Servants Federation, said in examining the ICSC report and during interactions with the ICSC secretariat and its commissioners, the Federation noted that a lack of adequate and accurate data on human resources and other matters.  Greater efforts must be made to ensure that member organizations expedite their digital transformations and that in particular data related to human resources will be put front and centre in the development and implementation of future human resources strategies.  For ICSC to carry out its important work, increasingly access to up-to-date and accurate data should be the driver to inform proposals for changes to common system benefits and entitlements, he said.

The Federation joins FICSA and CCISUA in supporting the recommendation for adjusting the sliding scale of the education grant, he said, adding that the education grant scheme continues to be an important part of the compensation package, particularly in attracting and retaining a workforce that is field based and mobile and motivated to continue delivering the United Nations mandates.  He appreciated the recommendations made under item 4 of the report, “Payment of amount in lieu of settling-in grant at category E duty stations that are not designated as non-family”, stressing that the results of the pilot have proven to be very favourable.  He therefore strongly encouraged the Fifth Committee to approve the recommendation made to formalize the measure and that the inclusion of D duty stations under this scheme be included, as this will very positively impact the ability to attract and retain staff to D and E hardship locations which continues to prove challenging as evidenced from the ICSC research data.

He also drew the Fifth Committee’s attention to the Federation’s interventions related to the age diversity within the United Nations and the proposals made to support balancing age diversity as outlined in paragraph 137 of the ICSC report, in particular reviewing the existing staffing structures and the utilization of the full breadth of various staffing categories, in particular the entry levels to attract younger staff.

BOUBACAR DIALLO (Guinea), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Group reaffirms its commitment to a single, unified United Nations common system and the Commission’s crucial role as a cornerstone for the regulation and coordination of conditions of service.  The Group singles out the importance of the education grant, including detailed review of the sliding scale and the level of the boarding lump sum, as requested by the Assembly.  The revised education grant scheme, as recommended in the ICSC report, appears more streamlined, simple and cost-effective than the previous scheme.  The Commission’s recommendation to extend the pilot measure of granting a reduced amount of the non-family service allowance, in the amount of $15,000 a year to staff members with eligible dependants at duty stations with a hardship classification of E, in lieu of the option to install eligible dependants at the duty station, warrants the Assembly’s approval.

The Group acknowledges that the Commission’s sometimes complex policies and decisions are more sustainable and better implemented when they have the buy-in of the Organization and staff, he said.  It recommends more efforts to invest in better communications with staff and demystify the Commission’s methodologies.  The Group is especially pleased with efforts to introduce policies to enhance gender parity between women and men and the disability inclusion, as well as the need for equitable geographical representation systemwide.  It looks forward to the organizations’ implementation of the report’s recommendations.

Ms. VERONES (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, said that the most valuable asset of the United Nations is its personnel.  A modern Organization with qualified, motivated, and appropriately remunerated staff remains paramount.  She noted with regret the current fragmentation of the United Nations common system, caused by conflicting judgments of two legal bodies.  When United Nations entities agreed to establish the common system, they did so to ensure fair working conditions for employees, promoting coherence, equity, staff mobility and the development of valuable expertise across entities.  Switzerland and Liechtenstein are looking forward to the Secretary‑General’s new report on how to deal with two parallel justice systems, which is expected next year at the seventy‑seventh session of the General Assembly, as well as to the completion of the most recent baseline cost-of-living surveys, which will be crucial in re-establishing the United Nations common system in all duty stations, she said.

ELEONORE HEIMSOETH, representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, stated that the common system continues to be the bedrock on which the European Union endeavours to safeguard an equitable and transparent system for all staff of the Organization.  She looked forward to reviewing and discussing the Commission’s observations and recommendations, including those made in the context of the comprehensive assessment of the common system compensation package.  As this constitutes the first review of the package by the General Assembly since 2015, it is an important time for Member States to take stock, comprehensively assess the numerous parameters of the package and discuss, if and where needed, how to further adjust and strengthen the compensation system to ensure it continues to serve its objectives in an equitable, transparent and cost-effective manner.

MEDARD AINOMUHISHA (Uganda), speaking on behalf of the African Group, reiterated its support for the Commission’s critical role in shaping the staff’s welfare and the policies that govern human resource management.  The Group welcomes the recommendations contained in the Commission’s annual report to extend the pilot measure of granting a reduced amount of the non-family service allowance of $15,000 per year to staff members with eligible dependants at duty stations with a hardship classification of E, in lieu of the option to install eligible dependants at the duty station.  The Group believes this measure should be extended to category D duty stations not designated as non-family.

The Group encourages the Commission to continue working with the Member States to obtain the adherence of all the organizations, agencies, funds and programmes to the common system, he said, stressing the need to consolidate the “one UN, able to deliver as one,” for the full benefit of the international community.  Human resources are the Organization’s most valuable asset and deserve the best conditions of service that can attract and retain a competent, dynamic, and motivated workforce.  During the current session, the Group will keenly watch the working modalities in the challenging COVID‑19 context, he said, stressing that teleworking or flexible working arrangements should not be considered a new norm, but a transition to more interactive working methods.  The Group is also keen on equitable geographical representation and the strengthening of the role of youth to rejuvenate the Organization.  In this regard, the Group supports the Commission’s decisions meant to create opportunities for the entry-level recruitment of younger candidates and to financially support internships and similar programmes for candidates from developing countries, he said.

PATRICK KENNEDY (United States) said his country has always been committed to ensuring that United Nations staff are supported, empowered and compensated in a fair and transparent manner.  Working together with all stakeholders — including organizations of the United Nations common system, staff federations, Member States and ICSC — the United States has sought to advance two core principles:  maintaining and strengthening the high standards of and support for international civil service staff, and protecting the integrity of the United Nations common system compensation practices from influences that work against transparency and accountability.  Citing several matters of paramount importance, he advocated for re-establishing a unified salary scale for Professional level staff as well as addressing the issue of divergent jurisprudence.  He also looked forward to discussing additional measures to increase transparency on compensation matters through access to better data on system‑wide costs and encouraging further alignment of ICSC methodology with international best practices.

KAWASAKI YUTA (Japan) said ICSC plays a key role in reviewing the United Nations system and guiding all entities under the common system to ensure its coherence and effective management.  He noted that the Commission’s recommendations regarding revisions of the base/floor salary scale and education grants will require significant resources.  While Japan is aware of the importance of common standards that enable equal treatment for equal work by United Nations staff members, his country looks to examining the rationale and justification of these proposals, especially against their impact on mandate implementation under the current financial circumstances of United Nations common system organizations, he said.

JESÚS VELÁZQUEZ CASTILLO (Mexico) said the United Nations common system is an asset that offers a guarantee of unity and administrative certainty to the Organization.  Noting with interest the recommendations in the ICSC report, he stated that Mexico will carefully analyse these proposals, as they would have consequences for the Organization’s 2022 programme budget and 2021/22 and 2022/23 peacekeeping budgets.  He expressed his conviction that both Member States, and ICSC itself, must maintain their efforts to strengthen the Commission’s authority and the value of its recommendations.  Definitively resolving the issue of jurisprudence of cases related to ICSC decisions and affirming the Commission’s authority are crucial to ensure the unity of the United Nations common system, he said.

RICHARD CROKER (United Kingdom) said the pandemic has shown the importance of adaptable workforces and reinforced the fact that the United Nations must continually modernize to meet current and future challenges.  The Commission has a key role to play in ensuring the common system organizations can harness new and more modern working modalities as they build future workforces.  Terms and conditions, including remuneration, play an important part in attracting and retaining the best talent and must ensure the United Nations has a truly diverse workforce.  The United Kingdom strongly supports policies that build a culture of respect and inclusion, help rejuvenate the system and increase diversity.  This includes looking beyond the limited, but important, focus on gender and nationality.  It looks forward to the working group on parental leave’s outcome, which will help gender equality.  He also welcomed the focus on performance management, including effective training and addressing underperformance, and strongly supported policies which promote a mobility culture across the system.  “A unified single approach is at the heart of the common system,” he said.  It is crucial the new cost-of-living surveys are carried out effectively and regularly.  Changes must be based firmly on reliable data and solid evidence, he said, welcoming the Commission’s work on this front.

EVGENY V. KALUGIN (Russian Federation) supported the mandate and role of the Commission in bringing unity and cohesion to the coordination of the conditions of service in the United Nations common system.  The recommendations regarding base floor salary, education grants and allowances for duty stations with a hardship classification are fully justified.  The relevant financial implications should not create any obstacles to their approval by the Assembly.  The Russian Federation supports clear benchmarks to assess the progress in equitable, geographic representation in all areas.  Yet at the New York Secretariat, the issue of non- or underrepresentation of countries is frequently relegated to the back burner.  He is confident the Secretary‑General, as head of the CEB, will place this issue under his control, he said, adding that the active role of the highest management levels on certain topics can lead to seemingly impossible results.  His delegation will continue to closely monitor implementation of the pilot project using external sources to determine conditions of service of General Service staff.  All emerging risks should be examined and the ICSC secretariat should be asked to prepare a clear analysis of benefits and cost.

MOHAMMED NORE ALAM (Bangladesh) associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, reaffirmed his delegation’s commitment to the common system and to ICSC in coordinating conditions of service and entitlements for all staff.  The United Nations staff are its most valuable asset, and maintaining attractive conditions of service should be a priority.  He thanked the Commission for its recommendations on the base/floor salary scale, the allowance for children and secondary dependents and danger pay, which will be assessed by the Fifth Committee, taking into consideration Member States’ financial situations due to the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Turning to geographical representation and gender balance, he called for a more strategic, coordinated and sustained effort by the Commission in addressing the issues.  He supported more effective and efficient functioning of the common system.

YUN JIYOUNG (Republic of Korea) said the United Nations common system is instrumental in ensuring equal treatment for equal work by the Organization’s staff members.  Commending ICSC for providing coherent guidance to over 100,000 staff members serving at nearly 1,000 locations, she reiterated that the upholding of a single, unified common system is important to enable the United Nations to function effectively and sustainably.  The Republic of Korea looks forward to learning the progress status of the report on the jurisdictional set-up of the United Nations common system.  Turning to the review and recommendations of ICSC on base/floor salary scale, post adjustment issues, education grants, non-family allowance and danger pay, she said adequate support is necessary to enable the Organization to effectively deliver its mandate.  As such, she looks forward to examining and discussing those issues in view of the impact of COVID‑19 as well as the current financial situation of the Organization.

Mr. DJACTA thanked the delegates for all their inputs and said the Commission is ready to engage in discussions during the informal sessions and will answer any questions.

For information media. Not an official record.