Celebrating 45 years of fighting for public service workers in Europe

EPSU 45th Anniversary banner

(6 April 2023) The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) is celebrating its 45th birthday this year. Since its formation in 1978, EPSU has worked tirelessly to promote and defend the interests of public service workers in Europe, becoming the leading voice for the rights of workers in the public sector.

Over the years, EPSU has played a crucial role in shaping EU policies on public services, health and safety at work, employment rights and social protection. Some successes:

  • We accomplished a long-standing objective to establish formal social dialogue committees for all major EPSU sectors and continue to push for the establishment of a Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for Social Services. Our work on social dialogue has led to landmark agreements such as the 2009 agreement on preventing sharp injuries in health and hospital services – one of just a few sector-level agreements to be transposed into European law over the last twenty years. We continue to set the trend with important social partner agreements, such as the 2022 agreement on digitalisation in central governments.
  • We have run several extremely successful campaigns which have led to change across Europe. Our Right2water campaign was the first successful European Citizens Initiative, gathering almost two million signatures from across Europe. The demands were partially enshrined in the Drinking Water Directive, adopted by the European Parliament in 2020 and continues to be reflected in European legislation. Our 'Unhappy Meal' campaign - conducted in partnership with EFFAT, War on Want and SEIU - brought to light the tax evasion practices of McDonald's and triggered a complex European state aid investigation against the company. The campaign remains relevant, as demonstrated by France imposing a record €1.1 billion fine on McDonald's in 2022. We are committed to holding companies accountable for their actions and regularly collaborate with CICTAR to condemn corporate tax avoidance in our ongoing efforts to promote corporate responsibility.
  • Social dialogue is at the heart of EPSU’s work, and we are committed to defending it at all levels including at the work place and the EU level. In 2018 EPSU was the first European trade union organisation to take the European Commission to court, challenging the mishandling of social partner agreements. While the General Court indeed found faults in the way the Commission addressed the agreement, the courts ultimately did not follow our interpretation of the social dialogue articles as laid out in the Treaty. As the Commission continues to show its lack of trust in sectoral social partner agreements, EPSU will continue to defend both the process and the right to good administration.
  • EPSU has driven gender parity in its structures supported by our women and gender equality committee. We have an active youth network and solid sectoral and professional networks.

As we celebrate EPSU's 45th anniversary, it is important to reflect on the work and struggles that have led us to where we are. Gaining the right to strike; receive holiday and sick pay; have weekends off; enjoy health and safety protections; engage in collective bargaining; and exercise information and consultation rights were not achieved without sacrifice. Though these rights may seem fundamental, they were obtained through demanding campaigns, mobilisations, strikes, and negotiations with employers and governments. We must acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead, including the rise of the far right, the ongoing challenge of public service liberalisation, climate change, digitalisation and the continued fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

EPSU's commitment to social justice, equal rights and the promotion of democracy and human rights has never been more important. As we look to the future, we must continue to work together to ensure that public service workers across Europe are valued and respected for the critical work that they do, and that our communities have access to high-quality public services that meet their needs.

To celebrate our anniversary, EPSU will share stories and memories from its 45-year history of advocating for public service workers on social media. These reflections will include significant events such as campaigns and Euro-demonstrations alongside everyday work, such as social dialogue meetings and Executive Committees. It's important to take time to look back. Do not hesitate to read our book on the history https://www.etui.org/publications/books/building-the-european-federation-of-public-service-unions-the-history-of-epsu-1978-2016 and acknowledge the critical steps that have brought us to where we are today. Join us in reminiscing by following the hashtag #EPSUat45 – and don’t hesitate to share your own memories.

Happy 45th anniversary, EPSU!