Outcome of the 79th ICSC Session in Rome

Published on Friday, 15 August 2014

Potential changes to your pay, benefits and choice of retirement age

We would like to update you on how your pay, benefits and conditions of service will be affected by the recently concluded 79th session of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC).

For background, the ICSC is an independent expert body whose mandate is to regulate and coordinate the conditions of service of staff in the United Nations common system. Its 15 commissioners, appointed by countries in their personal capacity, are required to make recommendations on a technical basis for the General Assembly's approval. Its recommendations are informed by the analysis of its secretariat, the interventions of staff federations (your union is part of a federation called the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations - CCISUA - which intervened extensively during the meeting along with the other staff federations) and the interventions of the UN Secretariat, agencies, funds and programmes.

A summary of the outcome is below. As you will see there is much advocacy work still to do on these issues and we look forward to your support.

Retirement age

As you may know, the retirement age is fixed at 65 for all staff members who joined the common system as of 2014. Staff who joined before 1990 retire at 60 and those after 1990 at 62.

Last year the ICSC recommended that current staff members should, as of January 2016, be able to choose to either retain their normal retirement age or retire at 65. Following lobbying by certain organizations against this recommendation on the basis that it would harm diversity of gender, age and geographic origin and would not allow them to get rid of underperformers, the General Assembly asked the ICSC to carry out a deeper analysis of its recommendation. This analysis was presented at the recent meeting and clearly demonstrated that allowing staff the choice to retire later would not negatively impact gender, age or geographic diversity. The ICSC decided to submit this analysis to the General Assembly and did not change its earlier recommendation, that staff as of January 2016 be allowed to retire at 65 if they so choose.

Professional pay

With some large contributor governments pressing for a pay cut and CCISUA pushing for a pay increase of the kind recently received by US government workers, the ICSC settled on a pay freeze until salaries are at 15 percent above their US government counterparts - currently they are 17 percent above.

Compensation review

As you may know, the ICSC has been asked to do a wholesale review of how professional staff are paid. During the session, the ICSC gave directions on how the review, which has been underway for a year, should proceed. The review will take on board the ICSC's directions as well as any further guidance from the General Assembly. CCISUA made clear before the session that once all expatriation allowances and benefits are added to salaries, UN staff are significantly underpaid compared to their counterparts in the US government, the benchmark against which the ICSC is required to ensure that our compensation remains competitive. We therefore asked the ICSC to take this into account along with the increasing dangers facing UN staff, attacked and killed by rebel groups and member governments, and the increasingly mobile nature of our contracts. To this end, we were disappointed that far from modernizing and simplifying the compensation system, as was the original intent of the review, the ICSC appeared to be motivated more by cost-cutting. CCISUA will be addressing this point shortly and welcomes your feedback. A summary of the directions that the ICSC gave to the review follow:

Salary scale and dependency pay

While gross salaries is the same for all staff, staff with non-working dependents receive a higher net salary (by approximately 9 percent), reflecting the difference in tax treatment of households with non-working family members, especially considering the difficulty that spouses have finding a new job as they follow an employee around the world. Management representatives considered the two net rates to be a violation of the principle of "equal pay for equal work" and the ICSC decided to study having one net scale with an allowance for a non-working spouse and for children. We expressed concerns at the ways in which such changes might impact increasingly mobile staff and their families. We are therefore studying the various models that are being developed by the ICSC with the aim of ensuring that staff are not penalized by any negative changes.

Education grant

Some commissioners wanted to discontinue the reimbursement of tertiary (university) education on the basis that the US government does not fund it. However, CCISUA pointed out that if the US scheme (funding of 100 percent of primary and secondary education costs) were applied in the UN (which currently reimburses 75 percent of primary, secondary and tertiary) there would be no real savings. Tertiary education has therefore not been excluded. Boarding costs were also discussed with strong pressure to remove their reimbursement if "adequate" schools could be found at a duty station. CCISUA pointed out that boarding schools ensure continuity of education for children whose parents were subject to mobility at short notice and that in a multicultural organization it was difficult to define what an adequate school would be. The issue will therefore be studied further. It is likely though that reimbursement for school meals and laptops will no longer be covered as the ICSC considered that these costs should be borne by parents.

Moving costs

This came under strong scrutiny given the perceived complexity of the system and a perception that staff may be profiting from lump sum payments. CCISUA pointed out that the lump sums provided were often well below the costs organizations paid if they themselves took care of removals, and allowed for staff to have the flexibility of placing belongings in storage or buying new furniture in the duty station. Changes in this area may therefore be limited. However, the ICSC did recommend to eliminate the additional 50 kg freight entitlement for home leave on what we believe to be the mistaken assumption that globalization has made essential goods available everywhere.

Hardship, accelerated home leave, rest and recuperation, costs of second households for staff in non-family duty stations

A lot of time was spent on whether these could be simplified or combined. CCISUA pointed out that each served a different purpose and that rest and recuperation should not come under the purview of the compensation review as it was not essentially a compensation, but a health issue. However, the ICSC has decided that it should be reviewed. The ICSC decided to examine whether the number of hardship categories should be reduced, for which we expressed our doubts. We also did not agree with its recommendation to discontinue accelerated home leave (i.e. home leave every year) in duty stations of hardship category C and below. However, the ICSC did look favourably at our request to increase the second household allowance (known as additional hardship grant) for single staff.

Annual leave

After vigorous discussions on different kinds of leave, the ICSC agreed not to change the 30 days of annual leave entitlement given that it compared with the average received by US government workers posted abroad.

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