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STU Flash, 17 May 2023

Oral Statement by the STU, 216th session of the Executive Board

STU/70th Council/23/012
17 May 2023


216th Session of the Executive Board of UNESCO

Oral Statement by the UNESCO Staff Union (STU)


Thank you, Mr. Chair, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,

"The staff of UNESCO is the real wealth and value of our Organization". We appreciate this speech, but we would appreciate it even more if such words were accompanied by facts showing that this wealth of talent is not a treasure to be exploited but a heritage to be developed and made to bear fruit!

"Attracting and retaining talents" is one of the objectives of the new human resources management strategy, which we share in its conception, but with huge reservations regarding its implementation, as the necessary resources would not be allocated to it. With a Medical Benefit Fund that is costly to its members and offers some of the lowest reimbursement rates in the UN system, and with after-service health insurance coverage that is virtually non-existent today, UNESCO is not doing much to make itself competitive in the marketplace. And what could be said about the working environment in which these talents and skills should flourish?


There are indicators in this area that should alarm you as much as they alarm STU. The United Nations-wide health survey conducted by the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) in 2022, in which 650 UNESCO staff members participated, provides us with a picture of an extremely worrying nature. An initial analysis shows that, compared to other UN agencies, UNESCO staff are much more exposed to high health risks. Almost half of UNESCO staff report stress, a percentage that is almost double the average for all UN agencies. UNESCO staff take more sick days than other UN organizations.

This report stresses the fact that the top 10 reasons for stress are all work-related: heavy workload, lack of resources, unachievable deadlines, lack of support from managers, lack of autonomy, lack of career development opportunities, and soon.

Digging deeper the report reveals that almost 6 staff out of 10 participate in calls and meetings outside of work hours and, even more worrying, 7 out of 10 of UNESCO staff say they work more than their contract foresees, an "overzealousness" that costs a third of them up to 10 extra hours of work per week.

Due to an excessive workload, almost 40% of the workforce does not have time to practice physical activity, which has serious consequences on health, both physical and mental. Is it any wonder that the work environment itself "gets sick" and becomes toxic.

Mr. Chair, Excellencies,

No human resources management strategy, no matter how perfect, can be sufficient to prevent and resolve all the ills that can result from such a situation, as long as the deep and systemic causes - and not the symptoms - of this stress, this diffuse and deleterious malaise, are not addressed. Over the last 20 years, as the Administration has shown, the real value of our budget has been reduced to less than half of what it was in the early 2000s. During this same period, UNESCO lost 344 staff members on fixed-term contracts, while the number of project appointments has tripled, and the proportion of non-permanent staff has gradually reached 50% of all UNESCO staff.

In the face of this obvious contraction of our resources, we have not seen a commensurate reduction in our programs, our statutory meetings, our networks, our initiatives, our priorities. How much longer can we ask UNESCO staff to do more and more with less and less?

Crises are opportunities for those who, at the crossroads, know how to make courageous choices. As we move towards the 42nd General Conference, we are at one of these important crossroads in the life of our organization, and you have not only the power but also the moral duty to ensure a fairer match between the resources made available to the Secretariat and the ambition of the strategies and work plans you will approve.

STU ask you to ensure that the new Human Resources Management Strategy has the necessary means for effective, impactful implementation, including in particular:

  • More training opportunities for staff who wish to acquire new skills and increase their chances of career advancement;

  • Effective measures to ensure the follow-up of inappropriate, sometimes abusive, recurrent and well-documented behaviors of some supervisors;

  • Regularizing the owners of temporary contracts who, for too long, have covered functions that are essential to UNESCO's mission;

  • A significant improvement of the internal justice system for more transparency and full protection of colleagues who have the courage to speak up and raise alarms.

STU asks finally the Administration to pay close attention to the process of reform of the field network. It will have a significant impact on the lives and working conditions of many colleagues, and they deserve to be informed in due time, advised and properly supported in this process of transformation of their mandate and functions.

Distinguished Delegates, Mr. Chair,

The staff of UNESCO expects you to take enlightened and courageous decisions that will restore to the treasure you claim to have in your hands all its dignity and the necessary serenity to express and develop its talents and skills, in the service of the ideals and values that the world of today needs so much.

On behalf of STU, I thank you for your attention.