Language allowance and compensation for language requirements

(l) At the l5th session (April l954: CO-ORDINATION/R.l62) CCAQ agreed that FAO could grant language allowance at Rome to staff members for the Italian language on a "proficiency-plus-use" basis, where the staff member was recruited for work in one of the official languages.

(2) At the first part of the 21st session (April l960: CO-ORDINATION/R.325, paras. 32-38) the Committee reviewed existing practices and reaffirmed that:

i. the allowance should be payable to staff who met the requirements of their organizations for high proficiency in two official or "approved" languages (approved languages and the method of determining them might vary among the organizations);

ii. where the local language was not an official language, but local recruits needed some knowledge of one of the official languages, this factor should be taken into account in fixing the local pay scales.

The majority of the Committee would not pay more than one language allowance to the same official, but noted that ICAO used a flat-rate allowance and paid 50 per cent extra for proficiency in more than two of its official languages. FAO was the only organization applying a "use" test before payment.

CCAQ believed that the whole subject needed further study.

(3) At the 23rd session (March l962: CO-ORDINATION/R.39l, para. 34) there was fairly general agreement that an allowance of one increment was not sufficient compensation for the extensive use of two languages, as for instance for stenography in two languages. Some organizations reflected this by higher grading of the posts concerned. There was support for the idea that a third language should attract additional allowance.

In view of differing organization practices, CCAQ Staff Office was instructed to make a study of the whole question, including a UNESCO proposal that the amount of the allowance should be three increments.

(4) At the 24th session (March l963: CO-ORDINATION/R.430, Appendix D, Part D) CCAQ, as part of a general review (CC/SO/34) of methods of establishing General Service conditions, examined the whole question of compensation for language qualifications. It agreed that:

i. no hard-and-fast rule could be laid down for all areas regarding the extent to which language requirements should be a factor in grading, beyond the fact that all organizations, both when grading posts and setting salary scales, should take full account of the fact that a language allowance was payable;

ii. in bilingual localities where it was reasonable to suppose that the best prevailing rates would by themselves suffice to attract staff with some knowledge of the second language, there was no reason in establishing base salary scales to make any addition to outside best prevailing rates in respect of the language factor;

iii. in cities where the local language was not a working language of the organization, it would be reasonable, on the other hand, to make a small addition to the best prevailing rates, if these were related to outside staff who were required to work only in the local language;

iv. in places where the local language was a working language of the organization there was no justification for any addition to "best prevailing rates" in the case of locally recruited staff who were required to work only in the language of the duty station.

(5) With respect to language allowance as such, CCAQ also agreed at the 24th session that:

i. in respect of those groups of posts in which knowledge of two languages may be required or may be valuable to the organization, the allowance should be payable in respect of knowledge (as distinct from use);

ii. the languages to be recognized for allowance purposes should normally be limited to the official languages of the organizations. It would also be reasonable to recognize, except in duty stations where the salary scale was designed to cover multilingual staff, in the case of a particular official, some other language which he was required to use in his work (other than his mother tongue or the language he had been hired to work in);

iii. the type of tests used by all organizations seemed to require a satisfactorily high standard. It would however be desirable if staff were periodically re-tested;

iv. as regards the amount of the allowance, it would be preferable to change to a system of flat rates in each locality. The amount of the flat rate should, at least for the lower grades, be greater than the present rates of allowance. The change of system might however raise some difficult administrative problems and further study of details should be undertaken through Staff Office. To minimize payroll complications a flat-rate allowance should be fixed at a net amount and be pensionable on net basis;

v. upon the introduction of a flat-rate system it would be reasonable to pay an additional allowance in respect of a third (but not a fourth) language; the amount should be 50 per cent of the flat rate payable for the second language.

(6) At its 25th session (April l964: CO-ORDINATION/R.45l, paras. 22-24) CCAQ agreed that the flat rate basis should be introduced from 1 January l965, or as soon thereafter as any necessary legislative approval could be obtained. An appropriate amount would be approximately 5 per cent of the minimum salary as at l May l964 of a G-5 secretary at Geneva or the equivalent elsewhere (such as G-4 in New York, G-5 in Rome and Vienna, F at Paris, or, in view of the special circumstances of bilinguality there, G-4 at Montreal). The amounts were not to be increased automatically when pay scales were increased, but would be reviewed from time to time. The allowance would be pensionable net. Each organization would make appropriate transitional provision with regard to serving staff now receiving higher amounts than the new flat rate.

(7) The action taken by organizations is recorded in CO-ORD/CC/SO/ll6 and Add.l and 2.

(8) At its 29th session (March l968: CO-ORDINATION/R.669, paras. 24-25) CCAQ examined the implications of UN General Assembly resolution no. 2359 B(XXII) which envisaged the introduction of a language bonus for Professional staff. It prepared the draft of a preliminary ACC position on the subject, referring the matter to the XVIth session of ICSAB. A more detailed paper was to be prepared for the Board.

(9) ICSAB reported (June l968: ICSAB/XVI/l) that the proposed bonus would have certain undesirable consequences. The XXIIIrd session (l968) of the UN General Assembly adopted, by resolution 2480 B, alternative measures to be effective in l972. These measures also seemed likely to CCAQ to cause difficulties in the UN common system. CCAQ at its 30th session (March l969: CO-ORDINATION/R.733, paras. l6-l9) therefore agreed that ICSAB should be asked to put the matter on its agenda in l970, by which time the organizations might have been able to devise language incentives suitable for general application.

(10) Also at its 30th session (March l969: CO-ORDINATION/R.733, paras. 51-53) CCAQ agreed that the rate of language allowance for General Service staff should be increased when the relevant local base salary scale had been increased by 15 per cent or more since the rate was established. Organizations should inform UN Office of the Controller of any such changes.

(11) At its 31st session (March l970: CO-ORDINATION/R.798, para. l9) CCAQ considered further the question of language incentives for Professional staff (see para. (9) above). Most organizations felt that even though UN was required to introduce, in l972, the language incentives scheme approved by the General Assembly, the scheme should not be applied elsewhere. Intensive efforts to provide language training would be made, but financial incentives were neither necessary nor desirable. A further report to ICSAB should explain the reasons for this position and stress the adverse effect which the General Assembly action would have on the common system, as well as the difficulties which would result for the other organizations. Some organizations felt that it would be preferable to adopt, in place of the language incentives scheme, an alternative plan for a general merit increment for the acquisition of additional qualifications, whether technical or linguistic. This should be briefly described in the report to the Board (see ICSAB/XVIII/R.l2).

(12) At the same session (CO-ORDINATION/R.798, para. 37) CCAQ examined a suggestion that the amount of the language allowance for a third language should be increased to the same amount as is paid for the second language: it is at present 50 per cent of that amount. It was agreed to include the matter in the l970-l97l work programme. CCAQ secretariat should make a study of (a) the numbers of staff involved, and the cost; (b) the extent to which the third languages possessed by the staff concerned were relevant and useful in their work.

(13) At its XVIIIth session (July l970: ICSAB/XVII/l, paras. 93-96) ICSAB reviewed the report on language incentives (see para. (ll) above) and commented that effective language training might in the long run be the best solution.

(14) At its 33rd session (March l97l: CO-ORDINATION/R.863, para. 28) CCAQ agreed that it would not be possible at that juncture to put forward proposals for increases in the language allowance payable to General Service staff for a third language.

(15) At its l6th session (July l982) ICSC, on the basis of a paper presented to it by CCAQ (ICSC/l6/R.ll), agreed that the language allowance for General Service staff as it was currently established, defined and administered, should remain unchanged (8th annual report, A/37/30, paras. l58-l65).

(16) At its l8th session (July l983) ICSC considered the question of language incentives for Professional staff. (CCAQ's views are found in ACC/l983/l8, paras. 22-23). ICSC concluded that the incentive as currently applied in UN should not continue. It agreed to draw this to the attention of legislative bodies. It requested its secretariat to examine alternative approaches (9th annual report, A/38/30, paras. 47-54).

(17) After initial study at its 20th session, and on the basis of a paper prepared by CCAQ at its 63rd session (July 1985: ACC/1985/14, paras. 77-78; draft paper ACC/1985/PER/R.27, which became ICSC/22/CRP.9 after clearance), the Commission, at its 22nd session (July 1985), decided to request the organizations to co-ordinate and harmonize, to the extent possible, their language proficiency examinations for serving staff.

(18) At its 78th session (ACC/1993/6, paras.75-79) the Committee reviewed a paper before ICSC on the harmonization of practice in the grant of language incentives. CCAQ drew to the attention of ICSC the full history of these incentives, the use of which the General Assembly had affirmed for the United Nations, reaffirmed its view that the issue did not call for a common system approach and recommended that ICSC should inform the Assembly that there was a trend for more organizations to adopt a scheme along the lines of the United Nations. ICSC decided to recommend parameters for organizations to apply when introducing a language incentive scheme (ICSC/37/R.18, paras. 93-95). The General Assembly decided that organizations wishing to introduce the scheme should do so within these parameters and that organizations with such schemes should ensure that they were in line with the parameters. It requested all organizations to pay particular attention to the situation of staff whose mother tongue is not an official language and requested ICSC to report again at the Assembly's 53rd session (resolution 48/224 II E).

(19) At its 80th session (February 1994: ACC/1994/4, paras. 116-117) CCAQ exchanged information on the introduction of language incentive schemes for the Professional and higher categories noted that the guiding principle behind the ICSC proposal had been that only organizations which felt the need for such incentives should introduce them.

(20) At its 82nd session (April 1995: ACC/1995/5, paras. 137-138) CCAQ took note of the findings of the ICSC secretariat, inter alia, on language incentives for Professional and higher level staff. ICSC noted the action taken by WIPO to bring its language scheme into line with ICSC parameters, invited those organizations which had not done so to introduce mechanisms for periodic retesting for language proficiency and reaffirmed the basic rationale for these incentives to encourage the practical use and application of languages in the interest of improved organizational effectiveness (ICSC/41/R.19, para. 371).

(21) At its 88th session (April 1998: ACC/1998/5, paras. 35-36) CCAQ decided to urge ICSC to support language recognition schemes as currently applied because organizations mandates and needs were diverse and a broad knowledge of languages enhanced cross-cultural understanding and built a more flexible, mobile and multi-skilled workforce, as well as meeting specific job requirements. CCAQ also requested ICSC to leave the question of retesting to the discretion of the organizations. ICSC decided to recommend to the General Assembly that the language incentive scheme for Professional and higher level staff in organizations that offered it should be discontinued and replaced by a non-pensionable bonus. General Service staff should also receive language allowance in the same way to align the mechanisms for both categories. ICSC considered that the bonus should only be paid for languages used in the organization and, at the time of performance appraisal, organizations should retest or certify the actual use of the language(s) in the organization (A/53/30, paras. 207-209). The General Assembly by resolution 53/209 II B did not agree to the changes proposed and requested ICSC to submit a comprehensive report to its fifty-fifth session.

(22) At its 52nd session (Jul.-Aug. 2000: ICSC/52/R.16, para. 64) ICSC responded to the request of the General Assembly in its resolution 53/209 to report on the rationale for recommending a change to the existing system of language incentives, the degree to which such a scheme would continue to serve as an incentive for multilingualism in the organizations, transitional measures and the acquired rights of staff. The secretary of CCAQ recalled what CCAQ had said two years before. ICSC responded to each request and considered the matter should be reviewed in the context of the larger study of the pay and benefits. It decided to inform the Assembly that it was currently engaged in a comprehensive review of the pay and benefits system which had emerged as a priority item from the Framework for HR Management and that it would therefore be more appropriate to address the issue of recognition of language knowledge in the context of that larger study (A/55/30, para. 60). The Assembly took note of the decision (resolution 55/223 I D).

(23) At its 14th session of the HR Network (CEB/2007/HR/14, para.75), the Commission decided to make the following recommendations to the General Assembly:
(a) The long-standing flexibility provided to the organizations in applying the language recognition schemes and other tools to promote multilingualism in the United Nations common system has been effective in meeting their diverse operational needs and should therefore be maintained;
(b) The organizations should be encouraged to continue, taking into account their practical needs and within their budget considerations, efforts to promote the use of additional languages in a multicultural environment of international civil service to further their operational goals;
(c) When reviewing or developing programmes to improve the organizational effectiveness through multilingualism, the organizations should, where appropriate and advisable, consider the following general guidelines:
(i) If the operational mandate so requires, proficiency in more than one official language of the organization should be included in vacancy announcements as a qualification requirement;
(ii) The knowledge and use of additional languages should be taken into account in career development and promotions of staff;
(iii) Where a language allowance or a language incentive is administered, verification of language proficiency should be in place, with specific mechanisms to be determined by operational requirements and budget considerations; such mechanisms could include retesting examinations or certification or observance of language use under the performance appraisal system;
(iv) Where it could improve organizational effectiveness (e.g. facilitate mobility), free training in official as well as other languages could be considered for staff and family members;
(v) Where language proficiency is a job or mobility requirement, training should be fully paid for by the organization; in other cases, cost-sharing could be considered;
(vi) The language incentive or allowance should not be applicable to the use of the mother tongue nor to language staff;
(vii) Free training or cost-sharing could be considered in lieu of providing a language incentive or allowance;
(viii) Where monetary language incentive schemes are to be administered, the focus should be to encourage the practical use and application of languages in the interest of improved organizational effectiveness.

(24) At the sixteenth session in New York (CEB/2008/HLCM/HR/35, paras. 70-71), the HR Network supported the UNICEF proposal and suggested that organizations agree to implement this amongst themselves rather than submit the proposal to the Commission. UNICEF’s proposal was to reimburse private tuition in the mother tongue of either the staff member or his/her spouse or partner. As currently mother tongue is only recognised as the language of the staff member, but in today’s multi-cultural families, this no longer fits the reality.

(25) At the HR Network’s eighteenth session (CEB/2009/HLCM/HR/46/Rev.1, paras.79-80), IMO raised the issue of language proficiency exams and the fact that the current format did not respond to the needs for testing languages. The Network noted that there were a number of LPEs in use, such as the UNESCO, the FAO and the WIPO exams; Further noted that the UN secretariat was also reviewing the process because it is extremely costly and complex. However, there did not seem to be a commercial company capable of managing the total of 6 languages, especially Chinese, Arabic and sometimes also Russian. The Network agreed to await the results of the review by the UN secretariat before any further steps are taken.

(26) At its nineteenth session (CEB/2010/HLCM/HR/18, paras.56-58), the HR Network agreed with the recommendation that language allowance should not be payable to NPOs, however organizations may extend language incentives to this category of staff. The Commission decided to reaffirmed that language allowances should not be provided to NPOs. However, organizations should be afforded the flexibility to introduce primarily non-monetary language incentives to the NPO category consistent with their operational needs.

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