UN Geneva staff step up strike action over pay cut

The conference room used by the UN Human Rights Council will be empty on Friday as a result of the strike by Geneva UN staff. UN Photo

The United Nations Human Rights Council and other important UN meetings in Geneva have been cancelled on Friday after staff voted for a rare one-day strike to protest wage cuts and deteriorating work conditions. 

This content was published on March 16, 2018 - 09:52

On Thursday, over 1,000 UN civil servants voted in favour of one-day strike action, while 120 people opposed it. 

The 37th Human Rights Council session in Geneva has been cancelled on Friday, a council spokesman confirmed to the Swiss News Agency (SDA-ATS) on Thursday. Talks should be rescheduled on Monday or Tuesday next week. Parallel human rights meetings organised by states or non-governmental organisations outside the main council sessions will not be affected.

However, “other important meetings have been cancelled” on Friday, Ian Richards, head of the Staff Coordinating Council at United Nations Office at Geneva, declared.

Richards said the growing strike action showed “the extent to which UN staff have lost trust in the way in which their conditions of service, whether in Geneva or in the deep field, have been set by their employer”.

+ some background to the UN strike action

In February, an unknown number of UN Geneva staff took part in a half-day strike. Since April 2017, staff have steadily escalated their protests against plans to slash annual salaries of international civil servants in the Swiss city. They have also joined a wider UN protest for “more transparent, participatory, balanced and fair process to determine staff pay and conditions”. 

RIchards said an “intimidatory email from management against the strike had backfired and swayed those who were sitting on the fence in favour of the strike”.

The International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) last year proposed to lower UN civil servants pay in Geneva by 5.1%. This involved reducing a so-called “post adjustment index” for professional staff working in the city.  

The idea came after the ICSC surveyed the cost of living in various UN locations. It said the salary cut for Geneva-based staff would align them with colleagues in New York, where purchasing power had dropped.  

An estimated 9,500 staff work for the UN in Geneva at either the Palais des Nations European headquarters or at one of the numerous UN agencies dotted around the city, such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

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