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IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse

U.N. Development Programme Plans Lay-Offs, Salary Cuts and Demotions

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark addresses the audience at an event on the MDGs. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

UNITED NATIONS, May 30 2014 (IPS) - The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), one of the largest U.N. agencies with an estimated average annual budget of more than five billion dollars, is undergoing major structural changes – triggering large-scale staff layoffs, demotions, salary reductions and downgrading and abolition of existing senior-level jobs.

“If implemented as envisaged, it will be one of the largest mass-scale U.N. firings in living memory,” a senior U.N. staffer told IPS.

“We never had it so bad because all those staffers who lose their jobs and their G-4 visas will have to go back to their home countries,” he added.

Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union, told IPS her union, which oversees the interests of staffers in the U.N. secretariat and field operations, is concerned about the “structural review” currently being undertaken by the UNDP administration.

“We understand, this may cause demotions as well as the loss of at least 30 percent of jobs in their New York Headquarters and, we just heard, several security-related posts in the field, as well,” she said.

“We are still learning details about this exercise and wonder whether there is any legal basis for the UNDP administration’s actions.”

She said her own staff union will “fully support our UNDP counterparts and will help them in any way we can.”

In anticipation of strong negative reactions, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said in a letter to staffers last week: “Our services will be much more focused in the regions and we will be leaner.”

“We will have significantly fewer D grade (director level) positions relative to other professional and general services grades.”

This means that many people’s jobs are affected, “and we will be embarking on a realignment process aimed at being as fair and transparent as possible to fill the new positions.”

She also said: “I understand, however, that some staff may wish to take the opportunity to leave UNDP, rather than compete for new positions.”

“To facilitate this, we will be making available a limited number of voluntary separation packages,” said Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand and head of the U.N. Development Group.

Currently, the U.N. Secretariat has a staff of over 11,700 based in New York, and the UNDP’s total staff is estimated around 6,400 (with over 1,100 in New York and about 5,300 in field operations), according to the 2012 U.N. System Human Resources Statistics.

"If implemented as envisaged, it will be one of the largest mass-scale U.N. firings in living memory." -- Senior U.N. staffer
The New York-based UNDP also has offices in 170 countries and territories and is the lead U.N. body overseas, headed by a Resident Representative (ResRep) in each country.

Playing a crucial role in social and economic development, one of the key mandates of the United Nations, the UNDP focuses on four main areas: poverty reduction and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); democratic governance; crisis prevention and recovery; and environment and energy for sustainable development.

In all its activities, UNDP says it encourages the protection of human rights and the empowerment of women, minorities and the poorest and most vulnerable.

At its headquarters in New York, the UNDP has bureaus for development policy; crisis prevention and recovery; management; and external relations and advocacy.

It also has regional bureaus overseeing Africa, Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Latin America and the Caribbean.

UNDP’s regular resources come entirely from voluntary contributions by a range of partners, including member states, and multilateral and other organisations.

These contributions, UNDP says, are provided as either regular budget resources or as other resources earmarked by contributors.

A total of 50 countries contributed to regular resources in 2012, which totalled 846.1 million dollars.

The figure for “other resources” was about 3.79 billion dollars in 2012.

And local resources provided by programme countries increased by 5.3 percent in 2012 over 2011, while multilateral contributions rose to over 1.5 billion dollars.

Clark said the structural change was the brainchild of the UNDP executive board, comprising 36 member states, represented on a regional basis.

Last year, the board approved “a new Strategic Plan for UNDP”, and since then the whole organisation has been making the changes necessary to fully implement that plan.

One of the three pillars of that plan was improving institutional effectiveness.

To that end, Clark told staffers, the organisation has conducted significant reviews of its performance and “we have all been involved in planning and implementing changes.”

At the country office level, there has been a “financial sustainability exercise” which has led to many changes.

Also, over recent months, there has been an ongoing structural change exercise at the headquarters and regional levels to achieve a number of efficiency gains, she pointed out.

“We committed to moving more of our policy and support services to the regional level so that we are closer to our country offices.”

This, she said, includes removing unnecessary duplication between bureaus; ensuring functions are properly aligned through the organisation to improve accountability and professional standards; and improving “our span of control so that we have better career paths for younger staff.”

She said plans “to reduce our spending on staff salaries were meant to stay within the integrated budget limits set by the executive board in September.”

In conclusion, Clark said: “Let me say to you all that I recognise that this is not an easy time for staff.”

“I also know that we can be a stronger, more effective development organisation which can make real differences in millions of people’s lives.”

By demonstrating that to the world, “I have no doubt that there are many exciting opportunities out there for UNDP to build on.”


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  • Saji Thomas

    You article was great, and thanks for focusing UNDP and UN staff issues.

    But your report contained a wrong representation on the fourth paragraph.
    The current UN Staff Union is not represented by the said person. However, in the fall of 2013, a new election of staff union representatives and leadership was completed and the polling officers declared the results of this election to be final.
    These results were ratified by the Arbitration Committee of the Union.
    Thus, the so called self made ‘president’s’ term of service has formally ended, as of 1 January 2014, despite her refusal to acknowledge the legitimate election results. The above said former leaders are not observing the ‘Rule of Law’. These days all are breaking the laws and not respecting the ‘Rule of Law’ and no need to question the management to do so.

    Please remove fourth and fifth paragraph from your report,

    Thank You for your understanding
    UNSU 45th Council Member

  • Ron Critchlow

    Saji Thomas, that’s not true at all, as you well know. Without boring readers with too much detail, let me simplify it this way: The Unit Chairs overseeing the election became concerned and suspicious, for good reasons, that the polling officers were not acting neutrally or in good faith in their preparation for the election, and so they recalled the polling officers and ordered the election postponed new polling officers could be selected. Despite that, the recalled polling officers disregarded the Unit Chairs’ authority and hastily forged ahead with their dubious election, then hastily anointed a new Arbitration Committee from within their ranks to rubber-stamp their fradulent election. Then they declared the matter closed!
    Fortunately, they did not get away with it. That’s why they have not been formally recognised by either UN staff or UN management; they have no access to union funds; no access to union offices; union emails, etc.
    Now we wait for the Arbitrator to issue his report on their fraudulent election, which will be followed by embarassing humiliation for those who took part in it, then a valid election of the 45th Staff Union. In the interim, the 44th Staff Union, whose term will end when a new council is elected, stepped up to fill the void by agreeing to continue to represent UN staff until that election happens. Barbara Tavora-Jainchill is president of the 44th U.N. Staff Union.

  • Unconvinced

    Perhaps one question we should be asking is why Ms. Clark is doing this now? Whilst the members of Executive Board may have requested a strategic realignment will this really deliver? Have the supposed efficiency gains resulting from this been thoroughly evaluated? Will there be true value added by moving some posts to the regions? Posts have been decentralized before and then recentralized – it is a continuing merry-go-round. Members of the EB may like to think that decentralization is the answer and of course if you recruit national officers versus international then there are clearly cost savings although when one looks at institutional memory and continuity of function is this truly the way forward? By all means bring on younger staff – after all they cost less to start with and bring a fresh face to the table – however whilst cosmetically this all looks good and perception is clearly very important to many at UNDP, and indeed at the UN, what is truly beneath the changes? Where is the substantial change in development approach in achieving the millennium goals? You can move posts, remove posts, reduce the level of posts but at the end of the day will the substantive achievements be there I.e. will UNDP (or any agency that does this for that matter) be able to show in 1, 2 or 5 years time increase in substantive achievements? Will Democratic governance be more widespread? If we look at recent years achievements I think most people will find that DG is on the decrease not the increase. Likewise in Poverty Reduction – really? World events in the developing countries – which admittedly are out of control of UNDP and clearly the UN these days – would seem to suggest that the millennium goals are currently not achievable and in fact far too little has been achieved to date. Instead of realignment what might have been better would be for UNDP to focus more on meeting current needs in the developing world such as safe housing for the homeless, health care in war torn environments, child protection in many countries, rehabilitation of child soldiers etc. etc. The millennium goals as they stand seem to me to be outdated and to broad to truly achieve. What is needed today is specificity in development work – real aid where it is needed not nebulous aims such as Democratic governance or poverty reduction which are far too broad in terms. However perhaps this latest realignment in UNDP is actually not aimed at substantive realignment but rather designed to portray Ms. Clark as a someone ready to cut posts and people and is perhaps a forerunner to her candidacy to be the first female UN SG and to reform the UN?