Articles: Message68

Outcomes: Special Session of the Pension Board – February 2021

Category : Message68

Message sent on behalf of Martha Helena Lopez, Chair of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Board.

Main outcomes of the 68th (Special) Session of the Board on governance issues of the Board.

The sixty-eighth (special) session of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Board was held as a virtual meeting from 2 to 5 February 2021. The Board focused entirely on the issue of its governance, based on the recommendations made by an external entity, a progress report of the Governance Working Group of the Board, inputs received from the different Staff Pension Committees, and guidance received from the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 75/246.

The Board reached several important conclusions that should enhance its overall effectiveness, while at the same time issues related to its size and composition will continue to be discussed by the Governance Working Group, with a view to coming to substantive conclusions at the next (July) session of the Board.

1. The Board reiterated its main principles of tripartite representation and consensus-based decision making. It was recognized that the principle of rotation of seats to reflect the UN system’s diversity should be maintained.
2. The Board tasked the Governance Working Group to present concrete proposals on the size and composition of the Board based on a number of criteria such as ensure optimum effectiveness, performance and efficiency and respect for the origins and unique nature of the Fund and relevant decisions by the General Assembly. The Governance Working Group is also invited to explore creative and innovative ideas.
3. The Board looked into the roles of its different committees and working groups to
keep the balance of responsibilities between the Board and its committees under review. Here also, the Governance Working Group is requested to present concrete proposals for the next Board in July. The Board also highlighted the importance of dealing with appeals cases in a timely manner.
4. The Board reiterated the importance of transparency, outreach and effective
communication with the different Staff Pension Committees, participants and
beneficiaries of the Fund. The Board also recognized the operational need for the Chief Executive of Pension Administration to ensure timely consultations with the applicable decision-making body of the Board. Overall, the Board agreed to have more frequent meetings, which should be based on operational needs and improved strategic planning.
5. The Board recognized the importance of Board members being fully aware of their
fiduciary roles and duties. It was decided that more information and learning
opportunities should be provided on this topic. In that regard, the Board encourages all Staff Pension Committees to recognize the importance of selecting Board members that meet the requirements in terms of availability, professionalism and competencies to exercise fiduciary responsibilities on the Board.
6. The Board also decided to look closely into enhancing the institutional memory of the Board and continuity of its membership, inter alia through nominations by the Staff Pension Committees that take into account appropriate term lengths.
7. The Board decided to give due consideration to better defining its role, purpose and culture to ensure more effective discharge of its mandate. In that regard, the
methodology for its self-evaluation will be reviewed and the adherence to its code of
conduct will be considered at its 69th Session in July 2021.

In March, the Board will submit a progress report to the United Nations General Assembly as an update of the discussion on governance.

Contribution to the Centenary event of the ILO Staff Union / Ita Marguet

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Contribution to the Centenary event of the ILO Staff Union – (1920-2020) at the ILO Geneva.

Ita Marguet ex-General Secretary (1990-1992) ex-President of ILO Staff Union (1993-1995)

When I heard about the initial planned event, I had already made final arrangements to visit the ‘European Capital of Culture 2020’ in Galway, Ireland, therefore unable to be with ex-colleagues, members of the ILO Staff Union Committee and the Former Officials Section of the ILO Staff Union* I hope this contribution will achieve its purpose to greet all who participate in the worldwide Staff Union Virtual Event on 24 September 2020 for past and present staff. It contributes to the solidarity between generations preceding and succeeding in the collective effort to defend staff interests at ILO headquarters and colleagues worldwide. By extension, also to assist staff in the many organisations of the United Nations family serving in Geneva and internationally.

I am proud to have worked in the International Labour Office for twenty-five years. It included election to the Staff Union Committee, latterly on full-time detachment. It involved support to colleagues while serving as a staff representative on a number of statutory consultative committees within the ILO and the wider family of the United Nations system.  As staff representative I travelled from Geneva to attend meetings and missions to assist colleagues in ILO offices around the world.  Staff representative duties allowed me to address Sessions of the ILO Governing Body and also to serve on the internal bodies of the ILO as an elected representative. With determination and conviction, I was forthright in my efforts to defend the staff and often vocal in my judgement about the poor quality of management initiatives towards improving the quality of working life for ILO staff.

In my service as a member and Officer of the Staff Union Committee what I learned most was the need for one and all to remember why, and for whom, the ILO was created and the collective responsibility for generations of staff at all levels to promote and defend the Organisation’s raison d’ tre. It became my clarion call to the challenges of duty. Without fear or favour I did my best in the house built by workers for the workers.

A Retrospective (UNION 266, January 1997)

Farewell to Arms’ was the title of my letter in UNION to bid farewell to my friends and colleagues in the ILO and other organisations of the United Nations. After twenty-five years of service in positions within the Office, it was the occasion to acknowledge the enriching experience from which I had benefitted.  I remained committed to the ideals and values as set by the Organisation’s founding fathers in 1919. Over time its role was to become the social conscience of the United Nations while remaining a strong beacon of light shining forth for the protection and advancement of workers’ rights in the true sense of social dialogue and partnership.  In parting, I wished the grand institution of the ILO, the Staff Union and its elected Committee continued long life and prosperity towards a successful century ahead.  Into the twenty-first century this has been achieved. Now it is the responsibility of present and future generations to carry the torch in the worthwhile cause of social justice.

In the same issue, emanating from a first tripartite ILO Enterprise Forum 1996, at which staff were invited to attend, I provided a personal perspective on the question ‘What is the role of the unions’ that seems as pertinent today as it was then? While the question itself is indeed a challenge, in the house built by workers for the workers it is hoped that such enterprising events organised by the ILO continue to project our Organisation’s image by ensuring it responds to its universal mandate in the cause of true social dialogue and partnership at home and abroad. The principle of “tripartism” woven into its unique structure of governments, employers and workers’ organisations must be safeguarded.  Any attempt to “put down” one of the social partners in this process can only weaken the pillars upon which our Organisation is built bringing into question its fundamental role, if not its very raison d’etre.  It remains a challenge for those concerned when going forward.

*ILO Staff Union Rules, November 1995, added Appendix IV on Rules of the former officials’ section (pp 22-23).

List of former officials who died

Category : Message68

Information communicated by the Office between January and September 2020.

In memoriam: The Bureau of the Section of Former Officials of the ILO Staff Union extends its sincere condolences to the bereaved families of the colleagues whose names are listed below, as it is currently impossible to send more personalised condolences.

Mme Vve BERNA-LUGON Bernadette 25.01.20
Mme BERTRAND Marie-José 26.11.20
Mme BLANCHET Colette 28.01.20
Mme Vve BOISARD Helga 19.02.20
Mme BONNIN Andrée 27.06.20
M. BOUVIER Claude 29.12.19
M. BRANDI Giampaolo 28.11.20
M. BROGGINI Jean 17.12.19
Mme CARDONE Barbara 10.08;20
M. CUMMINGS San Sam Ward 31.12.19
M. DAIDONE Angelo Luigi 05.01.20
Mme DULAC Annie 11.04.20
M. FLUGEL Jean 02.01.20
Mme GALLEY Mary 26.05.20
M. GORHAM Alexander Bert 20.10;20
M. HEALY John 17.05.20
M. INFANTE Barra Ricarda 21.06.20
Mme JANSSENS Shirley 17.12.20
Mme JUTTER Marianne 19.10.19
Mme KARAVASIL Joséphine L. 27.07.20
Mme Vve KLIESCH Evelyn E. 20.07.20
Mme LEES-BECERRA Maria Angeles 05.08.20
M. LUEBBE Heinz 28.05.20
M. MARDSEN Keith 14.05.20
Mme MASS Clarine Rosa 10.04.20
M. MAURER Gérard Otto 31.12.19
M. MEJIA William Nelson 10.10.20
M. MILA Pierre 11.05.20
Mme Vve MOLTEDO Castanaô Cecilia 30.07.20
M. NARASIMHAN Venkatraman 18.12.19
Mme NIEGEMEIER Olive Eleonor 15.07.20
Mme OBERHOLZ Yvette 23.11.20
M. PALLUD Jean 09.09.20
M. PETROV Nikolaï 06.06.20
Mme PIBOULEAU Olga D. 23.07.20
M. PREMARATINE Amarawansa 06.08.20
M. PRICE Stanley Alfred 07.04.20
Mme RAFFESTIN Hélène 15.12.19
Mme ROSSIER Marie-Thérèse 11.04.20
M. ROSSILION Claude 14.12.19
M. SABORIT Francisco 30.11.19
Mme SCHWYZGUEBEL Tatiana 18.01.20
M. SERBITZER Jurgen 08.08.20
Mme SHARMA Ram 36.05.20
M. SINGLA Prem Prakash 19.05.20
Mme SOLOWICZ Esther 07.10.19
Mme Vve STREHLKE Lore 17.03.20
Mme Vve TACCHI Galparoli Maria Amunta 14.06.20
M. TESTA Ignazio 06.09.20
M. TCHALYKH Leonid 14.11.19
Mme WALKER Grace Catherin 26.04.20
M. ZMIROU Elie 20.11.20





Activities report 2019-2020

Category : Message68

Presented at the General Assembly of the ILO Staff Union on 14th October 2020 by François Kientzler, Executive Secretary of the Former Officials’ Section

 This report from the Former Officials’ Section, in view of the ongoing pandemic, is special. Members of the Bureau of the Staff Union’s Former Officials Section had not had access to their office for 6 months, from mid-March 2020 until 17 September. On that day, François Kientzler, Executive Secretary of the Section, after having followed all the protocol in force, was granted access to the ILO. Members of the Bureau met for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic on Wednesday, 23 September, outside the ILO.

We would like first of all to pay tribute to our late colleague, Nari (Venkataraman Narasimhan), who passed away in December 2019, and who has been a faithful treasurer of the Former Official’s Section since his retirement after having served as Treasurer of the ILO Staff Union for many, many years. He was known to all the Former Officials of the ILO and he assumed his responsibilities as Treasurer until his strength and life passed him by. He is greatly missed.

During all these months spent without access to the ILO we were able to maintain our contacts with our members and the Staff Union, in particular with Catherine Comte-Tiberghien, Chairperson, and her secretariat. The Former Officials’ Section, with its own office and access to the ILO’s computer system, was able to continue to consult the ILO intranet and its e-mail inbox from outside, just like the active staff members who were teleworking. We have also been able to respond to all the e-mails that were sent to us and to hear the concerns and sometimes the thanks that have been expressed by many retirees. We were able to access all the information disseminated by the ILO via the intranet, communicate by e-mail with our members and send them a letter in August. However, we have only been able to access our files since mid-September, which has not allowed us to make the required updates and, above all, to make progress in the publication of a new issue of the Message, which we are first publishing on our website.

Representatives of the Bureau of the Section attended the Staff Union’s General Meeting in February, just like every year. Given the pandemic, the event which had been planned for the spring to celebrate the Staff Union’s centenary, and which was to be a joint event for both active and retired officials, has not yet been able to take place. However, a link has been established on our website to the Staff Union’s blog, which contains interviews with the former Chairpersons of the Staff Union who were to take part in the celebration. The Section reaffirms its willingness to be more available to retirees in the regions to help them structure themselves and is ready to make space available to them on the Section’s website. It is counting on the regional Staff Representatives to facilitate this collaboration. The Section continued to receive information, in particular on the Pension Fund via AAFI-AFICS Geneva and has participated in two videoconferences of its Council.

Our website, hosted outside the ILO, was regularly updated thanks to Azeddine Sefrioui, our webmaster, with information we obtained from the ILO intranet and the Staff Union. Statistics on the number of visitors to the site highlighted its importance, reaching almost 500 in August. We have posted several articles that should appear in issue No. 68 of the Message. In this regard, Ivan Elsmark, Message‘s editor for over 20 years, has ceased his regular involvement and we are looking for another editor. We are considering a new format for this publication. We have also posted the last two issues of the Message (Nos. 65 and 66-67) which have not yet been archived by the ILO Library.

In fact, the year 2020 was to be a turning point in the organization and functioning of the Bureau of the Section. Our long-serving and loyal secretary, Marianne, retired at the end of December 2019, and we did not wish to replace her both for reasons of economy and because most members of the Bureau of the Section are computer literate. We have three PCs at our disposal. Two new members had just joined the Bureau and were confirmed in their nomination in the elections at the end of 2019, Carmen Sottas and Guy Bezou. John Myers was co-opted at the beginning of 2020 as two of the Bureau positions were vacant. We congratulate all three of them but regret that they have not been able to express their full talent and commitment to the members of the Section to date. The meeting of the Section’s Board on 23 September took stock of operational constraints but also of current and recurrent topics, namely the sickness and health protection of retirees and pension issues.

In order to explore different ways of transmitting the claim reimbursement forms to retirees, in the spring of 2020, the SHIF extended the possibility of sending them out electronically. This should be of great benefit to retirees from countries outside Geneva who have and use internet access. A test period was offered to some retirees and now the system is being extended to all. However, the transmission by mail or direct deposit of claims to the ILO remains, and will continue to remain, possible. The Bureau has not yet had an opportunity to take stock of this new practice with the Executive Secretary of the SHIF, whom it wishes to invite to a future meeting.

We have continued to contact all the retiring staff members whose names we receive each month from the Administration; this year, the number of retiring staff members was low. We have registered several memberships in the Section. The ILO Administration also sends us notices of the deaths of former officials or their spouses of which it is aware; we compile a list of deceased ILO retirees, former officials or spouses who are entitled to benefits; and we have published it on our website. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, we have recorded a significantly lower number of deaths than in previous years during the same period. This may be due to the caution of seniors during this pandemic period.

Finally, while some retired members of the Section have died, others have joined, and still others have changed addresses. As we have only recently been able to access the ILO we have not been able to update our files as we would have liked. But the door to the ILO has been opened again, and this task awaits us. We hope, by remaining cautious and following the protection guidelines, to be able to resume a more normal and regular activity. The Bureau of the Section has met in Gex in an association’s premises; this can only be a temporary situation for us. We hope to be able to return to our ILO premises as soon as possible but, of course, with due respect for all the health protection and provisions, particularly for the elderly, that the ILO has put in place.

The Office drops off the radar / Michel Voirin

Category : Message68

It is often through the press that retired staff who live outside Geneva get their news about the Office. So it was that on 20 March 2020, readers of Le Monde newspaper were able to read of an “International Labour Organization study” (the International Labour Office was not mentioned) on the consequences of the coronavirus for employment in the world. But it was when they saw the DG yet again being described as the Director General of the Organization that their eyebrows, like mine, must have shot up. It was certainly not the first time this formulation had cropped up in print, even if it is still quite a recent one. At first I thought the journalist must have made a mistake, but a survey of The Guardian online revealed the practice to be widespread, no doubt merely reflecting press releases emanating from the ILO media centre. Outside observers can also learn, again from the media, that the change doesn’t only apply to the DG: the heads of the Office’s administrative units, when their work is alluded to, will also refer to themselves as belonging to “the Organization”.

The fact that retirees are detached from the Office and its leadership enables them to reflect via the pages of Message on the reasons, rationale and scope of this new usage. Is it about making the Director General’s title conform to those of the executive heads of the other specialized agencies of the UN family? Or seeking to bolster the DG through reference to the Organization? Whether we like it or not, the unfortunate by-product of such a change is the obscuring of the Office. It amounts to downplaying the identity conferred on it by the founders of the Organization. For, over and above the emblematic title of the Director General, it is the very specific nature of the Office that is at issue. The shift ultimately relegates the institution – whose lofty reputation was established under the impetus and at the instigation of Albert Thomas, with his expertise universally recognized as an essential benchmark – to the rank of mere secretariat. Could it be, then, that I spent most of my career in a phantom institution? It is true that the Office is ceding ground, and operations, to the OECD, which is a matter for its members. But for my part, having retired in 1990, I can only bear witness to the period I knew.

Let us be clear: the designation “Director General of the International Labour Organization” is devoid of any foundation, because the corresponding position does not exist. The perpetuation of this new title would even be contrary to the ILO Constitution which, it should be recalled, provides in its Article 2 that the Organization shall consist of a General Conference, a Governing Body and the International Labour Office controlled by the Governing Body, and in Article 8 that the Director General shall be appointed by the Governing Body.

Nothing, of course, would prohibit amending the Constitution. I am not aware that any such procedure, which could take quite some time, has been initiated. I doubt even that the Governing Body might be inclined to place on the Conference agenda a draft amendment that would be tantamount to diminishing its own prerogatives. The reform would in fact imply the Director General no longer being appointed by the Governing Body but rather by the Conference, as in the other specialized agencies. If that were the case, moreover, a candidate from an international workers’ confederation would be less likely to be nominated in future because, as everyone knows, workers’ and employers’ representatives carry less weight in the Conference than in the Governing Body in comparison with those of Governments, given the difference in the distribution of seats between the groups.

Has anyone assessed the ramifications of changing the title of the Director General, followed by those of the branches of the Office? There is reason to doubt it, and to think the process was indeed unencumbered by questions of legality, or rather constitutionality. Since the Office is the only permanent component of the Organization, it’s true that many come to believe it embodies the Organization. But explanation is not justification, and a change in the Director General’s nomenclature cannot be based on confusion. In the absence of an amendment to the Constitution itself, which no one seems to have envisaged, such a change of title can only be praxis, with nothing definitive about it, although habits do take hold. Internally, although some staff members may be aware of the inconsistency of the new designation, they have understandably not ventured to admit that the emperor has no clothes; nor may later generations of active staff and even retirees – who are arguably not all aware of the Office’s own standing and reputation, or the capital that this represents – appreciate that this recent practice is leading to the disappearance of the Office from the international scene by being, as it were, removed from the radar. It cannot be stressed enough, however, that the existence and specificity of the International Labour Office, like tripartism, are so distinctive that they should not be obscured, but championed.

How the International Labour Office came to Geneva ? / Pierre Sayour

Category : Message68

“How the International Labour Office came to Geneva ?” first appeared in issue 48, Oct. 2019, of Passé Simple, a monthly journal of Swiss history and archaeology, under the title “Le Bureau international du Travail ancre la vocation internationale de Genève” :

We publish it by kind permission of the journal.

In 2019, the International Labour Office (ILO) celebrated its 100th anniversary. The organization has been a feature of the Geneva landscape since 1920. After the First World War, the population of the canton was no more than 200,000. Why is the ILO based in Geneva and not in a major capital city like Paris, London or Brussels? The decision was a highly significant one because it forced the League of Nations, precursor of the United Nations, to take up residence in Geneva too.

The Treaty of Versailles – 1919

In 1919, following the First World War, the Allies and the defeated powers came together at the Paris Conference to draw up peace treaties. The discussions led to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919. At this conference, the Commission on International Labour Legislation drafted Part XIII of the Treaty, establishing the International Labour Organization. The commission comprised delegates from several countries. Particularly active and influential were those from France, the United Kingdom and the United States, all of them accompanied by representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations. The Treaty of Versailles brought the Organization into being, with the International Labour Office as its secretariat and the International Labour Conference as its supreme body. The Treaty specifies that “the International Labour Office shall be established at the seat of the League of Nations as part of the organisation of the League” and that it “shall be under the control of a Governing Body”. The document also stipulates that the Organization will be tripartite, with representatives of governments and trade union and employers’ organizations included in its governance structures, and that “the first meeting of the Conference shall take place in October, 1919”.

Since the end of the nineteenth century, many institutions and individuals had focused on working conditions (working hours, factory safety, conditions of miners, seafarers, women, children, etc.). After the Great War, with its 18.5 million victims, and the Russian Revolution of 1917, discussions among the victorious powers could no longer ignore social issues. They knew there can be no lasting peace without social justice.

Albert Thomas

The first International Labour Conference was held in Washington in November 1919. In January 1920, the Governing Body elected Albert Thomas to be its Director. Thomas was French, a Socialist MP and former Minister of Munitions during the Great War. With his forceful personality, he breathed life into the new organization. The small team that moved into a private residence in London already included two future directors of the Office, Harold Butler (1883–1951) and Edward Phelan (1888–1967). They also played a leading role during this First Session of the Conference and had both been members of the United Kingdom delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. During this period, ILO officials had to move around in order to service meetings, whether in Washington, Paris or London.

Albert Thomas wished to put an end to this constant travelling by the Office. In the spring of 1920, according to his future chief of staff Marius Viple (1891–1949), “he had decided to make a stand to get it finally established in Geneva, cost what it might”. Albert Thomas gave his own analysis of the situation:

“It will not be easy, for the Secretary-General of the League of Nations and his political collaborators are against Geneva. So is the League Executive Council; and the Allied Supreme Council is in charge of the entire movement. I have the Peace Treaty on my side, because it is stated there (article 7) that the headquarters of the League of Nations shall be at Geneva, but it also provides that the League Council may at any time decide to set it up elsewhere. President Wilson is no longer there to defend the city of his choice. And it is now clear that the United States will not take part in the League, although they did so much to further its establishment. It is now the definite desire of the Governments that Brussels should be the headquarters instead of Geneva, because Brussels is nearer to London and Paris, and the British and French Cabinets have every intention to seize this opportunity to take charge of the international organizations now coming into being. This is what I am determined to avoid at all costs. The time has come for me to denounce all these intrigues publicly.”

The Treaty of Versailles stipulated that the ILO should be based in the same place as the League of Nations. Albert Thomas proposed to the League that the ILO’s headquarters be moved from London to Geneva, but Sir Eric Drummond, the League’s first Secretary General, opposed this option. Albert Thomas then forcefully defended his choice before the Governing Body: “It may well be asked whether this change of headquarters is likely to antagonize a number of powers which had interpreted the choice of Geneva as evidence of complete impartiality. We quite firmly state that we cannot sacrifice the future of the ILO or indeed its life to the hesitations and schemes of the League Secretariat and the Executive Council.”

In March 1920 at its Third Session, in London, the Governing Body approved a budget of £41,500 for the transfer of the Office to Geneva, and on 16 May 1920, the Swiss Confederation voted in favour of accession to the League of Nations. Nevertheless, the League and its Secretary General still preferred a different city for its headquarters, namely Brussels. The Peace Treaty stipulated that the first assembly of the League was to be convened by the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. On 16 July 1920, he sent Drummond a telegram: “At the request of the Council of the League of Nations that I summon a meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations, I have the honor, in accordance with the provisions of Article 5 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, to summon the Assembly of the League to convene in the city of Geneva, the seat of the League, on the 15th day of November, 1920, at 11 o’clock.” Thus Geneva’s leading role as a city destined to host numerous international organizations and agencies asserted itself. Albert Thomas gave impetus to the process and in this way, the ILO also affirmed its independence in its relations with the League of Nations.

It is also true that both the creation in 1863 of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva and its substantial development during the First World War paved the way.

So it was that in July 1920, the Office moved to the La Châtelaine building in Geneva, today occupied by the ICRC and at that time home to the Thudicum boarding school, named after the family that founded it. When this building became too small, a new one was constructed in 1926 on the shores of Lake Geneva. During the Second World War, under the direction of John Winant, part of the staff had to leave Geneva in May 1940 for security reasons, moving to premises at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Under the terms of the Constitution, the Office could not legally leave Geneva and had to remain in the same city as the League of Nations. During the war it therefore adopted the name of ILO Working Centre while maintaining its relations with numerous countries. Edward Phelan became the fourth Director General of the Office in 1941.

By the 1960s, the Office comprised more than 2,000 staff, meaning the building on Rue de Lausanne was now quite cramped. The only option was to rent new premises, in Grand-Saconnex. In 1969, the Office began construction of the building it has occupied since 1973. Thirteen storeys high and 200 metres in length, it is in the shape of a diverging, concave lens. Designed by E. Beaudoin (France), P.L. Nervi (Italy) and A. Camenzind (Switzerland), the architecture remains highly original even today, its modernity reaffirmed by the recent renovations, while the location affords staff members a magnificent view of Geneva and its surroundings.


“The strange and wonderful early years of the ILO” by Marius Viple, in Message, No. 65, 2019.

“Le Bureau international du Travail à Genève a cinquante ans”, by Henri Villy, in Union, 1970.

“How the ILO led the League to Geneva” by Yvan Elsmark, in Lettre aux anciens fonctionnaires (ILO Staff Union Former Officials Section), No. 26 (Dec. 1999).

Minutes of the Third Session of the ILO Governing Body (March 1920).