Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Update: Pension Board meeting: a doozy by several accounts and MOU on ice! (29 July 2015)

By several accounts, last week’s Pension Board meeting in Geneva (20-24 July 2015) was a doozy (Merriam-Webster definition: “something that’s unusually good, bad, big, severe.”) Pick one or pick all; the meeting seemed to have been all of the above. While we await a Staff Union summary, which we’re told will be coming shortly, we’ve received and posted here the FICSA and CCISUA statements, highlights below, and we also received an email circular from retiree colleague Julie Thompson yesterday. If what we're reading and hearing is any indication of the overall mood of the meeting, it was shall we say, not a comfortable environment for anyone yearning for a new MOU any time soon. 

Brett Fitzgerald on behalf of FICSA felt unwelcome, he said, thanks to the efforts of some Fund Secretariat and Board members who had conspired to delay his statement until the last minute, after decisions had been made. (Note to selves: the FICSA President's 29 June 2015 letter is still apparently unwelcome on the AFICS website). FICSA had supported the request for an updated MOU, he noted, on condition that the rights of current and future Fund staff were protected. In order to know “what went wrong, where, and at what stage” Mr. Fitzgerald wished to see “all draft versions of the MOU” plus he needed to hear from not only the Legal Adviser on behalf of the CEO, but also from the RSG and OHRM. 

And the MOU was not by any means the only topic on FICSA's mind. Mr. Fitzgerald also asked for clarification on the discrepancy between the statements by various Board members on whether or not there was an investment policy (Note to selves: they're not sure?!). That document must be updated, he said, with explanations as to the 3.5% target of return on investments, which seemed low given the “massive size of the value of the Fund" and "should include a policy governing alternative investments, especially in view of the fact that this category of investments will be gradually increased.” (Reference FICSA's 29 June 2015 letter calling for strict limits on risky investments such as hedge funds.)

Egor Ovcharenko, on behalf of CCISUA, didn't mince words either. Noting that CCISUA represents more than 60,000 active participants of the Fund, Mr. Ovcharenko emphasized his lack of understanding as to why something that wasn’t broken needed to be fixed -- in his words: “why the framework of United Nations regulations and rules has to be changed now, at the moment when Fund’s capitalization is at an all time high”.  Given the dire state of staff-management relations in the Fund, support was needed to prevent retaliation against whistleblowers, which, he stressed, was prohibited by the UN. He called for the Fund management to be held accountable, brought “back in line, to ensure regulations are upheld, oversight reinforced violations stopped, honesty restored, labour regulations respected and whistleblowers protected.”

And things were only just heating up. Apparently the temperature soared noticeably when the Legal Adviser to the Fund, Jaana Sareva, inquired of the FICSA representative whether he had been bought by CCISUA. Ms. Sareva reportedly also delivered a full-throated rant against the USG for Management's decision to delay finalization, and the staff federations' opposition of the MOU, pausing only briefly to catch her breath before proffering heartfelt gratitude to the AFICS/FAFICS leadership for its stalwart support. 

So we knew going in that the Memorandum of Understanding had already been put on hold by USG for Management Takasu to allow (his iSeek statement of 10 July 2015) staff and retiree concerns about a new MOU to be addressed. Many of us hoped that at the very least Mr. Takasu’s time-out would result in enough of a breather to allow meaningful consultations with relevant parties. We appear to have got much more than we expected, since from these statements, yesterday's email, and conversations with others,  there’s currently no clear time-line when consultations on the MOU might resume. 

Dare we conclude that what began as a Takasu-imposed time-out could very well morph into an MOU deep-freeze (unlimited hold on a new MOU)?  When Mr. Takasu made his announcement, some skeptics anticipated a perfunctory pause quickly followed by business as usual. The optimists among us (pessimists with umbrellas), wishing for more, chose to take Mr. Takasu at his word, that motivated by the concerns he’d heard from staff and retirees, he was allowing space for the comfort level of the concerned parties to grow before moving to finalization. 

For many that comfort level with the MOU seems at the moment to be a long way off. Many of us are actually feeling quite at ease now that it appears to be safely on ice. Undoubtedly the discomfort level for its ardent supporters -- among whom we now seem to have confirmation that we can count our own AFICS/FAFICS representatives -- has reached new heights. This could be just the “doozy” – something unusual, big, and good -- we've been hoping for, and as we await more news, including exactly how the AFICS/FAFICS leadership positioned itself despite its assurances about protecting our interests, we’re all eyes and ears.

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