PLEASE NOTE: This is an outdated post by now! The newer version of this post is here: http://www.rottmair.de/2011/01/04/contract-types-and-job-grades-in-the-un-system/
Lately there were some questions on UN contract types and their meaning so I will try to summarize the situation as I see it. For everything I say, remember, that I don’t work in HR and also that this is my personal view of the topic. I don’t pretend to cover all aspects of this topic but if you feel that I should add something, please leave a comment below.
The first thing is that there are very many different kinds of contracts in the UN. In fact many people lost track of what the exact differences between the contract types are and I experienced examples where even the same contract type had different meanings in one organization. I guess the easiest distinction for now is the duration the contract is intended for.
On the top of the list for this are the “Permanent Contracts” that the Secretariat offers. However to my knowledge these contracts are only given out to people who successfully competed in the National Competitive Recruitment Examinations (NCRE). So unless you fulfill the criteria to compete in the NCRE you can neglect this contract type.
Fixed Term Contracts
Next in line are “Fixed Term Contracts” those are the typical jobs that you find all over the system. The duration of any contract is usually a year or two and even though it is sometimes stated differently in the legal fine-print these contracts are pretty good in terms of job security since most of these contracts are renewed without too many questions asked. An interesting curiosity with Fixed Term Contracts is that some of these can be project-funded. These contracts have then slightly different terms and benefits.
Temporary contracts such as “Assignment for limited durations (ALD)” or “Temporary Fixed Term (TFT)” are still staff contracts but are clearly time-bound and typically don’t carry all the benefits of Fixed Term contracts. And even though these contracts can be extended there is usually a limited (e.g. 3 or 4 years) after which the same person is not allowed to be on the post any longer. If you are on an ALD and you hit the limit you have to take a “Break in Service” of a time determined by the organization.
In this category things get really messy. First of all there is a very wide variety of contracts available and then the conditions for these can be quite different. Then, some organizations see consultant contracts not as HR contracts and governs them under the organizations procurement rules. Typically these contracts carry little employee benefits. Consultant contracts are time-bound, often short-term and often have break in service rules, too. The usually allow for more flexibility in salary negotiations. Examples for these contracts are the “Special Service Agreements (SSA)”, “Individual Contractors Agreement (ICA)” and others.
Within all these contracts different levels apply. Roughly there are two big categories. The first is the General Services category (sometimes also referred to as Local) up to ICS 7 and then the Professional (or International) category usually starting at ICS 8/9. The basic logic is that certain jobs don’t require an international. For example it doesn’t really make sense to pay a lot of money to employ an administrative clerk on an international level since there are usually skilled people for this job locally available. If you are on a national contract you can expect to stay in the country and you will not be required to move. If you are on an international contract you can be re-assigned to any other place in this world easily (a fact that is often forgotten and that regularly leads to conflict if one actually tries to re-assign internationals).
The line between these two categories is not always easy to draw. For instance there is a major difference between Copenhagen and New York where many nationals in Copenhagen execute jobs that would be on an international level in New York. As a rule of thumb jobs that require a Master’s equivalent degree are international whereas local jobs required secondary education or Bachelor’s degrees.
For an overview over what the level and the contract type equivalents roughly are please check out the UN Job List Search page (scroll down). To estimate what your Salary could look like use the UNDP Salary Calculator.