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The term common system is shorthand for the United Nations common system of salaries, allowances and other conditions of service. Its origin can be traced to the relationship agreements concluded between the United Nations and the specialized agencies. While the wording of these agreements varies, most of them carry language to the effect that it is agreed to develop common personnel standards, methods and arrangements designed to avoid serious discrepancies in terms and conditions of employment, to avoid competition in recruitment of personnel and to facilitate the interchange of personnel.

The common system was intended to prevent competition among the organizations in staff recruitment and to facilitate exchange of staff. Other rationales for a common system include:

  • Efficiency/economy of scale: central maintenance of salary scales and allowance schedules means far fewer resources have to be deployed for these purposes in each organization;
  • Equity/fairness: morale can be jeopardized when staff working side by side have different conditions of service -- a uniform approach lessens such dissatisfaction;
  • Cost-efficiency/control: for the Member States, a common set of employment conditions permits an overview of staff costs.

The League of Nations was the first international organization that opted to create a career civil service in order to service its secretariat. Although the League has since dissolved, the civil service of the United Nations explicitly incorporated its standards and formation. At the time of the formation of the United Nations, the United Nations Preparatory Commission decided that the organization needed one united international civil service between all the agencies and departments of the UN. The primary goal was to eliminate competition for recruitment, and to facilitate easy mobility between different areas of the United Nations.

Since its founding, the responsibilities of the International Civil Service Commission have only grown with the Common System. Today the United Nations common system comprises 28 organizations. The ICSC remains committed to its statute to regulate and coordinate the conditions of service of the common system.

Development of international civil service and milestones of ICSC:

  • 1919: League of Nations and International Labour Organization (ILO) formed;
  • 1945: United Nations formed;
  • 1946: Decision to have a united civil service, first step towards common system;
  • 1948: International Civil Service Advisory Board (ICSAB) formed to advise the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC);
  • 1954: ICSAB issues first Standards of Conduct to the international civil service;
  • 1956: ICSAB creates first salary scheme to equalize purchasing power for employees around the world;
  • 1972: General Assembly (GA) approves the need for an international civil service commission;
  • 1974: GA approves the creation of ICSC in resolution 3357-XXIX, New York made the base for the system;
  • 1975: First session of ICSC is held;
  • 1980: Master standard for job classification;
  • 1984: ICSC approves methodologies to conduct salary surveys in HQ duty stations & non-HQ duty stations;
  • 1989: Mandatory age of separation raised to 62 for all new staff, as of 1/1/1990;
  • 1989: Commission made recommendation to the GA following its compensation review to establish a floor net salary level for P-staff and higher;
  • 1989: Mobility and Hardship scheme established;
  • 2000: Human Resources Framework developed;
  • 2001: Standards of Conduct for the International Civil Service approved;
  • 2004: Promulgation of New Master Standard for job classification, online system;
  • 2010: New General Service job evaluation standard, online system;
  • 2011: Completion of comprehensive review of the methodologies for determination and adjustment of pensionable remuneration;
  • 2012: Mandatory age of separation raised to 65 for new staff, effective 1/1/2014;
  • 2013: Standards of Conduct revised;
  • 2015: Revised Compensation Package approved, modernized pay system;
  • 2017: Framework for performance incentives approved;
  • 2018: Mandatory age of separation raised to 65 for all staff (subject to acquired rights).

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