Public Services International 29th World Congress: Speech by Dan Cunniah, Director of Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV)

Speech by Dan Cunniah,Director of the ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities on behalf of the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Mr. Guy Ryder-PSI World Congress Durban, November 2012.

Statement | Durban, South Africa | 27 November 2012

Dear Friends,

It is a pleasure for me to address this Congress on behalf of the Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Guy Ryder, and to convey to you all, his best wishes for fruitful debates and forward-looking outcomes.

Your fight for quality public services is intimately linked to our campaign for decent work in the world. The decent work agenda, now recognized and endorsed by the international community, cannot be achieved without quality public services.


Your Congress is meeting as the world enters its fifth year of a prolonged and violent economic crisis. After four years of continuous downturn, there is a backlog of global unemployment of 200 million! This is an increase of 27 million since the start of the crisis. At the same time more than 900 million workers are living with their families below the US$2 a day poverty line, largely in developing countries. Globally, young people are nearly three times as likely as adults to be unemployed.

Not really an achievement for the so-called invisible hand of the free market! These figures are alarming. They mean millions of lives blighted, families and communities damaged and our societies challenged.


We have a duty and a responsibility to work with you and address the job crisis and tackle it. From the outset, I should stress, however, that our success depends to a large extent on the support and commitment from our constituents including the global trade union movement. Indeed the ILO and PSI have a common agenda in this: “in the people’s interest” as your Congress motto so legitimately stresses.

So what are the responses from the ILO?

Number one: an alternative to austerity measures. Wave after wave the costs of austerity in terms of its violent impact on working people, social cohesion as well as future economic potential are increasing daily. A few days ago, a wave of labour unrest swept across Europe with workers in hard-hit countries coordinating across borders to protest years of narrowing prospects, shrinking wages and sky-high unemployment.

There is another option: this is The Global Jobs Pact adopted by the ILC in June 2009 to address the economic and social impact of the crisis. It promotes a productive recovery centered on investments, employment and social protection. Not a silver bullet, but a well-thought strategy, devised through a tripartite consensus and founded on evidenced-based research.

We have brought this at multilateral level to the G20 and in our talks with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This is not a superfluous exercise when we know that this is where the advice to governments is coming from, or else they were basically told what to do to rescue the neoliberal agenda.

Interestingly, the IMF has now recognized that the austerity they promoted in the first place has become part of the problem!

The recent World Bank Jobs report seems also to align itself with the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda. We had however to tell the Bank, that while we concur with their analysis on the role of the private sector in job creation, we also believe public sector jobs also have major developmental effects. Development depends on the effective delivery of quality public services.


There is still progress to be made at global level to ensure policy coherence. We count on the global trade union movement to support our efforts aimed at influencing the policies of those institutions.

In February next year, global trade unions, including PSI, will have an opportunity to do so as they will meet with the leaders of the IMF and World Bank in Washington.

Number two: social dialogue needs to lie at the heart of any credible anti-crisis policies.

Dear Friends,

Social dialogue appears to have been one of the first victims of the crisis. It is a fact that in a number of countries, sometimes the same as those which have used the crisis as a pretext to cut public services, measures were imposed without social dialogue, leading to legitimate social discontent.

In the US, the federal states of Wisconsin and Ohio, have adopted legislation to reduce the scope of collective bargaining. In Europe, the salaries of some public sector workers have been unilaterally reduced (e.g., Greece, Romania and Spain), or frozen (e.g., Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Portugal and the United Kingdom). In Italy, collective bargaining in the public sector was suspended.

Social dialogue should be central to tackling the crisis. It provides a means to bring all parties to the discussion table and to find solutions that uphold the rule of law, generate fair, balanced and sustainable outcomes and safeguard social peace. It is a fact that where social dialogue takes place in good faith, long-term solutions can be found. Social dialogue is a crucial sector in the search for consensus on a wide range of policy solutions.

Number three: Workers’ rights. A strong message comes from the ILO that there cannot be any sustainable exit to the crisis through the violation of International Labour Standards.

The International Labour Conference next year will for the first time in its history examine in-depth labour relations in the public services. Looking at the implementation of Conventions 151 and 154 and considering new moves to promote their ratification and full respect.

Over the last 20 years more than 250 cases submitted to the Committee on Freedom of Association concern alleged violations of trade union rights of public service employees. This is a preoccupation for us in the ILO.

And I must say that the increase in abuses of rights cannot be dissociated from the crisis and from the cuts in public services. Earlier this month, the Committee on Freedom of Association had to deal with a complaint from the Greek trade union movement, including the public services union (ADEDY), on numerous violations of trade union and collective bargaining rights imposed in the framework of austerity measures. I can tell you that the conclusions of the Committee are very strong. It demanded that the social partners be fully implicated in the determination of any further alterations within the framework of the agreements with the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank (ECB) that (and I quote) “touch upon matters core to the human rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining and which are fundamental to the very basis of democracy and social peace”.

Dear Friends,

I would like here to pay tribute to those trade unionists in the public services who have stood up for fundamental principles and rights at work and for quality services to the population even when it has meant personal sacrifice, prison and in some cases, even their life.

Number four: Extending social protection : Sustainable social protection systems to assist the vulnerable can prevent increased poverty, address social hardship, while also helping to stabilize the economy and maintain and promote employability. In a crisis situation, short-term measures to assist the most vulnerable may be appropriate. The new ILO Recommendation on Social Protection Floors provides guidance on extending such protection.


That is a heavy agenda and I would have liked to tell you about other issues such as our work in promoting a rights-based approach to labour migration and on pay equity, where again the support and contribution from PSI have been crucial.

Let me conclude by saying that a gigantic plan is ahead of us. It would require strength and unity to realise it. It will require the involvement and support of the trade union movement and the other ILO Constituents. I must place on record the very constructive role PSI is playing within the ILO and express my thanks to your leadership for this, in particular to Peter Waldorff who has not spared any efforts to promote the decent work agenda.

Effective and quality public services, with dignity and respect for its workforce, decent work for all in a fair globalisation and in the people’s interest are what we are striving for. Together let us make that a reality. Have a fruitful Congress!