By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - Angry United Nations staff in Geneva protested on Wednesday against a proposed 7.5 percent cut to their salaries, the equivalent of almost a month's pay, and called for strike action if it is implemented.
The proposal came from the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), a group of independent experts, which surveyed the cost of living in eight U.N. locations.
It said the salary cut for Geneva-based staff, due to take effect in August, would align them with colleagues in New York, where purchasing power has dropped.
Hundreds of personnel at the U.N. European headquarters raised their hands to support a resolution rejecting the plan and marched through the building chanting "No Pay Cuts".
The staff resolution urged U.N. agencies such as UNHCR and the World Health Organization not to implement the pay cuts and called for "regular, protracted and escalating collective actions including demonstrations and work stoppages".
"If we play that last card of a strike, we need to be damn sure we can turn out everybody - I mean everybody," Daniel Cork, vice chairman of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) staff union, told a cheering crowd.
"Right now we're not sure if the ICSC is willing to negotiate with us. They won't meet with us," Cork said.
Alessandra Vellucci, U.N. spokeswoman in Geneva, said: "UN Geneva is taking very seriously the actions proposed by the unions against the possible pay cuts. We are exploring, in collaboration with the UN Headquarters, the best way forward." Heads of U.N. agencies based in the Swiss city, in joint letters to ICSC chairman Kingston Rhodes, have questioned the calculations and called for deferring the cuts.
"We see no proper justification for imposing such a significant real cut to the remuneration of our staff," said a letter seen by Reuters.
Staff federations argue that the experts lowered their calculations of the city's cost-of-living by including rental prices from neighboring France, adding: "The option to reside in France is only open to staff of certain nationalities."
Ian Richards, executive secretary of the Staff Coordinating Council, said the average monthly salary subject to the proposed cut was 10,000 to 12,000 Swiss francs ($10,000-12,000).
"The U.N. has said it needs top experts such as energy economists, climate change scientists, patent lawyers and medical practitioners so it can help countries reach the Sustainable Development Goals," Richards told Reuters.
The world body has invoked public service to attract such experts from the private sector, he said.
"However, no-one in their right mind will leave their job for an organization that from one day to the next can cut pay by one month a year for existing staff," he added.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones)