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** Topic: INTL: Workers Want Strong Social Control Over Basics **
Unions want social control, ILO utilities meeting told
ICEM Update, no. 23/1999, 13 April 1999
The following is from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM):
Trade unions representing workers in the world's energy and water utilities want to maintain strong social control over these basic public services. The ongoing revolution in electricity, gas and water sectors is frequently leading to major job losses, higher prices, problems with quality of services, and attacks on union rights. Proper regulation and full involvement of unions and other interest groups in all phases of any reform processes are required to guarantee a socially balanced outcome.
This was pointed out by union delegates attending the International Labour Organisation (ILO) meeting of workers, employers and governments in session this week in Geneva.
The ILO Tripartite Meeting on Managing the Privatisation and Restructuring of Public Utilities (water, gas, electricity) will exchange views on the impact of these processes on employment, working conditions, human resources development and service delivery. It aims to adopt a series of jointly agreed conclusions and possibly resolutions.
The Workers' Group is coordinated by the Public Services International (PSI) and International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) whose affiliated unions represent millions of workers in electricity, gas and water utilities around the world.
Contrary to claims by neo-liberal politicians and free market advocates, the unions feel that the experience of rapid changes in the utility sector is so far mainly negative.
"We find that the process of restructuring and privatisation of water and energy has frequently resulted in loss of employment, trade union derecognition, higher prices, problems with quality of services, hidden subsidies and guarantees from public authorities to private, and problems of weak regulation", pointed out Hans Engelberts, General Secretary of the PSI.
According to Engelberts, "provision of water and energy by public sector operations has clear advantages in accountability, public service obligations, stability of services, and stability of employment."
Unions feel that there is a fundamental conflict of interest between multinational companies who are increasingly allowed to invest in utilities in search of quick profits, and citizens who need reliable, reasonably priced, high quality public services.
The governments have an important role to play in balancing this conflict of interest. Strong regulation and framework conditions are some of the key tools for maintaining social control.
But also unions have new control tools to offer. PSI is urging multinational water companies to sign up the PSI Code of Conduct on water services which lays down a number of basic conditions for lean and safe drinking water and fair labour practices.
ICEM Deputy General Secretary Peter Michalzik cited ICEM's agreements signed last year with the Norwegian oil and gas group Statoil and the main players in the global chlorine industry. These agreements cover union rights, fair wages and benefits, health and safety standards, the environment and training.
"We need more such enforceable agreements and other similar arrangement to construct a social basis for the new global energy and water sectors", said Michalzik.
Public Services International (PSI) is a global trade union federation representing 20 million public service workers in 500 unions in 150 countries.
International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) is also a global union organisation with 430 affiliated unions representing 20 million workers in 115 countries.
The UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) is hosting a Tripartite Meeting on Managing the Privatisation and Restructuring of Public Utilities (water, gas, electricity). 20 representatives each of governments, employers and workers will discuss the issues and attempt to agree on conclusions that provide guidance for future action. The Meeting is taking place on 12-16 April 1999 in Geneva.
For more information, please contact:
David Boys, PSI Sectoral Activities Officer
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Editor: Ian Graham, Information Officer