Tag Archives: featured

Response to Unite Connections and Unite Docs Newsletter 3

A message from the Staff Council Representatives of units 17, 20, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29, also available in French:

It’s an e-mail like so many others of the kind that floods our antiquated inboxes, announcing with enthusiasm the umpteenth update of our favourite software package. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t pay the least attention to it, but today, by chance, we decide to read this monthly newsletter on Unite Connections and Unite Docs. And much to our surprise we discover a text seemingly taken straight from the pages of a dystopian novel, heralding the programmed disappearance of our free time and private lives!
Thus we read:

Long passed are the days when we only worked from 9AM till 5PM at our desk and it was acceptable to say I didn’t have access to a certain document at 10PM. With today’s available technology we can work from home, during our commute or lunch break without much extra effort or tools needed. Considering that some of us no longer have permanent desks either, it seems very timely to move our documents to a storage accessible from anywhere at any given moment. Plugged in 24/7 – whether it is for the better or worse but definitely a shift in our working culture!

Among the many questions and thoughts that flood our minds upon reading this shocking paragraph is, of course, the desire to know who the author is. A prankster staff member? A cynical manager? A zealous intern whose memo no one took the time to review? Who would dare so casually announce to the entire UN staff that it is time to give up the old-fashioned concept of downtime? And this “for the better or worse”?

The second question that comes to mind concerns knowing whether this is merely a harmless, though very unfortunate, blunder, or if it is a slip-up revealing a deeper trend in our organization, a trend that would lead us little by little to a methodology and a work culture worthy only of the worst of the worst private companies, the kind whose employees leave the office exhausted, depressed and utterly empty.

Do we really still have a such a long road to travel to raise awareness, even within the UN, about the many risks this approach entails – disengagement, high turnover, exhaustion, burnout and severe harm to the mental and physical health of staff, to name a few?

While some are gleefully calling for 24h/day connectivity and availability, others among us will not be so quick to dismiss the centuries-old wisdom there is in nurturing our body and health to ensure peak of performance of the mind, not to mention the countless recent scientific studies that demonstrate the unsustainability of such an approach on the long term. Here is an example among thousands, from an article published in the Harvard Business Review in March 2017:

The psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees, which cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the U.S., are just the most obvious impacts. The true cost to business can be far greater, thanks to low productivity across organizations, high turnover, and the loss of the most capable talent.

When did it stop being “acceptable” to spend our lunch break among colleagues, to pass our daily commute in quiet reflection, to sleep deeply and soundly through the night?

Doesn’t the UN, guardian of our fundamental rights, have other ambitions for its staff than to make beasts of burden of us all? Are the wonderful technological advances of our time meant to make us bear an even heavier workload rather than to lighten it?

If the UN welcomes with open arms this logic of money as the end-all be-all, in which cutting costs takes priority over our well-being and in whose name we would be deprived of our desks and workspaces, of our free time and days off, then how are we supposed to believe in the grand visions of humanism the leaders put forth in their missions or in its objectives for a better world? How, then, does the UN hope to defend Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, wherein the General Assembly affirms that “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay”?

Pension Fund Board Meeting Recap

This content was originally posted on the CCISUA website and is shared here on behalf of the UN Staff Union of New York, part of the CCISUA federation.

The annual meeting of the UN Pension Board has just concluded and we would like to inform you of the outcome. It is important to know that UN staff representatives numbered 4 of the 33 board members. You can see the statement by the staff federations here.

Negative audit reports: The Board considered a number of audit reports from OIOS and the Board of Auditors. Some were quite damning, raising among other things non-cooperation by the Fund’s management with auditors, incorrect figures supplied to the actuaries resulting in the actuarial report having to be dropped, and false information provided to UN staff on the size of the payment backlog.

Extension of the CEO: In view of the above, and taking into account the serious payment backlog, lack of contingency planning and poor staff-management relations at the fund, we worked with others on the Board for the non-renewal of CEO Sergio Arvizu for another five years. The reduction to three years of the second term, with no possibility of renewal, installation of special oversight measures, a search committee to find a successor and a limit on the CEO’s ability to start new projects without Board approval, is the result of a long and difficult session. It nevertheless sends a strong signal. However, the Board’s decision on renewal is only a recommendation to the Secretary-General who alone must make the final decision.

Budget: The Board approved a large increase in the budget of the Fund’s secretariat, with new posts mainly at the top levels. We made clear our reservations about a budget increase we found to be irresponsible, especially as these posts are paid for by you and will eat into the fund’s future financial position. This will now be decided by the General Assembly in the fall.

Long-term sustainability: the Fund faces an environment in which lower investment returns and a growing budget are paired with an increasing ratio of beneficiaries to contributors and an increasing ratio of non-staff to staff. This fundamental issue was not discussed even though we consider it the most important challenge for the fund right now. We hope to get this on next year’s agenda.

Attempts by the CEO to prevent elected board members from attending: Two staff representatives from the UN were prevented from attending the Board despite 4,600 of you signing a petition. The CEO cited conflict of interest. We are not convinced. Nor did the Secretary-General appear to be in last week’s town hall meeting. The matter is currently at the UN Appeals Tribunal.

Monitoring and follow-up: In order to contribute to the monitoring and follow-up of the Fund between board meetings we were pleased that one of us was elected to the Audit Committee and another as second Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee.

In conclusion: this was our first year at the board meeting during which we worked closely with other board members.

However, we do feel that in the future, board members must pay more attention to issues of sustainability, governance and management of liabilities. Further, there is an important lack of expertise in areas of finance and management that needs to be corrected.

We also question the ability of a Board composed of 33 members and an almost equal number of alternates, all meeting only once a year for five days, to properly oversee the ongoing operations of a complex fund with $60 billion in assets and obligations to 200,000 beneficiaries and contributors. This is not without risk and we have suggested more frequent Standing Committee meetings which would place the Board in a better position to exercise its responsibilities on a more regular and sustained basis. We have much to work on.

We will continue to keep you updated and thank you for your trust and support. We will continue to advocate on your behalf.

Mary Abu Rakabeh

Ibrahima Faye

Aissatou Ndeye Ndiaye

Bernadette Nyiratunga

Ian Richards

Michelle Rockcliffe

UN participant representatives

World Humanitarian Day 2017

On 19 August 2003, a terrorist attack hit the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, killing 22 people. 19 August has since been declared World Humanitarian Day. This year, the World Humanitarian Day #NotATarget campaign advocates for the protection of civilians, children, targets of sexual violence, humanitarian workers, health workers, and forcibly displaced peoples conflict areas. You can assist the campaign by signing the petition and using the hashtag on social media.
Staff union leadership from UNHQ and UNICEF joined Secretary-General Guterres and OCHA USG Stephen O’Brien at a stand together event for #WorldHumanitarianDay 2017.