STATEMENT ON BEHALF OF THE GROUP OF 77 AND CHINA BY MR. RICHARD TUR, SECOND SECRETARY OF THE PERMANENT MISSION OF CUBA TO THE UNITED NATIONS, ON AGENDA ITEM 134: PROPOSED PROGRAMME BUDGET FOR 2024: CONSTRUCTION AND PROPERTY MANAGEMENT: FLEXIBLE WORKPLACE AT THE UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, AT THE MAIN PART OF THE SEVENTY-EIGHTH SESSION OF THE FIFTH COMMITTEE OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY (New York, 9 November 2023)
1. I have the honor to deliver this statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China. The Group would like to thank Mr. Patrick Carey, Director, Division of Administration, of the Department of Operational Support; Ms. Fatoumata Ndiaye, Under-Secretary-General for International Oversight Services (OIOS); and Mr. Jakub Chmielewski, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions for introducing their respective reports.
2. The Group appreciates the report of the Secretary General that provides a forward-looking assessment of the workplace at United Nations Headquarters, along with the evaluation conducted by the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the completed flexible workplace project.
3. By implementing this project, the United Nations created additional capacity and achieved cost savings on office leases and other operating expenditures. Despite the capacity gained, the OIOS report highlights that physical occupancy of the Secretariat Building has been lower than originally envisaged, even after the COVID-19 pandemic and the lifting of all restrictions.
4. In this regard, we are worried that the presence out of the office might be considered a right, or even a rule, when it is not the case, according to the related Secretary General´s bulletin. The OIOS report shows how since the "next normal" phase for Headquarters was put into effect in April 2022, the proportion of staff telecommuting or working remotely under flexible or alternate working arrangements has barely decreased from 77 to 67%. We reiterate that physical presence of the secretariat staff is fundamental for the work of the organization and meeting the requirements of Member States as per the UN rules and regulations.
5. We recall that in its resolution 77/278, the General Assembly encouraged the Secretary-General to support managers in monitoring staff attendance to ensure that the Organization continues to be responsive to Member States and maintains effective and efficient delivery of its work to assist legislative bodies in their work and to carry out their decisions. In this regard, we concur with the ACABQ recommendation on the need to identify viable options for measuring occupancy of the premises and provide information on actual occupancy levels.
6. The Group stresses the importance of continuing to observe relevant trends and gather comprehensive data, including on actual occupancy levels based on the impact of the reconfigured flexible working space and implementation of flexible working arrangements in order to accurately assess current and future workplace requirements.
7. The Group notes that the evaluation of OIOS concluded that the flexible workplace did not demonstrably improve staff productivity and may have negatively contributed to staff health and well-being due to issues relating to noise, lack of privacy and inadequate enclosed space. It also indicated that there were distinct patterns by rank, age and gender in terms of the experience with the flexible workplace environment.
8. In this regard, we take note of the two OIOS recommendations by which the Department of Operational Support is called to determine and implement, in collaboration with heads of entities, the optimal occupancy levels in the flexible workplace for operational efficiency, staff productivity and well-being, as well as to update workplace protocol and basic rules, and make modifications to physical space, where feasible, in order to address the issues related to noise and lack of privacy. We will be following in detail the discussions on these recommendations in order to clearly determine their scope in light of the current financial situation of the Organization.
9. We would also like to receive further information on the reasons that have prevented the Secretary-General from submitting at this session the report on system-wide efforts to enhance accessibility for persons with disabilities as requested by the General Assembly in resolution 76/273.
10. In conclusion, Mr. Chair, the G77 and China assures you of its commitment to engage constructively on this agenda item.
I thank you.