In an interview with the Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Ian Richards, the British economist who represents United Nations (UN) and UN agency staff in Geneva, speaks out about plans to relocate its employees around the globe.
Ban Ki-moon the United Nations’ secretary general favours greater staff mobility and centralisation of administrative tasks via a new IT system, possibly managed from low-cost Bangkok or Nairobi, Kenya. Richards explains that not all UN staff are internationally mobile. Some are recruited locally and in the case of a relocation of operations they risk losing their jobs. He also thinks that sometimes problems can be solved faster over a coffee rather than waiting for a response tomorrow because of time differences. Geneva has the advantage of being in a central time zone the same as Africa’s, the UN’s principle beneficiary. He thinks it would be better to focus on creating synergies between different the UN agencies in Geneva.
Richards also thinks that Geneva is no paradise. Young people prefer the dynamism of New York and Vienna competes directly on quality of life for families. There are also problematic developments. The children of international staff can no longer expect Swiss nationality after 12 years and there is also the uncertainty related to the 9 February 2014 referendum result on mass immigration. Add to this the high cost of living in Geneva and the picture dims further.
He also says that the slight increase in UN employment over the last year masks reality. While some agencies have been adding staff others have been relocating. The High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which already has a support centre in Budapest, is thinking of moving extra staff. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHR) has just launched a restructuring plan to strengthen regional presence, for example Brussels for Europe and Amman for the Middle East. Many NGOs come to Geneva to be close to UNHR and there is a risk they could leave too according to Richards.