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Delegates Concerned over Disparities in Staff Benefits

Delegates Concerned over Disparities in Staff Benefits as Budget Committee Examines Labour Contracts, Health Insurance Plans

04 March 2016
 Seventieth Session,

25th Meeting (AM)

The United Nations must uphold the very international labour practices it supported by ensuring that those working within the system were fairly treated and compensated during and after their service, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) heard today during its consideration of a range of human resources issues.

From non-staff personnel to retirees, those working for the United Nations should enjoy fair benefits and wages, the Committee heard as a number of department heads introduced related reports.

Delegations also raised concerns, with the representative from Thailand, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, calling for a more transparent recruitment process and effective workforce planning.  Also needed was increased Secretariat staff representation from developing countries, particularly women and at senior levels.

The representative from the United States said it was critical for the United Nations to establish comprehensive workforce and succession planning to fulfil such objectives as gender diversity.  The speaker from the Republic of Korea said human resources management reform would allow the Organization to better respond to the international community’s many pressing needs.

A dual workforce, however, had been created with regard to non-staff personnel, said Achamkulangare Gopinathan, Inspector/Chairman of the Joint Inspection Unit — the external oversight body tasked with conducting evaluations, inspections and investigations of the Organization.  Given that 45 per cent of the Organization’s workers were employed under non-staff contracts, some enjoyed entitlements while others had limited benefits.  While hiring non-staff personnel may on the surface be more cost-effective, no analytical data were available on long-term savings, he said.

To address that issue and the potential legal challenges stemming from the inappropriate use of non-staff personnel, he said, individual organizations should prepare plans to end that practice and clear guidelines should be established.  “The inspectors wish to remind United Nations system organizations that they should not assume that the need for practical solutions overrides their respective obligations to put into practice the values that the United Nations system organizations defend, represent and embody,” he said.  “They should also not deviate substantially from what good labour practices require.”

Kenneth Herman, Senior Adviser on Information Management Policy Coordination of the Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, introduced the Secretary-General’s note on the topic, which said some of the Unit’s recommendations presented challenges.

Examining reform suggestions, Ian Richards, Vice-President of the Staff-Management Committee, expressed concern at the proposal to extend the time limit from one to two years for temporary appointments.  Rather, he supported recognizing equal pay for equal work, and providing temporary staff comparable leave and benefits to their colleagues.

Turning to after-service health insurance liabilities, Pedro Guazo, Director of the Accounts Division in the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts, introduced the Secretary-General’s related report, which gave an update on the health insurance coverage of United Nations staff.  At an annual average per-person cost of $1,824, health insurance represented 1.7 per cent of the total resources the United Nations received in assessed and voluntary contributions, with 6 per cent going for administrative costs.  To improve its management system-wide, the Working Group had come up with eight recommendations, including securing access for retirees to the national health insurance schemes of their countries of residence, he said, noting that the recommendations did not represent a specific funding plan for the Secretariat.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced that body’s related report (document A/70/7/Add.42), which stated that the pay-as-you-go approach, as supported by the General Assembly, was viable and it should be continued.

Representing tens of thousands of United Nations retirees, Linda Saputelli, President of the Federation of Associations of Former International Civil Servants, said health insurance ranked second behind pension on the list of the Federation’s priority concerns.  The absence of a common methodology for valuing health insurance liabilities, a top concern, could be addressed by proposals for harmonization.  Organizations still on the pay-as-you-go approach should move to a pay-as-you-accrue basis, which was fully consistent with the International Public Sector Accounting Standards.  She also backed the recommendation to explore the use of external asset managers to invest health insurance balances.  “Well-managed investment arrangements should ultimately result in lower insurance premiums for retirees and organizations,” she said.

Sharing a similar view, the representative of Thailand, speaking on behalf of the Group 77, said he attached great importance to staff welfare with regard to end-of-service liabilities, including after-service health insurance as many could not benefit from national social security schemes of Member States owing to their service with United Nations.  Given the significance and complexity of the issue, a holistic, system-wide approach for a long-term solution was needed, he said.

Also introducing reports on related human resources management issues were Mr. Ruiz Massieu, who addressed mobility, secondment and Secretariat composition, and Elia Yi Armstrong, Director of the Ethics Office, who discussed its activities from 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.

The Fifth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 March, to discuss accountability.

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