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international civil servants in Geneva

Larbi Djacta, ICSC Chair: I am making the ICSC more transparent
7 Dec 2020

UN Today recently met with Larbi Djacta, the Chair of the International Civil Service Commission, the body that recommends our salaries and conditions of service.

You were elected chair of the ICSC, two years ago, at a time when the credibility of the Commission and some of its members has been put into question, mainly following the Geneva pay cut. What do you intend to do to restore the trust of staff in the Commission and its work?

To restore trust, I plan to enhance the ICSC’s transparency in all its processes. This is why I have ensured that all stakeholders are fully engaged in the ongoing review of the statistical methodology and operational rules. 

I am also pleased to inform you that the ICSC has just approved a package of operational rules that are much more protective of staff salaries as they ensure stability in the evolution of salaries and predictability of their periodic adjustments. The statistical methodology is also being reviewed by the Geneva organizations’ best statisticians, who are working closely with the ICSC’s statisticians, also with the help of expert consultants.

I am confident that the package that the Commission will approve in March 2021, before launching the new survey round, will be one that is fully supported by all stakeholders; indeed the ICSC will not implement any methodology that they not beforehand agree with.

There are currently talks about changing the contractual framework to add new Uber-style, agile contracts. Do you believe that there is a real need for this?

UN staff appointments, including those of most UN common system organizations, have over the years been premised on stable and predictable business models and set career paths for staff serving the UN, aptly called an international civil service.

To support this, the General Assembly established the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC). The ICSC Statute mandates the Commission to lead reforms in the human resource contractual modalities, benefits, policies and practices.  Our primary purpose is therefore to ensure cohesion in the common system on matters relating to UN Staff members. This prevents unfair competition among UN agencies and ensures economies of scale in approaching human resources matters, particularly those relating to salaries and benefits.

The ICSC framework includes three staff contract types – temporary, fixed-term and continuing. Organizations may implement all or any combination of these. Consultancy contracts are not covered under the framework as the ICSC Statute is limited to staff.  

At its 90th session, held last month in Geneva, the ICSC reviewed the implementation of the three types of appointments. Based on the responses provided by the common system organizations regarding some challenges, the Commission decided it needed more information on how and where the current arrangements did not meet the organizations’ needs and whether those could actually be addressed within the current framework instead of having to create a new type of contract. To this end it set up a working group. 

 

“However, if there are any negative results that can be attributed to the impact of COVID, I reserve the delegated authority of the Commission to apply special measures to neutralize that impact.
Larbi Djacta, ICSC Chair

In order to achieve the equal pay principle that Geneva staff have been claiming for two years, the ICSC has scheduled a cost-of-living survey using the new methodology for 2021. However, is this realistic given that patterns of consumption such as for commuting, holidays and eating out are currently distorted? And would you allow further cuts to salaries should the results not be positive? 

I agree that the ongoing Covid pandemic has distorted the expenditure patterns of staff in all duty stations. We hope that these patterns will settle down by the time of data collection, one year from now. However, the ICSC secretariat and statisticians of Geneva-based organizations, as well as members of ACPAQ, are monitoring these issues and reviewing current best practices in similar organizations and national or regional statistics offices. I am confident that ACPAQ will submit a well-informed recommendation in this regard to the commission at its spring session next year, before the survey round is launched. And as Chair I have the final say on when any survey is launched. 

In this connection, please note that the ICSC secretariat has resumed its survey programme at the request of duty stations and a number of surveys are being conducted effective November 2020 using the old methodology and as part of the old survey round; Geneva isn’t affected by this. Also, similar surveys are being conducted by many national statistics offices and consumer price indices are being produced unabated, even though of course this is not directly comparable. 

However, if there are any negative results that can be attributed to the impact of COVID, I reserve the delegated authority of the Commission to apply special measures to neutralize that impact. I am optimistic that such special measures will not be necessary, but that option is available if needed.

My priorities:

1) Transparent Post Adjustment

2) Sustainable participatory and inclusive local salary survey methodology

3) More modern parental leave provisions

4) Updated levels of most allowances

5) Updated standards and frameworks

* Prisca Chaoui is Executive Secretary of the Staff Coordinating Council of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG). Ian Richards is an economist at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
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