Ben Simon –
On the list of workers facing pay cuts, United Nations staff in Geneva are unlikely to garner much sympathy.
UN employees are by contract the highest paid civil servants in the world.
Their tax-free salaries are often complemented by multiple benefits, including subsidies for rent, healthcare and dependants, along with grants covering part of their children’s private school fees up through one university degree.
An employee in Geneva with three children and roughly a decade of experience could take home $147,000, including salary and dependants’ allowances.
A 7.5-per cent pay cut due to hit Geneva-based UN employees in August has triggered fierce resistance and stirred broader questions about the world body’s future in the face of mounting financial pressures.
Even before US President Donald Trump took office, there were calls from major donors for the UN to tighten its belt.
Some opponents of the looming Geneva salary cut say geopolitics may have influenced the decision.
“I think maybe it’s an anticipation of cuts coming from the US and maybe trying to show the US Congress that it takes some of the criticism seriously,” said Edward Patrick Flaherty, a lawyer with Schwab, Flaherty and Associates in Geneva who specialises in cases against international organisations like the UN.
Flaherty, who said he will represent staff if the salary row moves to court, argued that instead of trimming workers pay the UN should save by squandering less money.
“There is so much waste in the UN system,” he said.
The pay cuts were recommended by the International Civil Service Commission, a body appointed by the UN General Assembly which governs UN employees.
It found that although Geneva is extremely pricey, the cost of living adjustment given to staffers in the Swiss city was excessive and unfair to other UN duty stations.
Union leaders have rejected those findings and have mounted several challenges, including possibly labour action.
“We are talking about almost of month (of lost salary) in one of the world’s most expensive cities”, said Ian Richards, who heads the UN staff union in Geneva.
He agreed with Flaherty that the push to cut was likely coming from some member-states, rather than within the UN.
But he also suggested that Geneva may have been the first target because of tensions with headquarters in New York. — AFP