“Hey, did you hear, we won’t be getting a pay cut. The Staff Union and Management managed to save us from that killer pay cut of 7.7% in our salary.”
This is a common statement that I have heard in the weeks and months following the massive staff mobilization in the Spring and Summer of 2017.
Unfortunately, it’s not true. Although the No Pay Cut Campaign against the Pay Cut in Geneva, in parallel with the efforts of the Un Agencies, was successful in delaying and reducing the original cut to Post Adjustment of 7.7%, the UN Agencies are coming under renewed pressure from the member states to implement the pay cut in its reduced form (at least 2%, and possibly as high as 4%), with no evidence of an independent review of the calculations by the International Civil Service Commission.
In this article, we will recall the story of the No Pay Cut Campaign, the partial success that we achieved, as well as the current stakes for staff in the ILO and across the UN Common System. We will update you on what more you can do, now, and in the coming weeks.
Where have we come from?
In early April 2017, the bombshell arrived on the doorstep of UN Staff and Agencies: The International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) was proposing a 7.7% cut to the Post Adjustment for all P Staff and higher categories working in Geneva, more than double the cut to Post Adjustment that had been anticipated by staff representatives following discussions at the Advisory Committee on Post Adjustment Questions (ACPAQ).
Staff demanded answers, but received no response from the ICSC, which considered that in any case the decision was made. The ILO Staff Union and Staff Associations in Geneva, supported by their Federations, launched a huge campaign that reached its climax during the ILC in June 2017.
The UN Agencies responded in parallel to staff, writing a series of common letters signed by all agencies to Mr. Rhodes, the Chair of the ICSC; requesting more information on the calculations and methodology used to determine the proposed cut, and “proposing” a delay in implementation until a satisfactory level of information was provided.
UN Staff Unions and Associations scaled up the campaign and organized staff to take a series of actions that showed the UN Administration, the donors, and the International Civil Service Commission itself that you could not take away nearly a month’s salary from UN Staff and their families. Red Signs of “No Pay Cut” appeared on staff badges, on doors, and in hallways and meeting rooms across UN Agencies in Geneva.
Staff joined a series of rallies, in the rain, and in the sun, lifting their signs and chanting forcefully against the pay cut. The actions culminated in an Extra-ordinary General Assembly of all UN Staff Associations on (date), in which staff voted on a resolution authorizing work stoppages, and if necessary, strike action, to demonstrate the resolve of UN Staff to “have a say in their pay.”
On June 16, UN staff launched a joint work stoppage and brought the UN Human Rights Conference to a standstill. Interpreters walked off the job. In the rally, they shouted with their colleagues: “Hear us Loud and Clear! UN Staff have no fear,” defying pressure from management not to participate. Trade Unionists from around the world joined our movement. An international delegation of workers’ delegates to the International Labour Conference (ILC) and Public Services International (PSI) joined the work stoppage, calling on the UN to be consistent with the advice given to member states to have transparent wage setting processes. The delegation supported the demand from ILO Staff Union and others to call for Collective Bargaining in the UN over wages, as the model for sustainable UN reform.
In July, The UN Agencies and Staff Associations travelled to Vienna for the fateful meeting at which a decision would be made. The Agencies came armed with the report of the statisticians sent by the UN Agencies to examine the methodology used, clear arguments pointing out the risks of implementing the proposed cuts, including a significant risk of litigation, a risk of organizations losing talented staff to private sector organizations who could pay more, and a risk of staff losing trust in the credibility of their management.
Letters from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Public Services International (PSI), urged the Chair of the Commission to reconsider its actions, before it was too late. Staff in Geneva organized a rally to support the lobbying efforts of their counterparts: “Turn the ship around, Mr. Rhodes,” came the call.
What have we achieved?
At the conclusion of the Vienna meeting, the Commission wrote their own report of the meeting, and following a flurry of informal meetings and public discussions in which their Majesties the Commissioners refused to acknowledged even the smallest error on the part of the Commission, the proverbial plume of white smoke appeared, mirroring the secrecy of a Papal Enclave: A Decision had been made.
The Commission decided to reintroduce an exceptional Buffer against sudden cuts in Post Adjustment levels in Geneva only at 3% instead of the 5% gap closure measure that was in place UN wide until 2015
The Commission agreed to an “independent review” of the methodology and the decisions made.
The Commission blinked, but it would be revealed in the coming weeks that the review would not be carried out independent of the Commission.
In October, at the Congress of Public Services International (PSI) the ILO Staff Union, with support of U.S. affiliates of PSI, brought forth a resolution calling for Collective Bargaining and Sound Industrial Relations in the UN Common System.
Current situation & Next Steps
Through an exchange of letters between the UN Agencies and the ICSC, it became clear that the Commission had not accepted a genuine independent review of the methodology and calculations leading to the Geneva pay dispute. In fact, the HR Network was informed that the Commission had recruited, on its own, an “independent expert” on questions of post adjustment, who would review all the work of the Commission, in preparation for the February 2018 ACPAQ meeting. When the unions pressed the staff of the UN Secretary General on what happened to the agreement reached on the side-lines of Vienna which called for a tripartite committee, including a seat at the table for staff, we were told that unfortunately, “the agreement was not in writing.”
UN General Assembly Vote
In November 2017, CCISUA and FICSA appealed to members of the General Assembly in New York to restore the 5 percent gap closure measure and introduce a truly independent review process for the work of the Commission in relation to Post Adjustment Questions.
These appeals met with fierce resistance from the major donors of the UN Common System, i.e. the United States, European Union, and Canada, who urged the UN Specialized Agencies in Geneva to turn away from their “capricious” behaviour and accept the pay cuts.
Can we stop the Geneva Pay Cut before it is implemented?
The current reality is that the Geneva Pay Cut in its reduced form is likely to be implemented by UN Specialized Agencies between February and March 2018, with the possibility of gradual phase-in of the cut, so-called transition measures, based on individual agency decisions. We can try to stop it, and we should make all constituents aware of the flaws in the process, but we must broaden our strategy if we wish to succeed.
How much will it be?
The Pay cut for Geneva will be minimum of 2% and potentially as much as 4%, depending upon final benchmarking against U.S. Federal Employee salaries for 2018.
Given the political reality that without fundamental Reform of the International Civil Service Commission, there will be no looking backward on the Geneva pay cut dispute, it is critical for the ILO and other Staff Unions to focus now on legal action, and use the threat of legal action to raise awareness among Governing Body Decision-makers at each agency of the risks of implementation, as well as the need for fundamental reform of the Commission and the manner in which the post-adjustment system operates.
Why be prepared to take legal action against the Geneva Pay Cut Implementation?
∨ The ICSC Application of the methodology has been assessed as significantly flawed by Statisticians in the HR Network’s Conference Room Paper (CRP) submitted to the Vienna ICSC Conference.
∨ UN Agencies themselves warned the ICSC of the serious risk of litigation of the decision, pointing to the costs of the pay cut if it is implemented.
∨ There is no cost to staff, and no need to fear reprisals
∨ The process will be made simple, by the development of a simple template by the Staff Federations.
∨ The ICSC Geneva Pay Dispute, and loss of staff and management confidence in the Commission’s approach, must be recorded, as a means toward creating greater accountability for future decisions across the Common System.
∨ Even though the process could be long, if the complaints are granted by the ILOAT, the staff could be awarded retroactive compensation.
∨ The ILO Administrative Tribunal has rendered a number of important decisions on salary issues in the past including on cases where flawed methodology had been called into question.
Short-Term: Improved Calculations, Review and Implementation
In the short-term, there needs to be a system in place where staff, their representatives, and management are not only confident in the calculations that are done on Post-Adjustment, but also the manner in which they are cleared and implemented.
Medium Term: Collective Bargaining as Pathway toward Reform
If we are to build the collective power of UN Staff and to move toward a holistic mechanism for addressing wages across the Common System, we must press ahead with the UN Staff Union Federations on the objective to establish a system of Collective Bargaining, with real checks and balances, across the globe. It is clear from the survey results in other parts of the globe that this way for staff to have a say in their pay needs to look beyond individual campaigns and toward a system of Sound Industrial Relations, based on equal power at the bargaining table, between staff and management.