Federation of International Civil Servants' Associations

The Federation of International Civil Servants' Associations (FICSA) is a formally recognized federation of staff associations and unions which represents the staff of the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Founded in 1952, it is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

FICSA's 65th Council took place in the European Regional Office of the World Health Organization, Copenhagen, Denmark, from 13 to 17 February 2012.

FICSA represents the interests of 50000 international civil servants worldwide, working primarily for the United Nations and its specialized agencies. In addition, the staff associations and unions of international civil services outside the UN system have become associate members. FICSA encourages the creation of federations of local staff associations and unions (FUNSAs) which enjoy observer status.


FICSA is foremost a history of human relationships, of relations between the associations and unions themselves and of those between FICSA and the UN system administrations at the highest levels. When FICSA was created in 1952, international relations were tense between the East and West. One of the first battles fought by FICSA was to safeguard the independence of the international civil service when the U.S. made allegations against several staff, and one FICSA officer, for their ‘allegiance to communism’. The ensuing years presented further challenges – among them gaining the right to participate in the bodies that make decisions about our conditions of service, and fighting to safeguard the quality and integrity – and rights - of the international civil service. Progress was made in small steps, each adding to prior successes. Staff representation requires passion and patience – those seemingly irreconcilable traits without which nothing is achieved.

Early days

Before entering into a discussion of the specifics of the Federation’s early days, it is interesting to look at what was going on in 1952. Television was not yet readily available; thus news about the Korean War came only by way of newspaper and radio; WHO had 79 Member States, with Libya being the only country to join in 1952; the Berlin Wall had not yet been constructed. IAEA did not exist. Bangladesh, Rwanda and Burundi were not yet countries. Transatlantic flights took about 20 hours but common system home leave entitlements were based on sea or rail travel. Per diem in New York was US$10. Schweitzer received the Nobel Prize and Francois Mauriac received the Nobel Prize for Literature. The common system education grant was $220 per year and available to children up to the age of 13. It was the time of Mao and Churchill. There were no photocopying machines, no personal computers, and no fax machines. Polio vaccine was not available. The H-bomb was exploded on the Marshall Islands. The Mau-Mau uprising started in Kenya.

Constituent Assembly

In 1951, a Joint Preparatory Committee was created that included the staff committees of several staff associations and met several times in Geneva and Paris. A meeting of staff representatives in Paris at the Palais de Chaillot on 26 January 1952, called the Constituent Assembly of Federation of International Civil ServantsAssociations, formed a Provisional Executive Committee to discuss conditions of service in a common forum.

Four fundamental principles were agreed by the Constituent Assembly:

• The members of the Federation should be staff associations or unions, not individuals; • The structure of the Federation and its Statutes should be kept simple; • The purpose of the Federation should not be merely to defend professional interests, but, on higher plane, to further the aims and objectives of the United Nations and of the specialized agencies and to promote the concept of an international civil service; • The member associations should have the right to contract out in order to meet individual situations.

The minutes of that meeting ended by saying:

The chairman, noting that the Statutes had been completed, urged that special meetings of staff associations should be held for their acceptance. He declared the Federation to be provisionally constituted, to come into being when the required number of written acceptances had been received.

A protocol was signed by all representatives present at the Constituent Assembly, adopting the Statutes of the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations, subject to formal acceptance by their associations being notified to the Chairman of the provisional Executive Committee.

Statutes adopted

On 26 March 1952, the Statutes of the Federation were drafted in English and French; the Preamble read:

The staff associations of the United Nations and the specialized agencies, in view of their common aims and interests, have agreed to seek together the development of an international civil service animated by the highest traditions of public service;

They intend to co-ordinate their policies and activities for the common good, and to this end, they agree to form themselves into a Federation, of which the statutes follow.

The condition laid down in Article 24 of the Statutes – namely, written notification of acceptance by four staff associations fulfilling the conditions prescribed in article 5 of the statutes – having been met on 1 May 1952, the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations came into being on that day.

Founding members

The Federation’s earliest members were the Staff Associations of the United Nations New York; the European Office of the United Nations, Geneva; UNESCO; ICAO; WHO; and WMO and the Staff Union of the International Labour Office, Geneva. Apparently only ILO knew how to call their union a Union. There was one female representative from ICAO. FICSA represented about 5000 people. Many of the current staff probably had not yet conceived of a career in the international civil service and undoubtedly, some staff themselves had yet to be conceived.

Struggle for recognition

A letter dated 1 July 1952 was sent to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the executive heads of the specialized agencies, informing them of the establishment of the Federation. Replies were received from the Director-General of UNESCO, the Director of the European Office of the United Nations, and the Personnel Manager of the International Monetary Fund.

The Federation came into being at a time when events of considerable importance to the staff of international institutions were occurring. Even before it could be fully constituted, and before the Council could meet for the first time, immediate consideration had to be given to matters of moment, lest the right opportunity be missed. The Executive Committee elected in Paris in January was only provisional, and was originally intended to do no more than receive the written acceptance of the Statutes, announce the formal establishment of the Federation and summon the first session of the Council. It had no mandate to deal with issues of substance, the more so as there had been no discussions on such matters at the provisional Council in January.

Questions soon arose, however, and decisions had to be taken at short notice. Late in June the Committee learned that there was shortly to be held in Geneva a meeting of the Consultative Committee on Administrative Questions (CCAQ) Working Party on the Unification of Conditions of Service in the United Nations and the Specialized Agencies in Geneva from 7–12 June 1952. The question immediately arose of trying to get a hearing before the Working Party. The Committee could, of course, have taken the formally correct line that, having no mandate, it could do nothing; but it felt that inaction would involve a betrayal of the very purposes of the Federation. The Committee had only a few days in which to consider the proposals being put before the working party before the meeting at which they were to be discussed.

The Chairman of the Provisional Executive Committee asked that a representative of the Federation be heard by the Working Party on the Unification of Conditions of Service in the United Nations and Specialized Agencies set up by CCAQ.

The Working Party did not grant this request, on the grounds that the matter raised a question of principle which had necessarily to be referred to CCAQ for advice, and to the Administrative Committee on Co-ordination (ACC) for decision. A similar request was made in connection with a meeting of CCAQ itself.

The FICSA Executive Committee therefore formulated its views on the points submitted to the Working Party and subsequently on the latter’s proposals. These views were circulated to all staff associations, whether or not they were members of the Federation, and to the Secretary, who was to represent the Federation at the meeting of the CCAQ in Montreal, if the latter agreed to hear him.

Recognition obtained

At its 24th session in 1963, nearly 11 years after FICSA was created, CCAQ agreed that “arrangements should be made to give FICSA a greater opportunity than hitherto to make its views known at all appropriate stages of CCAQ discussions.”

CCAQ rejected a suggestion that FICSA views on CCAQ agenda items should be annexed to the CCAQ report.

It wasn’t until 1980 that CCAQ agreed to grant full-time release from their official duties to the FICSA President and the General Secretary. Recognizing that the larger organizations would have less difficulty than smaller organizations in funding the release of the two FICSA officers, the option of sharing the costs was discussed, to be implemented on an ad hoc basis.

In 1996, CCAQ authorized special leave with pay for a maximum of 15 days per year and per member for the members of the Executive Committee of FICSA, because of the demanding nature of their work. This was limited to the attendance of FICSA Councils and meetings of the Executive Committee.

In 2002, the High-Level Committee on Management (HLCM) recognized that it was responsible for maintaining an ongoing dialogue with staff representatives on human resources management concerns of a system-wide nature. The Committee agreed that the participation of the staff representative bodies in its work should be pursued as follows: (a) the staff representative bodies would contribute to setting the agenda of HLCM sessions through the submission, no later than 2 months in advance of formally scheduled meetings, of proposals on matters for potential consideration by HLCM. On those items related to conditions of employment, staff welfare, staff safety and security, and other relevant HR issues retained by HLCM for consideration, the Federations would be invited to prepare written inputs for circulation at least two weeks before the date of the session; (b) the Federations would continue to participate as observers in all open sessions of the HR Network; (c) participation as observers in HLCM's work was foreseen as follows: (i) in HLCM Task Forces/Working Groups as appropriate. The Committee foresaw such participation in Task Forces convened to work on matters related to staff security and safety, conditions of employment and other relevant HR issues; (ii) at an early stage in HLCM sessions in order to allow for a full exchange in respect of the issues raised on the agenda of each session; (iii) in HLCM discussions at which the conclusions/ recommendations of Task Forces/Working Groups in which the staff federations have participated were being presented; (iv) in other discussions as appropriate and agreed to by the Committee; (d) maintenance of regular communications with the CEB secretariat and, to the extent possible the Chairman and/or Vice-Chairman, in order to keep FICSA's and CCISUA's representatives appraised of the work being undertaken by the Committee, in particular at the conclusion of each HLCM session. In reaching these conclusions, the Committee was cognizant of the importance of trying to ensure the participation of staff at the stage of policy formulation on relevant matters in HLCM, the HR Network and elsewhere.

Future prospects

The struggle to achieve recognition and establish a dialogue with the Federation’s interlocutors took many years and is not yet over. FICSA may be granted the opportunity of participating in discussions on conditions of service but there is no guarantee that its views and positions will be fully considered when decisions are made. The Federation’s long-term goals of negotiation and collective bargaining remain elusive. Until the United Nations recognizes that international labour standards also apply to international civil servants, staff will remain at the mercy of the administrations and the Member States. Let us hope that it won’t take another sixty years to reach our goals.

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