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U.N. Staffers Protest Proposed Pay Cuts For Some, Increases for Others

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 13 2015 (IPS) - The United Nations, which is battling a negative fallout from a corruption scandal tainting the office of a former President of the General Assembly, is facing criticisms on another front: a proposed compensation package that calls for a reduction in the salaries of staffers, mostly at bottom and mid-levels and not senior hierarchy.

Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA)

Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA)

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing some 60,000 staff working at the United Nations, told IPS: “It’s sad that while attempts are being made to drastically cut the pay of staff risking their lives on the frontline, the former President of the General Assembly is alleged to have received one million dollars in bribes to spend on Rolexes, massages and a private basketball court.”

The 15-member International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), an independent expert body, which regulates and coordinates the conditions of service of staff in the U.N. system, has apparently finalized the new salary structures, which will go before the U.N.’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee (also known as the Fifth Committee) in November.

Richards said: “We’ve calculated that the ICSC proposals represent real cuts in pay and allowances of up to 10 percent for thousands of staff who put their lives at risk to carry out vital humanitarian work on the world’s frontlines. It will also make pay discrimination against single parents, mainly women, worse than it is already.”

He added: “We’re picking up real discontent from colleagues on this. It totally flies in the face of what the U.N. is about and sends a signal that the hard work staff carry out is no longer valued.”

In a message to staffers last week, the President of the U.N. Staff Union in New York Barbara Tavora-Jainchill says the proposed compensation package, currently under review, will in the end take money away from single parents and raise the income of senior U.N. officials specifically Under-Secretaries-General (USGs) and Assistant Secretaries-General (ASGs).

“This is immoral. No, we cannot and will not agree with this unfortunate proposal and will fight it to the best of our ability,” she said.

Addressing the Fifth Committee on Oct. 12, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would continue to challenge his senior managers to find new and better ways of delivering mandates more effectively and efficiently.

“I urged them to rethink our business practices and embrace innovative synergies,“ he added.

He said he presented a budget outline level of 5.74 billion dollars to the General Assembly, for the biennium 2016-2017. And the Assembly requested him to prepare the proposed programme budget on the basis of a preliminary estimate of 5.56 billion.

“For the biennium 2016-2017, I am now proposing a budget level of 5.57 billion dollars, before re-costing.”

This, he said, is 1.6 per cent or 90.8 million dollars below the appropriation for the current biennium, and is 10.2 million dollars or 0.2 per cent above the budget outline figure set by the General Assembly.

Overall, the 2016-2017 proposal reflects a net decrease of 56 posts compared to the current budget, primarily related to the freezing of posts, he added.

Richards told IPS: “One of my colleagues in South Sudan told me that when the cuts were announced at a staff meeting, everyone in the room looked they’d been punched in the stomach.”

Bear in mind that since the start of 2011 in South Sudan, he pointed out, 19 U.N. staff and contractors have been killed, 31 have been wounded and five have been abducted in kidnappings.

“But the most stressful thing about frontline work isn’t the actual physical danger – it is the feeling of not being supported, either by country officials, or by the U.N. itself, and this is what is happening here,” declared Richards.

“We understand that these are difficult times, but all we are asking for is fairness for frontline workers. We’re disappointed that the ICSC hasn’t listened to us on this,” he added.

Tavora-Jainchill told IPS the final decision on compensation package is expected to be taken in mid to end December.

As far as the negative result of the New York local salary survey (-5.8 percent) is concerned, she said, it does appear in the ICSC report.

However, it is under the purview of the Secretary-General to decide on the implementation of the result, which he already did.

“It is very unfortunate that the Secretary-General did not take into account our very serious concerns related to the way the survey was carried out, particularly regarding the lack of a formal response by the ICSC Secretariat and the New York Local Salary Survey Committee to a formal correspondence by a Committee member questioning the validity of one comparator. We do not believe that the appropriate methodology was respected,” she added.

Regarding the Secretary-General’s decision for an audit of the corruption scandal, to be investigated by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), she told staff members: “Of course it is great news that an audit will take place; however, we beg to differ on what the object of the audit/investigation should be.”

She said once the funds enter the U.N., there are many checks and balances to ensure that they are “handled properly according to relevant U.N. rules and regulations”, so it is doubtful that the audit requested by the Administration will find anything wrong.

“The questions the Administration and we, staff members, should be asking ourselves are: how did the U.N. get into a situation where questionable funds are used to finance the travel of staff members, events at our premises with the presence of our highest authorities, even conferences where participants and panellists were staff members and Member States’ representatives?”

“And how is it possible that there are so many restrictions imposed upon non-governmental actors in terms of participation in U.N. official meetings but funds from those entities seem to flow freely throughout the organization, with no questions asked?”

Tavora-Jainchill also said that looking back at the last few years, one can see how this Administration has been trying to reinvent the U.N. to make it look like a private corporation, treating its employees as replaceable goods, “sitting us collectively without any respect or consideration for the minimum of privacy needed to carry out our duties (while most private corporations now realize that a flexible working space is not effective) and accepting pledges/funds from very, very questionable sources”.

“It is our hope that the Secretary-General and his collaborators think well on how they brought us to this very sad point and, most importantly, how we get out of here,” she added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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  • Jossyone

    The UN seems to be an excellent player in the field of double standards. What a shame!!!