7th EPSU Congress: Committee report presented by Al Butler, 14 June 2004

Dear colleagues, it gives me great pleasure to report on the activities of the EPSU Standing Committee for Local and Regional Government Committee. The aim of my report is to give an assessment of the work of the Committee during the last four years and to highlight some of the key, ongoing, areas of action.

Looking back to the tasks we set ourselves, these can be listed under four main objectives;
-1. Strengthen the dialogue with CEMR (in terms of content and depth) and in particular obtain a European sectoral social dialogue committee for local and regional government.
-2. Compare trends and developments in collective bargaining and develop the EPSU bargaining agenda on issues such as life-long learning; telework; equality/equal pay; pensions and policies for older workers.
-3. Support trade unions and social dialogue in the new Member States and candidate countries
-4. Contribute to the EPSU Public Service Campaign and support local pubic services

To what extent have we been successful in meeting these objectives? Where do we need to focus our efforts in future? I would like to focus my remarks on 1) public services, 2) social dialogue and 3) collective bargaining:

1) public services:

The last years has seen the growing involvement of the private sector in public services in many countries. The European Union is supposed to be “neutral” as regards ownership, but in practice private sector involvement in public services is being encouraged, and workers and unions are fighting to defend quality public services, including at local level. The Standing Committee has worked hard in their support, emphasizing the role of quality local public services in social integration and inclusion, in local development and quality employment, in local democracy and citizens' rights. Alliances in this area have been important - for example the joint statement between EPSU, CEMR and Eurocities against the liberalization of services (October 2003) where we stated jointly that “ the responsibilities of local and regional authorities go beyond that of simply addressing market failure.
On its own, the market cannot ensure that everyone is provided with access to good quality services.”

The Committee has developed strategies to tackle privatization and PPPs (public-private partnerships). To help us in our efforts we have had the valuable assistance from the Public services International research Unit of the University of Greenwich (PSIRU). I would like to thank Dave Hall and his colleagues from PSIRU for their work, particularly in helping us organize the successful workshop on PPPs this February. The work on PPPs is on-going and more joint work is in the pipeline for the autumn.

The Standing Committee, and EPSU as a whole, has also worked hard to ensure that local authorities can promote good practices in the private sector by integrating social and environmental criteria into their purchasing practices. This entailed a lot of lobbying on the revised public procurement Directives, adopted towards the end of 2003. It is worth underlining that our success, albeit limited, was due to the strength of the alliance we built with social action, environmental and fair trade organizations (and also with the local authority organizations, CEMR and Eurocities). This cooperation proved very successful and is continuing with the drafting of a joint guide on the Directives giving practical examples of how public authorities can include social and environmental criteria in their purchasing practices.

2) social dialogue:

Many of you will know that the European sectoral committee for local and regional government was finally launched on January 13 this year, between EPSU and the CEMR Employers Platform. Now that the Committee is up and running, it is easy to forget all the difficult discussions and blockages we had with the Commission, with the employers, with ourselves, over the setting up of the Committee. However, we did spend a large amount of time and effort to resolve the problems and we should not forget this. I hope too that the solution that we have found in local and regional government helps to resolve the outstanding problems in the National and European Administration sector.

EPSU and CEMR-EP recognized each other as social partners back in 1996 and we have developed various joint initiatives over the years, including one during this Congress period on employment in 2000/2001. So our social dialogue work is not completely new. The new social dialogue Committee represents however a further, and welcome, step.

It is early days but we have adopted a joint work programme (available on EPSU's website and also on the European Commission's) for 2004/2005 and have already started two initiatives:
* a survey on the local dimension of the European Employment Strategy and social partner involvement and the development of common objectives/recommendations to serve as reference for social partners at the regional and local levels (focusing, for example, on active ageing, gender equality and equal opportunities in the workplace for specific groups e.g. ethnic minorities and people with disabilities, development of skills, labour market integration and work organisation);
* and a joint project to strengthen social dialogue in the new Member States. This will include a survey on local government and activities of social partner organizations in the new Member States; several national workshops; and a pan European conference in 2005.

In the longer term I am convinced that the Committee can play a key role in promoting quality local public services in Europe and in improving employment conditions for the men and women working in the sector. The Committee will bring more visibility and attention to local public services and will support European policies and strategies regarding, for example, employment or social inclusion.

3) collective bargaining:

Collective bargaining is an area that is also flagged up in our specific resolution for this Congress as a priority for the future work of the Standing Committee. During the last years the Standing Committee has carried out work in this area - for example in support of the cross-sectoral telework agreement, follow up to the equality statement with CEMR-EP. The Committee has looked at the working conditions of specific groups of local government workers, for example firefighters. (I should add here that we did intend to organize a seminar for firefighters in 2002 in cooperation with the FBU, but our plans were interrupted by the firefighters dispute in the UK and we did not manage to reorganize this afterwards. )

I would add that we have also organized activities to support the development of collective bargaining in the wider Europe, including in cooperation with the European training academy linked to the ETUC, ETUCO. Such activities are important to identify our common problems and to develop common strategies and solutions.

We want to do more on collective bargaining in our sector in future, including with the support of the epsucob@ collective bargaining network (details on EPSU website information collective agreements can be sent to epsucob@NEWS)

Finally, I would like to end my report with some words on the membership of the Standing Committee.

Regarding the officers, there have been some changes over the past four years. Eva Stoy HK Kommunal Denmark was originally elected President of the Committee in 2000 but unfortunately had to resign for personal reasons in 2001. Almuth Fischer Ver.di (then DAG) and Xander de Uyl Abvakabo were elected vice-Presidents in 2000, but Xander den Uyl resigned a year later (as he changed jobs) and was replaced by Finn Baerland NFK, who was also later retires and was replaced by John Dupont from HK Kommunal Denmark.
Finally I should add that Almuth retired in 2003.

Regarding participation in the Committee's work, although most countries did appoint members during this period, we have missed active input from some colleagues. Regarding the gender balance, about a third of titular and substitute members are women, which means that progress in this area is also still needed.

Dear colleagues, that brings me to the end of my report and I thank you for your attention.