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Source: United Nations MIL OSI

The existence of two different pay scales in Geneva undermines the United Nations common system aimed at maintaining the same employment conditions across different duty stations, speakers warned today as the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) began examining the role of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) in setting such standards.

Switzerland’s delegate, also speaking for Liechtenstein, recalled that when United Nations entities formed the common system, it aimed to provide “a level playing field” for employees and foster coherence, fairness, staff mobility and the use of valuable expertise across all entities.

“We all have an interest in the United Nations acting as one,” he said, expressing concern about the fragmentation of the common system created by the recent judgments by the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which revoked the Commission’s decision to cut post adjustment in Geneva by 5.2 per cent.

Patricia Nemeth, Vice-President for Conditions of Service of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations of the United Nations System, said that following the Tribunal’s decision, there are now two post adjustment rates in Geneva, with United Nations staff paid 5.2 per cent less than staff of specialized agencies within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction.

The Russian Federation believes that the Tribunal has gone far beyond its purview and did not have the right to impact the post adjustment remuneration, its delegate said, adding that the General Assembly has the final say on the matter.

An observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that as the guardian of the common system, the Commission needs strong support to ensure that the system does not disintegrate.  The Tribunal’s decisions “threaten the very existence of the common system as we know it,” he said.

The United States believes the Tribunal’s judgment ignores the intent behind General Assembly resolution 72/255, said its delegate, pointing out that “the same methodology used by the Commission cannot be deemed correct when it produces an upward adjustment and claimed erroneous when it results in a downward adjustment.”

Larbi Djacta, Chair of the Commission, said that the Tribunal’s judgments have placed the body in a difficult position in the management of the post adjustment system, urging a speedy decision by the Assembly to clarify the authority of the Commission.

In other business, the Fifth Committee examined the Commission’s recommendations concerning the base/floor salary, education grant, hardship allowance and the mobility incentive.

Brett Fitzgerald, President of the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations, said that the financial implications of the Commission’s recommendations are relatively minimal and should be viewed within the context of significant savings made in other areas.

Botswana’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Group welcomes the Commission’s recommendation to increase the hardship allowance, as this would enable the retention of highly qualified personnel, facilitate the mobility of staff and contribute to strategic workforce planning.

Mexico’s delegate said the Commission’s recommendations will be carefully studied as they have financial implications.

Also speaking today were representatives of Australia (also for Canada and New Zealand), China, Japan, and Republic of Korea, as well as the European Union.  Introducing the related reports were Julia Maciel, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), and Johannes Huisman, Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division of the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance’s Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts.

The Fifth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 29 October, to take up the proposed programme budget 2020 regarding construction and property management and special political missions.

United Nations Common System

LARBI DJACTA, Chair of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), introduced the body’s report for 2019 (document A/74/30), which includes details on its work on the base/floor salary, education grant, hardship allowance and the mobility incentive.  The Commission recommends a 1.21 per cent increase in the base/floor salary scale, effective 1 January 2020, with a commensurate reduction in post adjustment multiplier points, resulting in no loss/no gain in net take-home pay.  On the education grant, the Commission recommends that each bracket of the sliding scale be adjusted by 15 per cent to reflect the tuition increases over the five-year review period.  For the boarding lump sum, the average boarding fees at the 30 International Baccalaureate schools selected for the current lump sum were found to have increased by 5.3 per cent over the last five school years.  Accordingly, an adjustment of the lump sum by this percentage is being recommended.  The Commission recommended a 2 per cent increase in the hardship allowance, effective 1 January 2020.  The current level of the non-family allowance and the current ceiling for relocation shipments should be maintained while the mobility incentive would slightly increase.

Regarding the judgments by the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization (ILO) to nullify the 5.2 per cent post adjustment reduction in Geneva, he noted that the court concluded the Commission “did not have power to decide, itself, the amounts of post adjustments” and “could only make recommendations and not decide on amounts,” adding that the General Assembly had to approve any changes to post adjustment levels of duty stations.  These judgments have placed the Commission in a difficult position in the management of the post adjustment system.  It therefore warrants a speedy decision by the General Assembly to clarify the authority of the Commission.

JOHANNES HUISMAN, Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division, Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts, Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, introduced the statement of the Secretary-General submitted in accordance with rule 153 of the General Assembly’s rules of procedure (document A/C.5/74/2) detailing the administrative and financial implications of the decisions and recommendations contained in the Commission’s 2019 report.  The budgetary implications would: increase the base/floor salary scale, which impacts separation payments; adjust the sliding reimbursement scale for the education grant entitlement and the boarding lump sum; and increase the hardship allowance as well as the mobility incentive.  The budgetary implications generated by the Commission’s recommendations and decisions for 2020 are estimated at $2.19 million.  There would be no financial implications for the programme budget for the 2018-2019 biennium.  If the Assembly approves the Commission’s recommendations, the requirements for the year 2020 would be taken into account in the context of revised estimates: effect of changes in rates of exchange and inflation for the period.

JULIA MACIEL, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced its related report (document A/74/7/Add.7), noting that the decisions and recommendations of the Commission would increase overall budget requirements by $13.29 million annually.  Of this amount, $2.19 million pertains to the proposed programme budget for 2020, while $4.0 million pertains to peacekeeping operations.  There are no additional financial implications for the biennium 2018-2019.  The Advisory Committee recommends that the General Assembly take note of paragraph 16 of the Secretary-General’s statement (document A/C.5/74/2), and that – should it approve the recommendations of ICSC — the requirements for 2020 would be taken into account in the revised estimates: effect of changes in rates of exchange and inflation, and the requirements for the peacekeeping budgets, would be addressed in the performance reports for 2019-2020 and in the proposed budgets for 2020-2021.

PATRICIA NEMETH, Vice-President for Conditions of Service of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations of the United Nations System, expressed support for the creation of a working group to examine proposals on parental leave to allow both parents to bond with their children and address discrimination by hiring managers against women candidates with leave entitlements.  The Coordinating Committee has also asked that the working group examine a broader concept of family care that includes looking after elderly parents and disabled children.  It supports the reviews of the reimbursement table on education grant, of salaries for locally recruited staff and of post adjustment for internationally recruited staff.  While voicing support for the Commission’s proposed revision of the hardship allowance, she asked that the practice of reducing the allowance for staff on lower grades be reviewed as the hardship endured by them and their families is no less than that endured by their higher-grade counterparts.

The Coordinating Committee also supports the revision of the mobility incentive, as it reflects prevailing wage movements, she said.  Following the ILO Administrative Tribunal’s decision to revoke the 5.2 per cent pay cut in Geneva, there are now two post adjustment rates in Geneva, with United Nations staff paid 5.2 per cent less than staff of specialized agencies within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction.  She expressed hope that the Commission can move to a single post adjustment rate for all.  By the same token, she voiced concern about the existence of dual salary scales for locally hired staff in Comoros, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Gambia, Guatemala, Iran, Mozambique, Rwanda, Serbia, Tajikistan, Thailand and New York, among others.

BRETT FITZGERALD, President of the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations, said he is speaking on behalf of thousands of international civil servants whose staff associations and unions are members of the Federation.  The Federation looks to the Commission as the main body entrusted with the responsibility of regulating conditions of service of the common system.  Staff expect the Commission and the Fifth Committee to follow the rule of law by ensuring separation of power between the legislative and judiciary branches and respecting judgments delivered by tribunals having jurisdiction over the respective organizations within the common system.

Referring to the Commission’s work in 2019, he said staff were disappointed to learn last year that the Assembly had not approved the Commission’s proposals regarding the creation of an end-of-service grant and the level of the children’s and secondary dependents’ allowances.  The Federation notes the financial implications of the Commission’s recommendations are relatively minimal and should be viewed within the context of significant savings made in other areas.  The Federation and expert statisticians have been actively involved in the Commission’s review of the post adjustment methodology and its operational rules.  The Federation strongly believes that if the Commission had maintained the 5 per cent gap closure measure, in line with the purpose for which it was created, the expenditure of time and resources and strain in relations could have been avoided, he said.  The Federation will continue to request that the gap closure measure be reinstated at 5 per cent, the percentage at which it was maintained for many years to protect staff salaries against sharp decreases resulting from a single negative cost-of-living survey.  Finally, he joined the Secretary-General’s call to Member States to pay their contributions and financial obligations to the United Nations on time and in full.

SAED KATKHUDA, observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Group notes that 16 organizations have accepted the statute of the Commission, and with the participation of the United Nations and its funds and programmes, there are 28 organizations, funds and programmes that cooperate closely with the Commission and apply the provisions of its statute.  As the guardian of the common system, the Commission needs strong support to ensure that the system — which is facing a challenge in Geneva with the judgments of the ILO Administrative Tribunal — does not disintegrate.  “It is disconcerting to emphasize that Tribunal judgments 4134 to 4138, with respect to the implementation of the Geneva post adjustment results, threaten the very existence of the common system as we know it,” he said.  The Group reiterates its long-standing position and reaffirms the Commission’s mandate to continue to establish post adjustment multipliers.

The Group recognizes the value and contribution of multiple working groups in developing proposals on pertinent common system issues for the Commission’s consideration, he continued.  Consultations with stakeholders have helped the Commission reach its decisions.  The Group recommends that more effort is made to invest in better communication with staff and shed light on the Commission’s methodologies, and it calls for equitable and geographical representation system-wide, he said.

KATLEGO BOASE MMALANE (Botswana), speaking on behalf of the African Group and associating himself with the Group of 77, regretted that the General Assembly could not reach agreement during its previous main session to endorse pertinent recommendations of the Commission such as those on children’s and secondary dependent’s allowance and the establishment of an end-of-service grant.  The Assembly ought to examine recommendations objectively.  Turning to the current session, he said the Group welcomes the Commission’s recommendation to increase the hardship allowance, as this would enable the retention of highly qualified personnel, facilitate the mobility of staff and contribute to strategic workforce planning.  The Group has also taken note of other recommendations.

TEGAN BRINK (Australia), also speaking on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, noted the decisions made by the ILO Administrative Tribunal on post adjustment for Geneva-based staff, saying that they called into question the legality of the process, which has been used by the Commission to determine post adjustments around the world for more than 20 years.  “The decisions sow confusion with respect to the legality of the previous 2020 post adjustment in Geneva and have resulted in an untenable situation of two pay scales in the same duty station,” she said.  The United Postal Union’s governing board recently agreed to follow the Tribunal’s ruling even though it is not party to the Tribunal’s statute.  Expressing concern that these decisions could have significant implications for the Organization and beyond, she called on Fifth Committee members to tackle this challenge and restore the confidence of staff and agencies in the common system and the Commission’s determinations.  She insisted that the common system must be preserved, and the authority of the Commission to determine post adjustments must be reconfirmed and clarified.

JAN DE PRETER, European Union, said the Commission is essential to the effective functioning of the common system organizations.  Yet the system faces unforeseen challenges because of the decisions of the ILO Administrative Tribunal, which questions the legality of the process the Commission has used to determine post adjustments.  “We see this situation as untenable and stand ready to look for a sustainable remedy,” he said.  European Union members believe in equal treatment for equal work of all employees of the United Nations organizations under the common system, he said, adding that the current fragmentation of the post adjustment system is an unfair and unacceptable situation.  He welcomed the Commission’s work in refining its post adjustment methodology and ensuring good communication with United Nations staff members.  In its work to safeguard the Commission’s mandate, the European Union will explore all legal options to preserve the consistency of the common system and the principle of equal pay for equal work.  It is important that specialized agencies and other international organizations that participate in the common system adopt a common approach towards the Commission’s authority.

DOMINIQUE MICHEL FAVRE (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, said that when United Nations entities formed the common system, it aimed to provide a level playing field for employees and foster coherence, fairness, staff mobility and the use of valuable expertise across all entities.  “We all have an interest in the United Nations acting as one,” he added.  He expressed concern about the fragmentation of the common system created by the recent Tribunal judgments on post adjustments.  “This jeopardizes the unity of the system and leads to different rates of pay within the same duty station,” he said.  While upholding the principle of judicial independence, Switzerland and Liechtenstein do not share the Court’s underlying considerations.  The Fifth Committee’s goal should be to ensure long-term clarity on the Commission’s role and mandate.  Member States must reconfirm the Commission’s authority to continue establishing post adjustment multipliers under Article 11 (c) of the Commission’s statute.  “We Member States need to act unanimously, decisively and swiftly,” he said.  Switzerland and Liechtenstein will also examine the Commission’s recommendations regarding conditions of service of Professional and higher categories, some of which carry financial implications for the 2020 programme budget.

CHERITH NORMAN (United States) said that during its seventy-second session, the Assembly clearly and unanimously supported the Commission and urged all United Nations organizations and specialized agencies in the common system to implement the post adjustment set by the Commission.  Since its inception in 1975, the Commission, supported by the Assembly, has been carrying out this duty and upholding the principle of providing equivalent compensation for similar work.  The year 2017 was no exception and many questions have been raised since then, particularly from one duty station, whether such an adjustment by the Commission was correct, credible, or even lawful.

The United States supports the Commission’s work to consistently apply a methodology to ensure common system coherence, she said.  While there is always room to improve standardizing methodology data and baselines, none of the complaints surrounding the Commission’s methodology were voiced before the downward adjustment.  “The same methodology used by the Commission cannot be deemed correct when it produces an upward adjustment and claimed erroneous when it results in a downward adjustment,” she said.  The United States believes the Tribunal’s judgment ignores the intent behind Assembly resolution 72/255 and has now essentially created two pay systems in one duty station.  Hundreds more staff members from the duty station are waiting for a decision from the United Nations Dispute Tribunal, she added.  The United States welcomes the opportunity for the Assembly to speak again on the issue of post adjustment.  Her delegation also looks forward to finding a solution to address the issue of two judicial systems within one United Nations common system, as highlighted by the Commission, in the interest of one strong, fair and harmonious system.

JESÚS VELÁZQUEZ CASTILLO (Mexico), taking note of the Commission’s recommendations, said his delegation will carefully study the financial implications of these proposals for the regular and peacekeeping budgets.  Noting the important contribution of the Commission in setting common conditions for pay and benefits for United Nations staff, he expressed regret over the recent ruling by the ILO Administrative Tribunal on post adjustment for Geneva-based staff.  The ruling contradicts the will of the General Assembly, leading to the erosion of trust in the Commission’s recommendations, calling into question the methodology it employs.  The Fifth Committee should contain this risk by strengthening the Commission.

RONG SICAI (China), associating himself with the Group of 77, supported the Commission’s work and wants it to keep playing a positive role in coordinating and regulating conditions of service and entitlements for all staff serving in the organizations of the United Nations common system, in accordance with its statute and the pertinent mandate embodied in Assembly resolutions.  China is concerned about the Commission’s crisis in fulfilling its mandates, particularly regarding the establishment of post adjustment multipliers for duty stations worldwide and the challenge to maintain a unified common system.  Implementation of ILO Administrative Tribunal judgments 4134 to 4138 now will lead to Geneva-based organizations paying their staff members at different post adjustment indices, he said, adding that this will harm the integrity of the common system.

DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI (Japan) said that in order to maintain confidence in the common system, it needs to remain fair and sustainable through continuous review that reflects changes in economic situations, including the cost of living.  He expressed concern about the implications of the judgments on post adjustment made by the ILO Administrative Tribunal in July for the consistency and stability of the common system and called on the General Assembly to address that issue.  Japan will constructively engage in that discussion.  On the proposed revisions of salaries and allowances, Japan will closely examine the rationale and justification for any additional requirements, given that the remuneration of United Nations staff is funded by Member States.

EVGENY V. KALUGIN (Russian Federation) fully supported the Commission’s work and its decisions and recommendations, including those with financial implications.  The Russian Federation is an advocate of the integrity of the common system and its central role in governing staff working conditions.  In its judgment regarding post adjustment, the Tribunal misinterpreted the Commission’s authority and the crux of the issue.  He acknowledged the Commission’s right to protect its mandate.  The Tribunal has gone far beyond its purview and did not have the right to impact the post adjustment remuneration.  The remuneration of Geneva diverges significantly now and undermines its operations.  The Assembly has the final say in this issue.

LYU GUNJUNG (Republic of Korea) said his delegation is concerned that the United Nations common system has been undermined since the Tribunal decision last July.  The Republic of Korea firmly believes the common system needs to be restored as soon as possible and the Fifth Committee’s discussion on this issue is critically important.  He hopes the Fifth Committee will take appropriate and timely action to restore the common system in a spirit of cooperation.  This is in the common interest of the Fifth Committee and the United Nations system.

For information media. Not an official record.

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