By Jamshed Baruah
During his farewell visit to Geneva early October, the outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was told by Prisca Chaoui, deputy executive secretary of the staff union: “As you leave the UN, you leave behind civil servants who are full of concern and apprehension about their future.”
Painting a black picture, Chaoui said the staff feared job cuts after the introduction of an expensive software (Umoja – meaning “unity” in Swahili) designed to unite UN employees scattered around the globe and another efficiency initiative aimed at streamlining administrative services.
She said, staff were also unhappy with aspects of the renovation plans at the Palais des Nations – European headquarters if the UN – aimed at turning it into a modern operational UN hub. In particular, they criticise the use of open space and possible “hot-desking”: ten staff for eight desks.
“This is supposed to be his big farewell tour and he wants it to be positive PR, but he needs to be accountable,” the staff union’s executive secretary Ian Richards told swissinfo.ch. “It’s hard to find staff who will miss him. Not like his predecessor Kofi Annan.”
A few days earlier, Richards had in fact accused Ban of “the breaching of the terms of agreement between staff unions and his administration”. In a letter dated September 28, he said, this is “a matter of grave concern” and underlines “a recent trend of forcing through major changes” before Ban’s term ends on December 31, 2016 and Antonio Guterres takes over on January 1 as new Secretary-General.
Richards criticised “a number of proposals” forwarded by Ban to the UN General Assembly (GA) “that will harm staff, and which were never consulted with the staff unions, even though this is a requirement”.
The proposals, which the staff unions were surprised to read in the documents the outgoing Secretary-General sent to the GA, will lead to “more retirees being rehired and for longer; an increase in contract precarity and decrease in transparency in hiring through greater use of temporary appointments; and changes to the mobility policy that will restrict the ability of staff to get promoted”, Richards said.
“Umoja enables the transformation of our work patterns, how we conduct our business and how we manage our resources. Umoja is now used by approximately 33,000 UN Staff members across the globe,” notes a UN website.
Richards’ letter to Ban said: “When you established the revised framework for the Staff-Management Committee, you agreed to share your draft reports with staff unions for consultation before finalizing them to send to the General Assembly for its approval.”
This is stated in the administrative instruction signed by the Under Secretary-General of Management, Yukio Takasu. It was designed to enable staff unions to ensure that the reports faithfully reflect agreements reached at the Staff-Management Committee.”
Richards added: “We reminded the Department of Management of this agreement this summer. Since then, we have been waiting for your draft report. To our dismay, we note that the final report on human resources has been published and circulated without consultation with the staff unions.”
The staff unions’ executive secretary said: “Upon a careful review of the report, (A/71/323 and Add.1), we came across and noted recommendations to the General Assembly that were never discussed with staff. These will create significant and unexamined consequences for human resources management at the UN.”
They include the upward revision of permitted earnings by rehired retirees from $22,000 to 125 days of last salary per year; measures that will increase the number of temporary staff in the organization; and far-reaching changes to the mobility policy that will reduce the number of posts made available for staff and external candidates to apply to.
Richards noted with further dismay that the situation described above is a repetition of what took place last year (2015), when changes were proposed regarding the commutation of annual leave.
The staff unions’ executive secretary added: ST/AI/2014/3 provides for you to make “requests by e-mail for feedback within a specified time limit from staff representative bodies on draft reports of the Secretary-General to be presented to the General Assembly on proposals for human resources policies affecting questions of staff welfare”.