Hundreds of United Nations staff in Geneva from various agencies and services took part in a work stoppage on Friday over a proposed 7.7% cut to salaries, the equivalent of almost a month’s pay.
“This will be the first stoppage, and hopefully there will be many more until the message gets through to Michael Møller [Director General of the UN in Genevaexternal link] and others that the cuts are unacceptable,” a UN staff member who preferred to remain anonymous told swissinfo.ch.
An estimated 9,500 staff work for the UN family 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). It is unclear exactly how many staff downed tools and took part in the two-hour work stoppage from 3-5pm on Friday.
But around 600 angry UN staff gathered at a meeting room inside the Palais des Nations to show their support, banging on tables, waving ‘Don’t kill Geneva’ banners and shouting ‘No pay cuts’. The strike had various practical consequences, including the suspension of an afternoon session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Friday’s action marks an escalation in the fight against a proposal to lower UN Geneva–level salaries by reducing a so-called ‘post adjustment index” for professional staff working in the city.
The idea came from the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) a group of independent experts, which surveyed the cost of living in eight UN locations. It said the 7.7% salary cut for Geneva-based staff would align them with colleagues in New York, where purchasing power has dropped.
The UN Office in Geneva (UNOG) Staff Coordinating Council external link says it hopes the stoppage will send a strong message to the ICSC and UN management in New York that staff in Geneva will not accept the cut. It claims the salary decision is based on ‘erroneous calculations, inconsistent with prevailing economic data, and motivated we believe by political considerations’. The union warns that cuts could endanger Geneva’s future attractiveness for UN professionals.