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20 June 2017 - Report on the work stoppage of all UN staff in Geneva - Friday, 16 June 2017

On Friday, 16 June, international organizations in Geneva, under the aegis of the Coordinating Committee for International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA) and the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA) came to a halt for two hours in the afternoon to protest the decision of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) to impose an almost immediate 7.7 per cent pay cut. Some pictures and videos can be accessed here, compliments of the ILO Staff Union. There was also media coverage in French in the local newspapers: Tribune de Geneve,  Le Temps and 24heures.

A number of high-level meetings were suspended during this work stoppage, including the Human Rights Council. However, staff federations asked that for humanitarian reasons, the Syria talks should continue to be serviced and colleagues working for the International Labour Conference (ILC) were asked to wear red arm bands to show their solidarity. During the work stoppage many offices lay empty, some field offices stopped their work (also as a sign of solidarity) while a large number of staff convened in Room 18 of the Palais des Nations for an extraordinary general meeting. The meeting was raucous with table thumping and chants of “No Pay Cut”. Attendees included directors and human resources personnel. The federations thanked staff for attending the meeting despite pressure from some UN management two days before - pressures which were universally ignored. Staff were joined by a delegation from the Workers’ Group of the International Labour Conference led by David Boys from Public Services International (PSI) and French trade union leader Bernard Thibault.

During the meeting, staff were updated on the situation and informed about the next steps. The messages of support from associations/unions/federations worldwide were read out to applause. The background to the pay dispute lies in a decision of the ICSC to cut pay by the equivalent of one month’s salary per year on the basis of a cost-of-living survey. The ICSC’s decision, made in late March in New York, would require the pay cut to be implemented in May for newly arriving staff in Geneva, and from August for existing staff. A series of staff meetings and rallies, at which inconsistencies were pointed out in the ICSC data, led many executive heads of Geneva-based agencies to refuse to implement the cut until such time as they could get satisfactory answers to the concerns raised by staff. However after two meetings with the ICSC, they remained unconvinced by the answers provided by the ICSC.

Further, the refusal of the ICSC three times to meet with Geneva staff led to claims of the ICSC being unsure of its own figures. Under pressure, the ICSC accepted to receive a team of statisticians from UNCTAD, ILO and IMF to examine their data. Their report will be out later this week but informally we understand their calculations to be full of errors. The stoppage and concerns of staff received significant media coverage. It is hoped that this will ensure that both ICSC and UN New York management understand the strength and depth of feelings in Geneva. The next step will be the ICSC meeting in Vienna in July where the issue will be on the agenda for possible reconsideration. Both staff federations and the management teams of Geneva-based agencies are seeking dialogue with the ICSC to see how their original decision could be reconsidered on the basis of the calculation errors and significant unrest from the staff.

We would like to thank those who bravely participated in the work stoppage. We note that many staff are motivated now more than ever, full of energy and prepared to fight for their rights. We are growing in numbers. This solidarity, this cooperation across networks of groups with a common cause emboldens us to fo even further. Should that dialogue prove to be unproductive and the decision not be reversed, it is likely that further collective action will be considered. In the meantime, if you haven’t signed the petition yet against ICSC, please do so now.

Thank you for all your support and let’s remain mobilized!