Untold Story: Why We Do What We Do?
UN Pension Health

Untold Story: Why We Do What We Do?

From the Dairies of UN Retirees (1/3 Lump Sum Recipients) Common Cause Appeal # UNAT 2009-001.
"Change direction with understanding of (human) evolution here and now, lest you may end up where you started and going nowhere."  Lao To.

Introduction and Background

There is background history to the filing of the Common Cause Appeal to the UNAT in August 2009. For most of us retirees, actively served UN and its agencies for many years, we have been passionate about our daily work life because:

  • It was/is the right thing to do a number of useful and good things in service of others and in the process getting paid. It was indeed a blessing and grace;
  • It was right to accept and endure, in the process, prolonged expatriation, disruption in family life with consequences on the family members though they did/do not deserve such hardships for no fault of theirs;
  • It was easy to convince our family members to accept and adopt our way of working life, because of the benefits we can bring about to fellow being;
  • The organisation is known to adopt the best organisational rules and fine working methods and values; and
  • Last but not the least, the UN is ready to offer the best material compensation package, safeguards and privileges as international civil servant.

As we continued, we realised that it was not the money, privileges and may be some pride that motivated the inner drive and energy to do what we have done. But, personal "sacrifices" of whatever kind are no match to the wonderful inner satisfaction of being able to commit and do the good things that brought much needed improvements in the life of others. We felt uplifted by the UN Secretary General encouragement that even after normal service the organisation would look to benefit from the experience and wisdom of it retirees and is ready to use them, when necessary, in achieving many a socio-economic goals for the common well being.

We somehow believed that the organisation is always alive to the specific needs of those devoted and loyal work force, both in service and after service when old age and illness may render them less "useful" simply in the physical sense. We believed in the sanctity of our association with the UN, and even continuing this legacy as private citizens we felt this is not similar to other corporate engagement with focus on making profits.

We saw the corporate world fast changing its mindset and accepting corporate social responsibility (CSR) and importance of all stakeholders, not just shareholders and management. We see changes in civil service engaging the civil society at large to ensure delivery of services reaching all population, vulnerable, disadvantaged and those living in remote places.

The Secret of a Productive Life can be Sought and Found

We thought that when the UN, its former employees, to the extent possible, corporate world, civil service and civil society join hands and become concerned about the larger socio-economic well being there would be enhanced partnership and multiplier effects not only to enhance the process of human development, but greater realisation of human rights and a more peaceful world with shared destinies.

The social and economic contribution of older persons reaches beyond their economic activities. They often play crucial roles in families and in the community. They make many valuable contributions that cannot be measured in economic terms: care for family members, productive subsistence work, household maintenance and voluntary activities in the community. Moreover, these roles contribute to the preparation of the future labour force. All these contributions, including those made through unpaid work in all sectors by persons of all ages, particularly women, deserve to be recognised. Ref: Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002.

Setting in of Reality

Once retired from active service, the world looks different and a realisation sets in that we are at the receiving end and we become dependent on others doing their jobs well.

The UN retirees are no exception to this emotional package and pattern of life; but as they become older, with greater dependence on others, they tend to look at the UN Pension System in comparison to the national civil service system and other more progressive pension systems around.

We see the commutation of 1/3 pension they chose was indeed very timely and helpful in settling into the new way of life and make necessary adjustments commensurate with the kind of lifestyle, esteem and dignity enjoyed during UN service. The 1/3 lump sum helped greatly to carry out some of the long standing commitments to the family and oneself, in social, economic, familial and personal levels.

There are certain things for which UN retirees were unprepared, for example:

  1. Impact of lifestyles among their own children in the midst of growing influences of globalisation and increasing migration of children away from them seeking larger income, comforts, etc.
  2. Increasing sense of loss, isolation, with increasing need for help and dependence.
  3. Decreasing purchasing power of their reduced pension especially after all the lump + interest having been paid back to the UNJSPF.
  4. Sense of inequity as compared to national civil service pension where the full pension gets restored after 15 years of reduced pension in the case of commuted lump sum recipients.
  5. Sense of let down by the UN system in depriving equity, fairness and justice as opposed to the greater ideals espoused through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Child Rights and the proposed convention on issues relating to ageing people and older people.

Paradox of Life of Freedom with no or Truncated Choices

Despite being good and tax-paying citizens, we have no recourse to national legal system and judicial corrective mechanism in the event of any issues for remedial action relating to their employment in UN service.

When it comes to pension, UNJSPF remains the sole provider and arbiter in deciding what is to be given as pension, being totally immune from any national laws, rules and regulations. There are some openness and in built participatory elements in the management of the UN Pension system, e.g. through UN Pensioners Associations functioning more like UNJSPF spokespersons, subject to its own regulations, rules and procedures which cannot again be questioned outside of the system itself. Here again, the participation is limited to making complaints and be satisfied with whatever decided within the confines of the system itself.

While UN has extended the health insurance after service to all retirees, national and international, it comes with a caveat. In the case of after service health care, these are being provided through private insurance companies, mostly in America, and for others living outside, through a service provider/administrative arrangement with Van Breda international. When it comes to retirees outside of the so called developed world, this insurance programme does not take cognizance of alternate medical facilities as opposed to what we can term as allopathic or western medical practices. Despite the pre-eminence of the western medical advances there are equally superior alternate nationally accepted medical practices for certain types of health conditions and illnesses. Most of these nationally recognised practices are non-invasive, with lesser or no side effects and in some cases most suitable alternative health care systems. For example, the Ayurvedic medical system is known in India and with Indians and foreigners elsewhere for centuries. With continuing research, analysis and adaptations, these local medical practices are getting more sophisticated and widespread and provide cost effective and efficient solutions to human situation in dis-ease (discomfort and ill).

It seems imperative for the UN after service health care to revisit its policies and procedures with a view to understand the alternative medical systems, their widespread availability, proven effectiveness, and thus open up its mindset to embrace the new areas of health care system in the globalised world, already noted for the MDG achievement.

Our Appeal

In the case of policy procedure implementation issues of both pension and health care, we believe that the UN internal judicial system should take active interest and bring to bear a sense of fairness and equity especially for the retirees who have no other avenue for redress. Most, if not all, are remediable injustices with solutions that can be found within the system with broader and more realistic perspectives. We also believe that there may be no need to change the UNDT/UNAT mandates, at least for now, but these institutions should be cognizant of the problems explained above and become pro-active or active in finding the right solutions when requested to do so. We believe that the mandates of UNDT/UNAT have an overarching responsibility to consider the foundational principles of the UN Charter and UDHR in considering cases of not just normal day-to-day management-staff issues, but even of those who left UN active service with their specific situations.

Let me conclude by saying that the time to see reality has long arrived, it is time the UN takes notice and makes a difference in the way things are done so far.

V. Muthuswami – Joint Appellant of the Common Cause Appeal # UNAT 2009-001. Vm18022010.

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