U.S. calls for U.N. pay raise to be rescinded

UNITED NATIONS Mon Aug 29, 2011 6:09pm EDT

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States called on Monday for the rescinding of a nearly 3 percent cost of living pay raise to almost 5,000 U.N. employees in New York, saying it was inappropriate at a time of global austerity.

In a letter to the independent body that awarded the raise, senior U.S. diplomat Joseph Torsella said Washington "strongly objects" to the measure, which took effect on August 1 and covers around 4,800 U.N. international staff.

While U.N. base salaries have been frozen, the raise came in a so-called "post adjustment" added on to ensure that U.N. staff around the world have the same purchasing power. In his letter, obtained by Reuters, Torsella said it would mean a nearly 3 percent net increase in New York salaries.

"Such a raise is inappropriate at this time of global fiscal austerity, when member state governments everywhere are implementing drastic austerity measures such as layoffs, service reductions, revenue increases, and reductions in pay and benefits for civil servants," he said.

"We must -- at a minimum -- forgo salary increases. Failure to do so could well lead to more draconian approaches to budget-balancing in the future," he told Kingston Rhodes, chairman of the International Civil Service Commission.

The 15-person commission is an independent expert body set up by the U.N. General Assembly to regulate conditions of staff service in the United Nations.

Torsella, representative for management and reform at Washington's U.N. mission, told Rhodes that the U.S. government "respectfully requests that the commission take appropriate steps to restore the post adjustment index for New York."

U.N. salaries have always been based on those of the U.S. civil service. Torsella noted that last November, President Barack Obama had frozen a local cost-of-living award for U.S. civil servants in addition to an existing freeze in base pay.

Rhodes, who is from Sierra Leone, said he was studying the letter and would consult with other members of the commission before replying. He declined further comment.

Sources close to the commission said this year's pay raise was the first it had awarded since 2008.

The United States pays 22 percent of the U.N. core budget. The Obama administration is accused by some Republicans in Congress of uncritically funding a body they say squanders money and sometimes acts contrary to U.S. interests.

While the administration has rejected calls to have its contributions to the U.N. budget made voluntary instead of compulsory, it is keen to show critics that it will not tolerate wasteful spending by the United Nations.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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