15 October 2006

It's been tried before but didn't work. A renewed attempt to classify Security staff with others doing completely different tasks is like attempting to mix apples and oranges. Both are useful. Each has its own value. But they are different.

The first step in the new direction was to merge the salary surveys when the functions are not the same.

It is commonly recognized that security requirements have increased tremendously, particularly after the horrific events of 9/11 in New York. As is well known, security considerations often outweigh diplomatic ones.

Besides a highly specialized requirement to ensure the safety of over 8,000 staff, delegates and visitors who are likely to enter U.N. Headquarters, Security staff representatives have listed a number of special functions they perform including the following:

  • Provide executive protection for the Secretary General and his/her spouse, the President of the General Assembly, Deputy Secretary General and other high-ranking officials within the Organization;
  • Provide executive protection for visiting Heads of State and Heads of Delegations within the United Nations premises, even during visits determined as "high threat" by host country law enforcement;
  • Responsible for carrying a weapon on a daily basis and defending delegations, staff and visitors from harm;
  • Undergo regular weapons training and qualification and specialized training in defensive tactics (PR-24), crowd control, tactical weapons training, surveillance and counter-surveillance and investigative methods;
  • Possession of a valid New York City pistol license and valid U.S. driver's license;
  • Designated as essential staff entailing the provision of security coverage 24 hours a day, 365 days a year requiring long and unusual working hours;
  • Perform duties regardless of environment hazards and weather conditions and under hardship conditions requiring extended periods of standing;
  • Undergo required diagnostic tests -- annual medical physicals and random substance abuse testing;
  • Required to wear soft body armor, as protection from bullets;
  • Participate in continuous training to prepare physically and mentally for coping in dangerous situations; and
  • Train to work in areas that may require wearing of a gas mask and a hazardous material suit.

What they request is that their job classification standards should be taken into consideration. A comparison between their actual salaries and salaries of similar tasks in the external market will demonstrate the difference. The purpose is to indicate that equal work was equally remunerated. An argument between "best prevailing rates" and "best prevailing conditions" would be academic if it did not take into full account all other conditions of employment.

The point being made is that the type of work performed by security officers -- and their work environment -- is dramatically different from that of General Service staff. A certain flexibility is required to adapt to different local circumstances, particularly at U.N. Headquarters in New York. There are those who state that merging salaries in such a way in New York could violate "fair work" principles of the International Labour Organization.

A far-reaching result would be the negative impact of unequal pay compensation and demoralizing the most qualified and experienced staff. Instead of revitalizing and professionalizing the security programme, the millions of dollars expended by member states to ensure the highest calibre will not accomplish the desired results.

The matter has passed through the International Civil Service Commission and is now before the Fifth (Financial) Committee. It is now up to member states to consider it. Given the daily interdependence between delegates and dedicated Security officers, it is worthwhile for members of that Committee to look very carefully into the implications. It may be appropriate to convene a working group to review all problems encountered during the most recent exercise and make corrective recommendations. Such timely action will be to everyone's interest.