UNDP cuts HQ staff, creates new lower-level jobs

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark in Senegal. Clark confirmed the planned staff cuts in a letter last week. Photo by: United Nations Development Programme / CC BY-NC-ND

A significant restructuring effort will include relocation and reduction in the overall number of staff at the United Nations Development Program, one of the leading U.N. aid agencies with an annual budget of more than $5 billion.

The plan is to reduce by approximately 10 percent the total number of staff at headquarters and regional levels, along with a “significant shift toward the region,” a UNDP spokesperson said of UNDP’s regional bureaus overseeing Africa, Arab states, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States as well as Latin America and the Caribbean.

Employees won’t need to reapply for their current position if it remains the same. But as the configuration of many teams is changing significantly, there is room for new positions, according to the spokesperson, who noted that the new UNDP structure will include a greater number of lower-level professional staff positions.

New positions have already been created at these levels and will be filled through job fairs.

Removing unnecessary duplication between bureaus, ensuring functions are properly aligned through the organization to improve accountability and improving oversight for young employees’ career paths means the majority of planned staff cuts will hit those at grade D, or the director level, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark confirmed in a letter to staff last week. Employees who wish to leave UNDP rather than compete for new positions will be eligible for a limited number of voluntary separation packages.

In its current configuration, UNDP employs approximately 1,100 at its headquarters in New York and 5,300 in field operations.

Concern remains about the decision-making process, the types of jobs being cut and the structure around the entire downsizing plan, according to Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union.

Last year, the UNDP executive board approved a strategic plan for the years 2014-17 that called for UNDP to “change with the world” by redesigning its development work, revitalizing the approach to partnership and improving institutional effectiveness.

“We were able to identify that there was some sort of budget cut, but we can’t see how this can cause such a radical reaction,” Tavora-Jainchill said. “We are still trying to gather information.”

The loss of several security-related posts in the field raised questions about the agency’s overall approach to safety and security, she suggested.

In the meantime, her union, which oversees the interests of those employed in the U.N. secretariat and field operations, sees the downsizing as a warning sign and will support the UNDP Staff Union any way it can.

“They are planning to do some silent marches and we will tell our staff that if they are willing and able and want to join, then they should do so,” she told Devex.

The situation is further compounded by the fact that there is no overarching downsizing policy or guidelines for U.N. agencies, she said. In fact, this issue, which is slated on the agenda for the third year in a row, will be addressed in late June at the Staff Management Committee Meeting, where leaders of unions and higher U.N. administration representatives will be present to discuss how to move forward.

“We hope a policy on downsizing will be agreed upon by staff and management,” she said.

But the UNDP downsize is already underway, with the goal of creating a more efficient, leaner organization able to tackle current and future development challenges by the end of the year.

At the end of the restructuring, UNDP will “be a more agile and capable organization with less duplication of work and more relevant capacity for the challenges the world faces,” the spokesperson told Devex.

What do you think about UNDP’s plans to downsize staff? Let us know by emailing news@devex.com or by leaving a comment below.

About the author

  • Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.

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