Wage dispute Geneva UN staff up in arms over pay cut

Around 1,000 UN staff members gathered in Geneva on Thursday to protest against the pay cut

(UN)

United Nations staff based in Geneva have protested against plans to slash annual salaries of international civil servants in the Swiss city. Officials say the move could endanger Geneva’s future attractiveness for UN professionals.

Around 1,000 UN staff gathered at the UN Palais des Nations complex external linkon Thursday to express their anger at plans to lower UN Geneva–level salaries by reducing a so-called ‘”post adjustment index” for professional staff working in the city, one of the most expensive in the world. The top-up salary measure takes into account differences in living costs and aims to provide staff with the same purchasing power at all UN duty stations.

On Thursday, staff waved red cards with the words “No 7.5% pay cut” in protest and unanimously backed a staff resolution calling on UN organisations in Geneva not to implement the pay cut. In that resolution, they threaten to “use all legitimate means to defend their interests”, while some staff have called for strike action. The last strike at the UN in Geneva took place in 1977 over pay.

The dispute follows a cost-of-living survey conducted in Geneva in October 2016. The UN’s International Civil Service Commission (ICSC),external link which fixes and balances global staff salary levels, recently rubberstamped the survey’s conclusions and agreed to lower the post-adjustment index of UN staff who serve in the French-speaking international city. The cut is slated to be phased in this year.

“They want to bring UN salaries in Geneva down to New York levels. UN staff in New York lost purchasing power due to inflation and now they want to impose it on Geneva,” said Ian Richards, the UN staff union’s executive secretary.

“Staff are very upset as this comes after a series of other cuts and with the UN spending $1 billion on a Geneva headquarters that nobody wants.”

He said people fear a major negative impact on their livelihoods as staff will have difficulty meeting existing financial commitments including expensive rents, school fees, loans and other day-to-day costs.

Stephanie Case, a UN human rights lawyer based in Geneva, said her UN colleagues view the 7.5% cut as “an assault on our labour rights”.

Numerous senior UN officials and professionals attended the meeting on Thursday. More widely, there are fears the cuts will make Geneva a less attractive duty station for policy and decision-making personnel, reducing the profile and importance of international Geneva.

“Senior staff are asking whether it’s worth staying in Geneva,” said Richards.

Nikhil Seth, executive director of the Geneva-based UN training and research agency, UNITAR, shared his concern on Twitter.

Michael Moller, director general of the UN in Geneva, declined to comment on the potential impact of the salary cuts.

Basic annual UN salariesexternal link for so-called P1-P5 and D1-2 staff range from $35,998-126,340 (CHF36,156-126,945) net.

As the cost of living varies significantly among duty stations, a post adjustment figure is added to the basic salary designed to compensate the differences in living costs, thereby providing staff with the same purchasing power at all duty stations. The index is calculated according to the base station (New York) and adjusted for each duty station. Differences in living costs are measured through periodic surveys.

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