Speakers Support Updating Dependency-Related Benefits, Yet Disagree over Proposed Change to Jurisdictional Setup, as Fifth Committee Reviews UN Common System
Unanimous in their support for the United Nations in attracting and retaining highly skilled and qualified personnel around the world, delegates in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today reviewed new and proposed changes to the compensation packages and policies aimed at boosting staff productivity, ensuring equitable geographical representation of the employee structure and justifying the confidence reposed in it.
In evaluating the UN common system — which regulates service conditions and pay scales for thousands of staff at the Secretariat as well as agencies, funds and programmes worldwide — delegates also discussed the feasibility of an initiative for a jurisdictional arrangement to adjudicate matters involving decisions and recommendations of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), with some supporting the establishment of a joint chamber of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Administrative Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal as one such workable set up.
Larbi Djacta, ICSC Chair, introducing the body’s 2023 report, which included details regarding family-related benefits, urged all organizations that had yet to do so to implement the parental leave framework adopted last December. He noted that the UN’s children’s and secondary dependent allowance amounts have not changed in over 11 years and should be updated. Doing so would also restore the previous methodology which linked such allowances with that for a child with a disability. On this, the ICSC will consider the feasibility of applying a means-tested methodology in the broader context of the comprehensive review of the staff compensation package, under the general cluster of dependency-related benefits. ICSC recommends that this review take place once every 10 years so that the intervening time can be used to properly research, gather relevant data and properly assess the impact of implemented changes, he said.
On post-adjustment — the amount added to the net base salary of international and Professional level staff and higher based on living costs in order to equalize purchasing power at all duty stations — he said the Commission endorses the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Post Adjustment Questions to continue using staff expense surveys to obtain relevant data for post adjustment index calculations, and to maintain the current post adjustment arrangements for Bern and the single salary scale for Switzerland’s General Service category. He equally announced a 3.1 per cent rise in hardship allowance for tough duty stations and sought more elaborate proposals for service conditions for security officers and close protection officers. The matter of salary comparability and career development of National Professional Officers also needs to be deliberated, he noted.
Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, presenting the Secretary-General’s statement on the 2024 budget implications of the Commission’s 2023 recommendations and decisions, said that if approved, they will cost $4.71 million. She also introduced the Secretary-General’s report reviewing the common system’s jurisdictional setup, which includes four proposals aimed at preserving the system’s unity in the context of two independent tribunal systems and the ICSC’s authority to set post adjustment multipliers. Abdallah Bachar Bong, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced its related reports.
One such proposal — backed by the Secretary-General as the most suitable and with limited cost — is for a joint ILO Administrative Tribunal-UN Appeals Tribunal chamber, comprised of judges from both tribunals, to issue preliminary rulings in the Commission’s matters. However, this option lacks broad support from key stakeholders. “Leaving this issue unaddressed now would echo past failed efforts to resolve the challenges of having two independent tribunal systems,” she said, adding the post adjustment cases were highly disruptive for both organizations and staff and the possibility of similar future scenarios cannot be excluded.
Delegates were also divided over the merits of the proposed joint chamber. Mexico’s representative viewed it as a feasible option for unity and coherence. However, Switzerland’s delegate, speaking also for Liechtenstein, said they were not convinced and called for both tribunals to heighten interactions among themselves to improve knowledge and understanding of each other's case law and ensure consistency between jurisdictions.
On that point, Cuba’s delegate speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” and China said the Group looks forward to discussions on the joint chamber as “we believe that greater exchanges between the tribunals, as appropriate, would be beneficial”. He also highlighted the importance of organizations in the common system to continually introduce friendly policies on gender parity, disability inclusion and equitable geographical representation.
The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania — speaking for the African Group and recalling the UN Charter’s stipulation for efficient, competent and honest staff — underscored the role of attractive conditions of service to the UN becoming a preferred employer. He sought information about measures taken to ensure equitable geographical representation and the Organization’s rejuvenation. The Group will also closely watch to ensure that equal and non-discriminatory approaches are used to evaluate danger pay for all grades and categories of staff.
Representatives of United Nations staff unions — including the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations, the United Nations International Civil Servants Federation and the Coordinating Committee for International Staff Unions and Associations — welcomed the new parental leave policy, adjustments to danger pay and the hardship allowance, and the harmonized implementation of package components. They called for enforcement of agreed methodologies, especially for children’s and secondary dependents’ allowance, linked with the related allowance for a child with a disability. They also expressed support for a comprehensive review of the staff compensation package every 10 years.
United Nations Common System
LARBI DJACTA, Chair of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), introducing its annual report for 2023 (document A/78/30), said the Commission recommends a 4.62 per cent increase in the United Nations base/floor salary scale, effective 1 January 2024, based on the comparator’s salary movement. As is the usual practice, the increase in the base/floor salary scale would be implemented with no‑loss/no‑gain in net take‑home pay. On amendments to articles 10 and 11 of the Commission’s statute by the General Assembly in resolution 77/256-A of 30 December 2022, he noted that the governing bodies of member organizations are in the process of accepting these amendments with no UN common system member expressing any concern. On children’s and secondary dependents’ allowances, he said the Commission will consider the feasibility of applying a means-tested methodology in the broader context of the comprehensive review of the compensation package, under the general cluster of dependency-related benefits. The child and the secondary dependent allowance amount have not changed for over 11 years and should be updated as recommended in the ICSC report, he said, adding that doing so will restore the earlier relationship between the child allowance and the allowance for a child with a disability.
Parental leave approved by the Assembly in December 2022 is “an important matter for all families, affecting both the new parent and the new-born child”, he said, calling on all organizations that had yet to implement the new parental leave framework to do so without delay. On post adjustment matters, he said the Commission endorsed the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Post Adjustment Questions to continue utilizing staff expenditure surveys to collect the necessary data for the expenditure weights used in post adjustment index calculations. The ICSC concurred with the Committee’s recommendation to maintain the current post adjustment arrangements for Bern and the single salary scale for the General Service category in Switzerland. Based on the analysis of the movement of tax rates from the eight headquarters duty stations from 2017 to 2022, the Commission recommends maintaining the current levels of the common scale of pensionable remuneration, but with recalculated staff assessment levels, effective 1 January 2024.
On the comprehensive review of the compensation package, he said the Commission decided the review will focus on the compensation system applicable to the Professional and higher categories, with statistical issues relating to the post adjustment system continuing to be reviewed by the Committee; broadly use the objectives and criteria set out for the earlier compensation review (2015); and include detailed analysis of the cost-effectiveness, attractiveness and impact on the workforce. The ICSC recommends comprehensively reviewing the compensation package only every 10 years. “This would allow for sufficient time between reviews, adequate research and data collection, proper assessment of the impact of the implemented changes, a full analysis of various elements involved, and finally detailed and in-depth consultations on the review,” he said. The Commission’s Global Staff Survey on the Common System compensation package, conducted from 4 October to 5 November 2023, will serve as an important guidance for ensuring the comprehensive, holistic nature of the compensation review.
Turning to duty stations where living and working conditions are very difficult, he said, effective 1 January 2024, the hardship allowance will increase by 3.1 per cent, a confirmation of the Commission’s 2022 decision. The Commission also looks forward to receiving a more elaborate proposal on the conditions of service for security officers and close protection officers. In addition, the Commission expressed general support for the need to examine the issues regarding National Professional Officers, including their nomenclature, salary comparability, benefits, and career development and progression to the international Professional category. In its first report on the proposed programme budget for 2024 (document A/78/7), the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), in pages 514 to 517, makes relevant recommendations on the Commission’s budget. “We strongly believe that the implementation of the recommendations would greatly assist the Commission in fulfilling its mandate as entrusted to it by the General Assembly,” he stressed.
CATHERINE POLLARD, Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, first presented the Statement submitted by the Secretary-General in accordance with rule 153 of the rules of procedure of the General Assembly, “Programme budget implications arising from recommendations and decisions contained in the report of the International Civil Service Commission for 2023” (document A/C.5/78/5). She said if the Assembly approves the Commission’s recommendations, budget implications for the proposed 2024 programme budget, along with budget implications of the Commission’s decisions, are estimated at $4.71 million. They would be included in the upcoming revised estimates that cover the effects of changes in the rates of exchange and inflation for the period. The budget implications for peacekeeping operations are estimated at $2.92 million for the 1 July 2023 to 30 June 2024 period, and at $5.84 million for the 1 July 2024 to 30 June 2025 period. They would be accounted for in the performance reports for 2023/24 and the upcoming proposed budgets for 2024/25.
She then presented the Secretary-General’s report “Review of the jurisdictional setup of the United Nations common system” (document A/78/154), which builds on two previous Secretariat reports requested by the Assembly concerning the divergent jurisprudence of the two tribunal systems. These systems concern the Commission’s authority to establish post adjustment multipliers. The report was prepared after extensive system-wide consultations and explores four different proposals. The first proposal is a joint International Labour Organization (ILO) Administrative Tribunal-United Nations Appeals Tribunal chamber, comprised of judges from both tribunals, to issue preliminary rulings in cases on Commission matters. The other three proposals are: increased informal exchanges between the tribunals; the designation of one tribunal with exclusive jurisdiction over ICSC-related cases; and the creation of a new appellate mechanism with limited jurisdiction to consider appeals on ICSC-related cases. She noted that some stakeholders considered the review disproportionate to the problem it seeks to resolve, while others suggested that the main issue that needs to be addressed is the functioning of the ICSC, rather than the setup of the tribunals.
“However, even a single case of divergence between the tribunals on ICSC matters can jeopardize the consistency and coherence of the common system and undermine its credibility,” she said. Efforts to address the complexities of two concurrent tribunal systems have been ongoing since the Commission’s establishment in 1975. “None of those efforts has resulted in comprehensive action,” she added. Maintaining the status quo carries substantial risks for the unity and cohesion of the common system. “Leaving this issue unaddressed now would echo past failed efforts to resolve the challenges of having two independent tribunal systems,” she said, adding the post adjustment cases were highly disruptive for both organizations and staff and the possibility of similar future scenarios cannot be excluded. The Secretary-General believes the proposal for establishing the joint chamber is the most suitable to minimize divergent jurisprudence, with limited cost implications. Yet it lacks broad support from key stakeholders, including the tripartite constituents of the ILO.
The Secretary-General asks the Assembly to note the report, which concludes the review of the jurisdictional set-up, and provide any observations and guidance. If the Assembly were to support the joint chamber proposal, it should clearly express its support and give the Secretary-General specific directions on the way forward. If further work is requested, the necessary resources would have to be allocated, she said.
ABDALLAH BACHAR BONG, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introducing its related report (document A/78/7/Add.9) on the administrative and programme budget implications arising from the recommendations and decisions contained in the Commission’s 2023 report, invited it to reconsider its decisions on hardship allowance and the mobility incentive and to assess the calculating methodologies based on the outcome of the next comprehensive compensation review. ACABQ expects that more details on the compensation review as well as the lessons learned from COVID-19 be provided to the General Assembly at the time of its consideration of the subject. He recalled resolution 77/256-B of the General Assembly encouraging organizations of the United Nations common system to consider applying alternative administrative measures, including non-financial incentives, to promote staff mobility as well as linking it to staff development and career progression, to the extent possible.
ACABQ recommends that the General Assembly take note of paragraph 14 of the statement of the Secretary-General, he said, and along with the decisions of the Commission, should the Assembly approve the Commission’s recommendations, additional requirements for the year 2024 would be included in the context of the revised estimates: effect of changes in rates of exchange and inflation for the period. As well, additional requirements for the budgets for peacekeeping operations would be addressed, as necessary, in the context of the 2023/24 performance reports and in the context of the upcoming proposed budgets for 2024/25.
He went on to introduce the Advisory Committee’s related report on the review of the jurisdictional set-up of the United Nations common system (document A/78/555), noting the Secretary-General has made progress on outstanding legal and practical aspects of the review, including finalizing past proposals and assessing the viability of other options. He stressed the importance of preserving a single, unified and coherent common system and underscored the roles of the General Assembly and the Commission in approving, regulating and coordinating conditions of service and entitlements for all staff serving within the system. The ACABQ acknowledges efforts towards proposing an establishment of a joint chamber of the ILO Administrative Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal to issue preliminary rulings in cases involving ICSC recommendations or decisions, an approach it considers as the most cost-effective and the least invasive measure conducive to upholding the cohesion of the common system.
On the proposal seeking to increase informal exchanges between the tribunals, he said efforts should be made to minimize costs, using electronic communication tools including video conferencing. The matter of designating one such tribunal with exclusive jurisdiction to hear cases related to the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations or decisions would require support among United Nations common system organizations. Implementing the proposal to establish an appeal mechanism with limited jurisdiction over cases arising from ICSC recommendations and decisions would imply a significant change in the jurisdictional set-up of the common system, he said. The ACABQ recommends that the General Assembly note the Secretary-General’s report with a view to finalizing the proposal and establishing the joint chamber.
TANYA QUINN-MAGUIRE, President of the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA), said it is imperative to build staff trust in the common system by diligently implementing the agreed methodologies, which were endorsed by the Assembly, until the upcoming comprehensive review decides otherwise. FICSA welcomes the relatively minor adjustments to danger pay and the hardship allowance, key parts of a compensation package which help attract and retain staff in those duty stations that rely most on the United Nations. Both adjustments can also help recruit and retain female staff in those difficult duty stations. “I am sure that we do not need to remind any of the distinguished Committee Members that these are duty stations where staff have paid, and continue to pay, the highest cost in their service to the United Nations,” she said.
She noted that UN staff members have not received any legitimately expected adjustments to the children’s allowance since 2011. This is one of the few social security benefits which staff consider when they accept a position with the United Nations. They are away from the support of their families and their national social security schemes. FICSA fully endorses the compromise proposal in paragraph 125 of the ICSC’s 2023 report, which would also restore the relationship with the methodology for the allowance for a child with disability. Any further discussion should be reserved for the upcoming comprehensive review of the compensation package. Regarding the jurisdictional set-up issue, she said FICSA reiterates its position that the proposal to establish a joint chamber would not address the issue’s root cause and would infringe upon the independence and autonomy of the tribunals.
KARIN ESPOSITO, President of the United Nations International Civil Servants Federation, said the harmonized implementation of package components, including when amended, such as the new parental leave framework, are essential for common system cohesion. Consensus on update of levels of hardship allowance should be urgently arrived at so that staff can be correctly compensated for difficult living and working conditions, particularly considering current conflicts, rising insecurity and loss of staff lives. She said adherence to the 2022 ICSC decision on the mobility incentive level must be consistent while discussions on elements like children’s and secondary dependants’ allowance should ideally be concluded by reinstating the methodology linking it with the related allowance for a child with a disability and ending the 11-year freeze on revising the flat rate. “A means-tested approach would not correctly reflect that this allowance is a replacement of the loss of national benefits,” she stressed. The review of the compensation package could deeply impact the workforce, its morale and attractiveness of the service.
“This current review should focus on ensuring the continued ability of organizations to effectively deliver on their respective mandates, while maintaining that the package should both attract and retain the best combination of talents, competencies, and diversity,” she said. Recognizing the time and resources needed for such a review, her organization supports the proposal that such reviews be conducted every 10 years.
NATHALIE MEYNET, President of the Coordinating Committee for International Staff Unions and Associations of the United Nations System (CCISUA), said CCISUA, which represents more than 60,000 staff of common system, appreciates the Assembly’s adoption of the parental leave policy. “Based on the overwhelmingly positive reception by younger staff and its potential to attract and retain quality expertise and skills of all genders and from all regions, we ask that it be implemented fully,” she said. The CCISUA supported the outcome on post adjustment and endorsed the Advisory Committee on Post Adjustment Questions’ work on post adjustment questions. Noting the positive working relationships that have developed in recent years, she thanked the Assembly for encouraging the Commission to engage more fully with staff federations and organizations. Turning to the proposed compensation review, she noted that the outcome of the previous comprehensive review was recently implemented and Member States praised it. “A new review therefore seems premature,” she said, adding that the last review left staff with the bitter impression that the exercise’s overall purpose was to erode conditions, especially in the field.
“This has left organizations less able to recruit essential skills,” she said. “Today’s labour market is globally very tight, more family focused and less willing to move to difficult and dangerous locations; this must be the starting point of a new review.” The review should also examine the conditions of National Professional Officers and enable their career progression, including into the international category. The CCISUA supports the Commission’s recommendation to update child allowances, as these are essential for staff with children and mirror equivalent fiscal benefits in home countries. Regarding the hardship allowance, she said the practices align with benchmarks and trusted it would be updated accordingly. Any review of the methodology should naturally take place during the comprehensive review. “For now, the methodology recently approved by Member States, and to which staff have abided by, should be respected,” she said, adding that applies to the mobility incentive and danger pay. Staff expect that they will be updated in line with the approved methodology.
RICHARD TUR DE LA CONCEPCIÓN (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” and China, reiterated the Group’s commitment to a single, unified United Nations common system and reaffirmed the Commission’s crucial role in regulating and coordinating the conditions of service of the common system as stipulated in article 1 paragraph 1 of its statute, “which is why we defend that ICSC must be properly funded and staffed”. It further asserts that the Commission continue to establish post adjustment multipliers under article 11 of its statute and in line with General Assembly resolution 77/256 A-B. He noted that as of September 2023, several organizations under the jurisdiction of the ILO Administrative Tribunal have accepted the amendments. On the joint chamber between that ILO Administrative Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal to issue preliminary rulings in cases involving recommendations or decisions of the Commission, the Group looks forward to a comprehensive and productive discussion as “we believe that greater exchanges between the tribunals, as appropriate, would be beneficial”.
He said the proposal for one tribunal to be tasked with exclusive jurisdiction over cases related to the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations or decisions would require support among member organizations of the common system. On review of the compensation package, he urged the Commission to note the trend of the expanded use of remote working arrangements in view of the post adjustment multiplier, as it is inconsistent that a staff member benefits from the post adjustment of a duty station at which they do not reside. Commending the Commission´s support on examining issues regarding National Professional Officers, including their nomenclature, salary comparability, benefits, and progression to the international Professional category, he underscored the importance for the organizations to continually introduce policies enhancing gender parity, disability inclusion and equitable geographical representation system wide.
JOSEPH ARON MWASOTA (United Republic of Tanzania), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Charter of the United Nations clearly stipulates the need to ensure the highest standard of efficiency, competence and integrity in the Organization’s staff composition. The African Group remains convinced that attractive conditions of service to staff and their families is an essential element for the UN to stand out as a preferred employer, he said. The Group will closely watch the implementation of the Assembly’s decisions in resolution 77/256 A–B and looks forward to more information on the status of the compensation package’s comprehensive review. The Group encourages the Commission to explore all types of incentives for staff mobility that could be applied in lieu of financial compensation. The Group will also closely watch to ensure that equal and non-discriminatory approaches are used to evaluate danger pay for all grades and categories of staff.
He said equal measures of motivation, protection and compensation should be applied for serving at hardship duty stations. The Group will work closely on the recommendations on staff mobility and accompanying administrative decisions. He sought information about measures taken to ensure equitable geographical representation and the Organization’s rejuvenation. He encouraged the Commission to extend efforts to enhance entry-level recruitment, to financially support internships and Junior Professional Officer candidates from developing countries. The Group encourages the Commission to continue all efforts to ensure all organizations, agencies, funds and programmes adhere to the common system, which is essential to consolidate a single, unified United Nations common system, he said. It is also critically important that all organizations in the common system adhere to the Assembly’s decisions. He underscored the need to enhance the Commission’s organizational capability as it plays a critical role in supporting effective human resource management.
GINA ANDREA SCHMIED (Switzerland), speaking also for Liechtenstein, said the United Nations’ ability to fully carry out its functions greatly depends on the skills, motivation, and dedication of the staff it employs. “In the face of the many challenges, that we are confronted with, a modern Organization with qualified, motivated and appropriately remunerated staff is of paramount importance,” she stressed. Switzerland and Liechtenstein therefore underscore the importance of the UN common system, the strength and unity of which makes it possible to guarantee coherent and equitable working conditions and remuneration for all staff, and welcome the Commission’s in-depth work regarding the workplace in Bern. For a uniform application of the clarification of the Commission's statute at last year’s general meeting which closed a loophole in the common system that had existed for years, she invited those organizations that have not yet ratified the statute’s amendments to do so as soon as possible, adding that the task at hand is “to provide the system with the best possible conditions for future problems to be resolved in a uniform manner”.
While both countries welcome the Secretary-General's report on dealing with parallel justice systems and jurisdictional issues, they are not convinced by the proposal for a joint chamber of the ILO Administrative Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal on the grounds of its feasibility or operation. The General Assembly should not adopt it without the ILO following up with the corresponding commitments, she said. Both tribunals should therefore intensify exchanges among themselves to improve knowledge and understanding of each other's case law and ensure consistency between jurisdictions.
JESÚS VELÁZQUEZ CASTILLO (Mexico) said his delegation will analyse the Commission’s proposals and their implications for the regular budget and the Organization's post-2024 peacekeeping budget. Mexico considers the common system a valuable asset that guarantees unity, coherence and administrative certainty for the United Nations system. The Commission’s decisions and recommendations help maintain a clear overall vision and establish common conditions for the entire United Nations system on relevant issues, such as staff remuneration and benefits. His delegation also supports the Commission’s initiative to consolidate the jurisdictional structure of the common system, which would help resolve the jurisprudence of cases related to Commission decisions and recommendations, he said. He suggested building on the proposals laid out in the Secretariat report, including the feasible alternative of creating a joint chamber of the ILO Administrative Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal. Such a proposal stems from the need to secure the future unity and coherence of the common system.
KAWASAKI YUTA (Japan) said the common system must remain fair and sustainable through continuous review, reflecting changes in economic situations, including the cost of living, in order to maintain the confidence placed in it. His delegation, underscoring the upcoming comprehensive compensation package review is a critical opportunity to make the system more sustainable and attractive, particularly for younger people, looks forward to discussions on the matter. “While some organizations are processing acceptance and implementation of the amendment to apply post adjustment multiplier based on the decision of ICSC, it is essential to discuss feasible and practical measure to prevent the application of divergent entitlement in the future,” he said. Japan hopes to examine the rationale and justification of revising base salaries and allowances, including children and secondary dependants’ allowances “so that we are held accountable for the efficient use of these resources and can maintain the high motivation and confidence” of staff.
GUO KE (China), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, commended the Commission’s efforts to maintain the unity and integrity of the UN common system. The maintenance of a coherent and unified common system is the basis for regulating and harmonizing conditions of service. The amendments made to the Commission statute in Assembly resolution 77/256-A have effectively resolved the issue of divergent post adjustment multipliers in the Geneva area. She hoped all organizations would accept the amendment. Her delegation noted the Commission’s adjustments, including adjustments to the base/floor salary, danger pay and mobility incentive. China has always maintained that the improvement of the staff’s conditions of service should take full account of the level of socioeconomic development of Member States, the motivational effect on staff and ensure Member States can meet their relevant financial obligations. She urged the Secretariat to take measures to improve the geographical representation of developing countries in the international civil service system.