Press Releases

    DSG/SM/176
    ORG/1363
    28 October 2002

    DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL, NOTING OMBUDSMAN
    APPOINTMENT, FORESHADOWS CHANGES IN WORKING
    CONDITIONS FOR UNITED NATIONS PERSONNEL

    Staff Day Address Talks of "Tense and Troubled Moment"
    In Global Affairs, Underscoring Continuing Role of World Organization


    NEW YORK, 25 October (UN Headquarters) -- This is the text of remarks by Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, to United Nations staff in New York today on the occasion of Staff Day, 2002:

    It is a great pleasure to see everyone gathered together on Staff Day, a day on which we celebrate the multicultural, multi-talented, face of the United Nations.

    We meet at a tense and troubled moment in the world’s affairs, and therefore in the history of our world Organization.

    The car bombing in Bali two weeks ago -- which left two peacekeepers missing and three "civpol" officers seriously wounded -- underscored both the degree to which the fight against terrorism has quickly become one of the main priorities of the United Nations, and the importance of international cooperation in that struggle.

    If violence -- and the possibility of violence -- make up the foreground of this nervous moment, the background consists of the unremitting poverty and injustice that disfigure so many lives, and that are the focus of the lion’s share of our Organization’s day-to-day work.

    Staff Day this year must also, then, be a time of contemplation -- on our roles and responsibilities, and how we can better respond to perennial and emerging challenges. Any organization, whether local or multilateral, whether focused on a single issue or on the human condition writ large, must deliver for its constituents. But the United Nations, as the repository for so much of humankind’s hopes for a peaceful, equitable global order, has a special responsibility to be strong and effective, and to keep pace with the times.

    Contrary to popular belief, change is nothing new for the United Nations. Since our very founding, we have been evolving, adapting to new challenges and adjusting to new realities. Recent years have been no exception, as staff have taken on wide-ranging new responsibilities, often at a moment’s notice, in response to this or that crisis, and participated creatively in the effort to re-make the Organization from within. In short, change is our business. And so we must continue -- not because we are being forced to do so from outside, but because of our own, internally driven, desire to devote our energies to the things that matter most to the world’s people.

    That sensibility lies at the heart of the report the Secretary-General submitted to the membership last month setting out a new agenda for further strengthening the United Nations. I met with many of you during the preparation of that report, and many of your comments and concerns made their way into its decisions and recommendations. Since I hope each of you will read the report -- it’s short and quite readable -- what I would like to do today is focus on what it says in the area of human resources aspects.

    The last round of reform focused heavily on recruitment, promotion, accountability, and mobility. This time, we are looking more closely at how the United Nations can act as a better employer -- what it needs to do so that you can put your talents to the best possible use.

    One obvious step would be a more competitive system of pay and benefits. The report calls on the International Civil Service Commission, that has the authority in this area, to move faster in finalizing its proposals in this regard.

    The United Nations needs to treat staff not just as "workers", but also as individuals with lives and responsibilities outside work. Some United Nations entities already allow such arrangements as part-time employment, flexible work schedules and the right to work away from the office. Starting on 1 January, such working arrangements will be introduced in the Secretariat, subject, of course, to the work requirements of each individual office.

    The Secretary-General’s report looks at ways to facilitate mobility, so that it is easier for staff to move between functions, occupations, duty stations and even organizations. This is one of the core considerations in building the cadre of international civil servants needed for the Organization’s global work. We will seek agreement between the Secretariat and other United Nations entities to make temporary or permanent transfers easier. We will seek to harmonize conditions between headquarters and the field. And we will work with Member States to loosen the current restrictions on spousal employment.

    As you know, the United Nations has been in the forefront of raising global awareness of the AIDS epidemic, and in particular stressing the need for Governments and employers to address its effects in the workplace. We must practise what we preach. The report of the Secretary-General calls for a thorough review, to be completed by the end of this year, to ensure that our comprehensive policy on AIDS is implemented effectively in all its dimensions, in every one of our duty stations.

    The internal justice system has become a matter of concern in recent years, and the report recommends a thorough review. At the same time, a new Ombudsman function has been added to complement that system. Ms. Patricia Durrant has now taken up her duties as Ombudsman. I am glad to announce that her Office is operational as of today. The Office’s website -- on both the Internet and Intranet -- is now in place, and contains information on the Ombudsman’s mandate, terms of reference and more.

    The Ombudsman will be an open, readily available and confidential source of support to staff at all levels who need answers to questions or help in resolving problems and overcoming conflicts in the workplace. She will listen to staff members’ concerns and help them to better understand their situation and evaluate their options. She will be impartial and objective, independent from all line and management structures, and report directly to the Secretary-General.

    The hope is that the Ombudsman will not just help with individual cases, by nipping problems in the bud, but will, more generally, improve conflict management systems and promote a culture of conflict resolution. This is an important addition to the system of internal justice, and I hope you will make good use of it.

    Finally, we need to do more to promote team spirit. In that regard, the situation of General Service staff bears special mention.

    The Secretary-General very much regrets that the General Assembly has chosen to limit their possibilities for promotion to the Professional level, by mandating very restrictive annual quotas. He has urged Member States to review this position so that our top performers have genuine prospects for advancement. He has suggested that, at a minimum, the annual quota of P-2 posts available for successful General Service examination candidates should be raised to 25 per cent.

    We must also create a more structured programme for General Service staff first arriving for service with the Organization, and provide more assistance in planning and managing their careers. That is why, over the next year, we will develop an implementation plan that will encompass mobility, career planning and a comprehensive review of General Service functions, responsibilities and competencies.

    Finally, in response to your call, and that of your representatives in particular, and in recognition of the fact that the contribution of all United Nations staff is important, regardless of whether they are General Service or Professional, the Secretary-General has decided that as of 1 January, all employees of the United Nations Secretariat will be referred to as "international civil servants".

    These are just some of the highlights of the report, which of course deals with the full range of our work. The impact of these changes will vary from department to department, and from person to person. But together, they add up to a very different way of doing business. Many jobs will change. Some actions will take effect immediately, while others will be implemented over time. The Secretary-General has asked managers to work closely with staff as this process continues. The next step will be to prepare a budget for the next biennium that will reflect new priorities and eliminate activities that are no longer relevant.

    It is roughly one year since it was announced that the United Nations and Secretary-General were the winners of the Nobel Prize for Peace. As you know, the prize includes a substantial financial award. The Secretary-General is exploring the possibility of using those funds to establish a "United Nations Nobel Peace Prize Memorial Trust Fund", for the education of children of staff members who have lost their lives in the line of duty. He is also looking into ways to secure additional monies for such a Fund.

    Memories of fallen staff are always very near on Staff Day. I hope you will pause today to remember those brave colleagues, to recall what a privilege it is to work for this unique Organization and to re-dedicate yourselves to the great project of international cooperation for the common good.

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