Important Changes to Our Pay and Retirement Age

Published on Monday, 18 January 2016

You will recall proposals on the pay and benefits package for professional staff made by the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) to the General Assembly, under the title of the Compensation Review. If implemented in full, these proposals would have resulted in some staff being more than ten percent worse off.

The Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), the federation of which your staff union is a member, together with its sister federation, FICSA, campaigned at the General Assembly against the harmful elements contained in the proposal. The campaign included extensive meetings with delegates and management, information briefs, petitions and media outreach.

Our campaign took place amid strong pressure from certain major contributing countries to push the changes through, with some even declaring at the start that the proposed cuts did not go far enough, the presence in New York of management teams of organizations lobbying in support of many of the cost-cutting proposals, and a broader negotiation on the UN budget, of which the compensation review was only a part.

In December 2015 the General Assembly passed its resolution on the compensation review and, connected to it, an implementation date for the mandatory age of separation (see further below).

It reversed several harmful elements proposed in the compensation package. However, we were not able to prevent all the ICSC's proposals going through.

Key Losses

The key change is the introduction of a new unified salary system for P and D grades, starting from July this year. No staff member will be immediately worse off, and single staff will benefit slightly. However, progression through step increments every two years instead of annually after step 7 will reduce pay in the long run. We were not able to prevent this going through. Further, married staff with children, whose spouses are working, could see small reductions in pay as they move from the current dependency scale to the new single scale, with child allowance replacing the dependency benefit. Accelerated increments for staff with language proficiency will be replaced by either cash or non-cash awards; we will work with management to better define this.

At the same time, a proposal by the ICSC to increase the assignment grant for junior staff was overruled by the General Assembly at the behest of organization management teams.

The repatriation grant will require five years of service instead of the current two, with sitting staff retaining their current rights.

Improvements on the ICSC Proposals

However, we were able to have the General Assembly agree on a number of improvements to the original ICSC proposals.

Following our analysis that single parents would be the biggest losers , and that this could have a serious impact on gender balance in the UN, the General Assembly overruled the ICSC and agreed to introduce a single parent allowance of six per cent. This matches the allowance given to married staff whose spouses are not working. This, despite the ICSC arguing that identifying single parents would be an "administrative complexity."

We also argued that proposed cuts to the mobility incentive would reduce the attractiveness of geographic mobility. As a result, the General Assembly agreed to increase the allowance by 25 percent for those on their fourth assignment and by 50 percent for those on their seventh assignment.

The ICSC's proposal to abolish accelerated home leave was not approved in full. In response to our concerns, it will be retained, although only for staff in D and E category duty stations that are not covered by the R&R framework.

For the education grant, the ICSC proposed two options for the reimbursement of tuition and enrolment fees. We were able to persuade the General Assembly to adopt the more generous one, which at $40,600 provides a reimbursement rate of 75 percent of tuition and enrolment fees. Lower amounts will benefit from a higher rate of reimbursement, unlike now. We remain concerned however that unavoidable costs, which in some duty stations are significant, such as transport and food, are not covered and aim to draw attention to this in the future. We regret that staff in headquarter duty stations will only be able to obtain boarding coverage for primary and secondary education in exceptional circumstances. We will work with management to better define these circumstances, bearing in mind that staff are increasingly mobile. We will also work with management on ensuring capital assessment fees are reimbursed.

The ICSC made proposals for cash bonuses in a new performance pay scheme to be financed from the slowing down of step progression. We successfully argued that the proposals were impractical. This led the General Assembly to send this proposal back to the ICSC.

Many of you were concerned at proposals to increase the salaries of staff at the Under and Assistant Secretary General levels by ten percent. The General Assembly heard these concerns and ordered that those salaries be frozen.

In addition, all allowances will be unfrozen for GS staff on 1 January 2016 and for P and D staff on 1 January 2017. These have not been up-rated for three years.

On a related issue, the General Assembly decided that staff on board as of 1 January 2018 will be able to choose whether to retire at 65. While the ICSC had decided 2017, a push by major contributing countries at the behest of organization management teams to push the date to 2020 failed, and the ensuing compromise was reached. The resolution also leaves organizations the flexibility to make the change earlier should they wish, and we will be taking this up with management.

Looking ahead

Your representatives through CCISUA and FICSA intend to actively engage in the monitoring and review of the new compensation package. To this end, the General Assembly has asked the ICSC to "continue its inclusive approach" with staff representatives and others.

Among our concerns is the impact of the new compensation package on the health of staff. The UN medical directors' group had urged the General Assembly to conduct a health impact assessment of the ICSC's proposals on staff in the field. The doctors' recommendation was ignored.

We will also be acting on the General Assembly's demand that the ICSC report back on how the changes affect gender balance and geographical mobility. The Assembly was not convinced that the new structure would support the aim of 50/50 gender balance at all grades, or improved diversity.

We will further examine the legal implications of the new package in the context of your acquired rights.

During this year, we will be asking for your evidence and experiences of the changes, including the effects on pay and mobility and your views on health and well-being. We will also be closely monitoring and participating in the ICSC's review of pay and conditions for general service and related categories, and national staff.

At a time when you are being asked to do more with less, safeguarding your pay and pension is our primary concern, and we will continue to do our best to this end.

©2018 UNOV Staff Union