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Staff unions call for major reform at Guterres first global townhall

Staff unions today called for major reforms at Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s first global townhall.

With the aim of ensuring “that hard work, upholding UN values and contributing to SDGs are recognized and rewarded,” staff unions said change was needed in staff selection, performance management, gender balance, mobility, staff safety, the pension fund, whistleblower protection, management accountability and impact on the ground.

Watch the video at 16.25. Staff representatives from Bangkok, Nairobi, Beirut, Addis Ababa and Santiago followed, with an emphasis on the reviewing plans for the global service delivery model. The statement text is below.

We look forward to working closely with Guterres on these matters.


Mr. Secretary-General, welcome!

On behalf of staff and unions, we look forward to working with you these coming five, ten years.

Our colleagues here today have high expectations. Not least making the reforms to ensure that hard work, upholding UN values and contributing to SDGs are recognized and rewarded.

This may seem obvious to you, coming from outside, but in the UN Secretariat it’s been different.

Let’s start the reforms then by going back to giving UN staff preference for promotions over hiring externals, as at UNHCR. It’s a big request to make to the General Assembly, but why should we advertise every vacancy outside when the skills and experience are already there inside?

And to help that happen, let’s make performance reports count once again towards promotion. Past performance is the best predictor for the future.

Let’s also work with the General Assembly so General Service, Field Service and National Officers can apply to international professional posts. Outsiders should not have easier access to P posts than 50 percent of our own staff.

It’s also time to get to the bottom of why more women don’t get promoted. Are there unconscious biases and how can we correct that? Are flexible work arrangements evenly applied? Should parental leave be reviewed? WHO and UNICEF give six months. The Global Fund lets mothers transfer some leave to fathers to share responsibilities. Parental leave should also cover non-traditional families.

Mr. Secretary-General, you’ve talked about helping young people. The average joining age at the UN is 41. Only 3% of posts are P-2. Our many young colleagues are instead employed as free interns, UN volunteers, consultants and temporary staff. Let’s convert entry-level work to real posts, pay our interns and fund it by cutting some USG and ASG positions before you fill them.

Let’s be pragmatic too and make mobility about staff going where their skills and experience are best. Not just moving for the sake of moving, which creates unnecessary uncertainty for staff, families and departments. Selection times are long, OHRM overburdened. Let’s decide what decisions such as recruitment and promotion are centralized to guarantee quality, and what is decentralized for faster and better lateral deployments, while also helping staff change departments and duty stations if they want.

Mr. Secretary-General, last year I attended the annual memorial for fallen staff and peacekeepers. They read out a record 217 names of which 59 killed in Mali alone. Is the money we receive to be in the world’s most dangerous places always worth the staff we lose, and how can we improve safety?

And for staff who retire, the current two months wait to get paid, even if down from six months last year, is too long. The fund’s staff work so hard. But its leadership stumbles from one mess to another. The General Assembly heard us and blocked the fund’s exit from the UN. We now count on you to change the fund’s leadership.

Mr. Secretary-General, our critics are watching closely. The UN’s behavior must be irreproachable. Staff who report misconduct, rapes, fraud, breaking of rules should not be hounded out of office. They should be protected with a better whistleblower policy. We cannot afford any more scandals and cover-ups.

Further, as you mentioned, let’s put in place accountability for senior managers, and where needed, coaching in management skills.

Lastly, let’s make our work more interesting and impactful. Let’s reform our institutions and their roles to tighten the link between work and impact. Let’s stop morale-damaging pay cuts. Let’s give staff their own desk, not hot-desking. Let’s cut back on meetings, memos, endless chains of approval and note-taking. Let’s trust staff to implement the SDGs, whether GS, P, S, FS or NO and at every grade. We shouldn’t feel overqualified for our jobs. We should feel challenged, at every step.

Mr. Secretary-General, we look forward to working with you. There’s a lot to do. This is only a start and colleagues today will bring up much more. Your job isn’t easy, nor should it be. But together we can achieve a lot for the UN and those we help.

Secretary-General, Colleagues, thank you