On 23 June EPSU is organising a number of panel discussions and we are delighted that Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty will join debate on (re-)valuing public services. Based on his vast experience and research he will share with us how he sees the role of public services in delivering human rights, addressing poverty in a post-Covid-19 world.
Last year, he and five other UN human rights experts were very critical about privatisation. In their view: “If human rights are to be taken seriously, the old construct of states taking a back seat to private companies must be abandoned. New alternatives are necessary. It is time to say it loud and clear: the commodification of health, education, housing, water, sanitation and other rights-related resources and services prices out the poor and may result in violations of human rights.” They also argued that financialisation of public services and the common goods does harm and that: “Human rights can help articulate the public goods and services we want – participatory, transparent, sustainable, accountable, non-discriminatory and serving the common good.” This is an approach we need in all countries. Public service workers serve the community helping to deliver people’s human rights. The global UN Day is in recognition of our members work.
A week after public services day, de Schutter will present his report on the way the EU has dealt with poverty and the role the EU’s economic policy has played to the UN Human Rights Council. Expect a critical approach.
Richard Kozul-Wright will join de Schutter on that panel. He is director of UNCTAD’s division on globalisation and development strategies division and has worked on issues like growth, financing the green and social deals, full employment and tackling debt problems. He is critical of neoliberal and austerity policies arguing that they have led to greater inequalities and concentration of market power. With some governments discussing a return to austerity and all governments having larger debts, his insights on the role of public services to build back better will assist us in our discussions with governments and European institutions. They will be joined on the panel by speakers from our affiliates. You can already register here.
It is great that you and your members are already sending us pictures of workplace activists joining the action and building for the 23rd. Some unions are also linking plans for industrial action to the day. This is also about celebrating and recognising public service workers, fighting the commercialisation and privatisation of public services, opposing a return to austerity policies, and demanding higher pay, better working conditions and in many services more funding and staffing. We look forward to hear back from your unions.
The European Council and Parliament have reached an agreement on legislation on public country-by-country reporting (PCBCR). In our view it is a weak compromise as it does not bring all companies into the scope of the legislation nor achieves full transparency as it will not disaggregate the taxes paid country-by-country across the globe. The negotiators argue that it will cover 80% of all taxes paid by companies in the EU and would be an example for the rest of the world and see it as a step in the right direction. The deal will still have to be approved by Parliament and Council as we write.
On the same day the EU launched its tax observatory which will focus on research into issues of tax avoidance and fraud, and solutions to address these. It is a further step towards shining a critical light on how multinational corporations are robbing governments of income and denying public service workers and people of the resources to ensure quality work. The Observatory will be led by Gabriel Zucman who has done extensive work on tax avoidance and wealth inequalities. He is a member of the International Commission on Reform of International Corporate Taxation and so we expect a critical approach and new input and scientific support for how best to address tax avoidance.
Tax was also discussed in the PSI Executive Board which took place on 26 and 27 May. The main discussions were about social and health care. Several resolutions were adopted in support of workers’ struggles across the world, including in France where the government is refusing to negotiate a pay increase for the public service workers and protests are foreseen.
Pressure on trade unions
Tens of thousands of workers joined last week’s protests in Slovenia where the unions are demanding a genuine social dialogue. The firefighters’ unions has even foreseen strike action for 1 July, the day the Slovenian government takes over the EU presidency, as the responsible minister did not engage in negotiations. The reaction of the country’s prime minister, Janez Jansa, was telling and a reason for major concern. He finds the protests have little to do with democracy. In his view, you can express yourself every 4-5 years in elections and if you do not like that you can go to Venezuela! He does not see that a genuine social dialogue, a functioning social economic council and workplace democracy are part and parcel of democratic states.
A similar attitude seems to have taken hold in Romania. Together with ETF transport workers’ federation we are discussing how we can assist the unions there. Unions feel the pressure as they are often the organisations that block authoritarian governments from realising full control and demand public debate on policies that are disastrous for workers. Eight comrades of the Turkish health and social services union SES (KESK confederation) were arrested on 25 May. The union is critical of the handling of the pandemic during which over 400 health and social service workers have died. EPSU has been among those who have approached the authorities, European institutions and others to secure their release. Meanwhile, the offices of the Ukrainian trade union confederation, the building in which many EPSU affiliates are based, were searched 26 May. We are monitoring the situation. The searches fit with a pattern to exert pressure on the unions that are critical of the government proposals to reform the labour law. On a positive note a joint EPSU-ETUCE (education federation) approach to the government of the Kyrgyz Republic proved successful with the President vetoing a bill that would change the labour code. It is now back in parliament.
In all those cases EPSU and unions assist each other, showing what the union movement is capable of moving - we are stronger together.