UNISERV to the 5th Committee on item 145. November 2022

Statement by UNISERV to the 5th Committee on item 145: UN Common System delivered by Mark Polane on 15 November 2022.

Mr. Chairman, the UNISERV Federation wishes to thank you, the members of the 5th Committee bureau and the coordinators of the respective items for your important work during this session. We appreciate the opportunity to address the General Assembly on agenda item 145 on the UN Common System.

In connection with the ICSC Report, we wish to place on record our appreciation to the ICSC Chair, Vice-Chair and Secretariat for the high quality of inclusive consultation with the organisations and staff federations. Constructive upstream consultations have resulted in decisions and recommendations that UNISERV fully endorses.

On the contractual framework, we welcome the recommendation to harmonise leave provisions for staff on temporary contracts. Also on this item, we wish to reiterate our concerns related to some UN common system organisations that continue to use contractual agreements that fall outside the contractual framework and, in fact, offer modalities where salaries and emoluments are negotiated individually. This leads to situations where United Nations personnel working side by side in the same or similar functions may have entirely different incomes and conditions of service. This practice falls so far outside of the UN Common System approach that it begs the question of why this practice is allowed to continue.

While the issue of earmarked funding continues to put tremendous strain on UN Organizations to “stay and deliver” while offering conditions of employment under the UN Staff Regulations and Rules, we are witnessing an even more worrying trend of organisations concluding framework contracts that allow for the “wholesale” outsourcing of core and mission-critical functions to private companies, including functions such as supply chain and logistics, aviation, administrative functions and notably certain “specialist services” such as “human rights”, “rule of law”, “constitutional outreach” and “support to civil society”.

For years the United Nations has relied on outsourced services, subject to a limited scope and often in technical areas that do not constitute “core functions”. In the past we have highlighted the organisational risks related to the sizeable dependence on some of these “services”. In view of recent qualitative changes in the nature of these contracts, we urge the 5th Committee to examine carefully if these outsourced activities continue to meet the criteria set out by the General Assembly, and if the prospect of Member States’ financial contributions going to fill the coffers of corporations and their shareholders at the cost of employment precarity is a desired model of operations.

We are pleased to note that the ICSC working group established to review the Standards of Conduct for the International Civil Service is having its first meeting this week. We appreciate the ICSC taking up this matter, and UNISERV looks forward to contributing meaningfully to this important work. One of our primary areas of emphasis is the need to ensure Standards of Conduct that encourage a “speak up” culture, where staff are encouraged to report wrongdoing and reassured that they will be protected from retaliation. While policies exist in this area, they have so far failed to correct the prevailing culture throughout the UN common system, whereby staff are scared to speak up, and organisations prioritise the avoidance of “bad press” and minimising reputational damage in the short term, rather than addressing issues of corruption and mismanagement at the root. Recent front-page scandals have demonstrated that internal monitoring and ethics functions are not robust enough to remain independent when corruption is prevalent at senior levels, particularly in small organisations. Scandal does not distinguish between organisations; it tarnishes all of us working under the UN emblem. We therefore, call on the General Assembly to continue to press for a genuine strengthening of accountability and whistle-blower protection from a systemwide perspective. UNISERV is committed to doing our part at all appropriate fora.

On post-adjustment issues, UNISERV supports the draft amendment to art. 10 of the ICSC Statute contained in document L.5, as a legally consistent and practical means to resolve the underlying issue. We are sceptical of the experiment in jurisdictional engineering contained in proposal 3 from the legal advisors, which we fear will only add delays, confusion and costs going forward. We trust that once the authority of the ICSC on post-adjustment issues is clarified through this common-sense amendment, the need to tamper with the jurisdictional structure will be overcome.

Thank you for your attention, we wish you success in your continuing deliberations and remain available for further discussion on any of these matters.