Information meeting, 17 June 2015
On the afternoon of 17 June 2015, the Former Officials Section held a highly successful information meeting. More than 120 retirees from the Geneva region were in attendance, attracted by a draft agenda covering issues around health protection and the situation in SHIF as well as the common system’s Staff Pension Fund.
The Executive Secretary of the Section, François Kientzler, opened the meeting by welcoming speakers and participants, who included Jean-Claude Villemonteix, Chief of the Human Resource Policy and Social Security Branch; Florian Léger, Executive Secretary of the SHIF; Odette Foudral, President of AAFI-AFICS; and Catherine Comte, Chair of the ILO Staff Union Committee. He also thanked the officers of the Section for their work throughout the year.
The first session was led by Raynald Dubuis, Chair of the ILO Sports and Leisure Association, and Stéphane Birchmeier, Director of Cité Seniors Geneva.
Mr Dubuis presented the 25 ILO Sports and Leisure sections, which are open to all retirees. Although this includes the fitness centre, it is not accessible to retired staff during the lunch break, when current officials have priority. The difficulties created by the ongoing building renovation are likely to last for some years. Some of the 25 sections are more active than others, and fresh blood is key to their renewal. Among the sports sections, he mentioned dance, volleyball, aerobics, basketball, cycling, fencing, the fitness centre with its 345 members, golf, sailing, bowling and yoga. Other activities are more culture oriented, like the music club and the arts circle, now undergoing something of a revival, and the staff library, as well as bridge and chess. Several sections were represented at the meeting and much interest expressed.
Mr Birchmeier provided details of the mission and activities of Cité Seniors. This organization was established by the City of Geneva to facilitate pensioners’ quality of life by developing their links with the general population, fostering their active participation in the life of the city and thus reducing the risk of loneliness. It acts primarily as a hub for information and documentation on activities available in Geneva. A programme on a different theme is offered each year. It organizes both physical and intellectual activities; recent themes have included: “Retirement: Help!”, “Geneva and migration” and “Why stay young?” Lectures on various subjects are also offered as well as discussion groups and courses, for instance on information technology.
Seniors must also be active in their city and their neighbourhoods by participating in community action. This can include facilitating contacts by organizing meals in neighbourhood bistros to show solidarity, or volunteering to accompany older persons on trips to the theatre. During the discussion that followed, Mr Birchmeier explained that price reductions are possible for certain shows, Cité Seniors having its own ticket service, with easy access for everyone (ID to prove place of residence is not required). Providing a platform for Geneva seniors, it brings together a number of associations including WHO retirees and those of the UN (AAFI-AFICS). One participant remarked on the interest of joint action across the generations.
The second session covered health insurance issues. Jean-François Santarelli, Chair of the SHIF Management Committee, discussed various changes about to be adopted, such as raising the ceiling for lump sum benefits in the areas of dental care and hearing aids. As an indication of SHIF’s commitment to a prevention-oriented policy, procedures such as mammograms and prostate cancer screenings would now be reimbursed at 100%, as would flu vaccination. A circular on the subject should be distributed before the end of 2015.
Long-time Management Committee member Mireille Ecuvillon recalled the shortcomings and criticisms raised by many SHIF members. Among these are basic delays in reimbursement, which are even more acute for beneficiaries in Africa, Asia and the Americas. She also cited the secretariat’s operational difficulties due to a human resources shortfall, which is the responsibility of the ILO administration. Updating of IT and information systems has not been carried out for some years, resulting in further major delays, and the current operation has still not integrated the communication tools that are available through the Internet.
Florian Léger, SHIF Executive Secretary since September 2014, then took the floor to report on action taken and current priorities, and address the criticisms. He acknowledged the delays associated with a vacancy on the secretariat staff, absences due to sickness and even a fatality. In such a situation it was not easy to identify and recruit people who are immediately operational.
The ILO also has its recruitment rules and procedures and it is true that the exchange of information by email has not yet been integrated into the Fund’s management practices. A person has now been hired, but it would take time before being fully operational. SHIF must also improve its communications: the information included on the website is not always up to date. The updated Regulations and Administrative Rules are available on the site; however, the printed copies held by beneficiaries, especially pensioners who do not have Internet access, are old, dating from 2002, and no longer up to date.
There were a number of questions from the floor concerning alternative medicine, homeopathy and natural treatments. The discussion focused on the fact that certain drugs that had been reimbursed in the past are no longer covered today. Naturopathy should also be encouraged. The Executive Secretary mentioned in his reply the difficulty of taking into account the full diversity of approaches in the many countries of origin represented by beneficiaries. A speaker also expressed the wish that SHIF would offer supplementary health cover. The response was that the Fund’s cover is good and benefits can rise to 100 per cent in cases where costs exceed a certain threshold. Questions were raised about reaching agreements between care providers and the SHIF to enable direct billing and payment to third parties. There are issues around out-of-pocket expenses and the solutions are not easy to implement. The Chair of the Staff Union Committee raised the problem of staff in external offices, who may wait for weeks or even months for reimbursement. Any increase in SHIF contributions now being mooted would not be acceptable until an improvement in service had not only been decided but actually put into effect. The Executive Secretary recalled that SHIF staff are available every day between 2 and 4pm for those who wish to consult them.
The third part of the agenda focused on the situation of the Pension Fund. In recent months much information has been circulated, both in the press and in the internal communications of international organizations or special interest groups, about either the operations of the Fund or its investments. Pierre Sayour, ILO official and elected member of the UN Joint Staff Pension Board, assured participants that the true situation is a healthy one, although internal tensions have come to light and fears have been expressed both about changes to staff recruitment and conditions, and the investment of reserve funds, which are regularly coveted. He had prepared a note on the subject for circulation by the Staff Union Committee.
Mr Jean-Claude Villemonteix, Chief of ILO Human Resources Policy and Social Security Branch responsible for staff health protection issues and pensions, supplemented the previous intervention by referring to a move among member States to seek to transfer the management of retirees’ health insurance to the Pension Fund. He wondered about the existence of a memorandum supposedly setting out the relationship between the Pension Fund and the UN. For many months now, it has been claimed that this document is going to define new terms of reference; it is time it was no longer confidential. Finally he discussed investment issues in relation to both the Fund and the ILO.
Rounding off a busy afternoon, F. Kientzler, Executive Secretary of the Former Officials Section, recalled that the Section stands ready to respond to the requirements and circumstances of pensioners whenever needed. He then invited all participants to join him in a drink.
What had proved to be a stimulating information meeting for retirees then repaired to the Delegates’ Bar, where lively discussions continued and friendships were renewed.