Public Services in the Developing World

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2007 National Delegate Conference
27 February 2007

UNISON, one of the largest public service trade unions in the world, is rightly proud of its strong record on championing quality public services and challenging privatisation in the UK. We also have a long history of international solidarity with sister unions around the world. These two aspects of our work are inextricably linked.

In Africa and other parts of the developing world millions of people on poor or even average incomes do not have easy and ongoing access to the government-funded publicly provided basic needs services of education, health, safe water and sanitation. Public services are under-developed due to a lack of resources caused, at least in part, by the burden of debt and unequal terms of trade. Existing public services are under threat due to the continuing privatisation agenda of international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the British Government, through some of the activities of the Department for International Development.

Yet public provision of vital services, funded directly by government and accessible to all, is the only way that key UN Millennium Development Goals, set in 2000, have any chance of being reached by the target date of 2015. Targets that include:

1)ensuring that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling;

2)reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water; and

3)from the 2005 G8 summit, universal access to treatment for people with HIV by 2010.

There is no evidence base to suggest that the private sector can be relied on to provide widespread long-term access affordable to the majority which would enable any of these objectives to be met. There is however evidence that private sector provision is a significant obstacle to the achieving of widespread access to health, education and safe water and sanitation.

UNISON has given consistent and ongoing support to sister unions in developing countries to enhance their capacity to be active advocates for public services and to resist privatisation. We will continue and strengthen that support, in part through the use of the funds available from the UNISON International Development Fund.

This National Delegate Conference believes that UNISON must continue to actively argue the case for the protection and development of access to health, education, safe water and sanitation through public service provision in developing countries. Furthermore, Conference believes that, in addressing an issue of equal concern to people both in the UK and in the developing world, it provides an opportunity for the UNISON International Unit, departments involved in the Positively Public Campaign, the Business, Community and the Environment Unit, Bargaining Support Group, and Learning and Organising Services, to work together in order to translate UNISON’s UK expertise into effective international action.

Conference calls on the National Executive Committee to:

a)develop a coordinated approach to UNISON’s international public service work in order to utilise the union’s UK experience, in particular through the Positively Public campaign;

b)work in collaboration with UK and European sister unions, union networks and non-governmental organisations to promote the value and tangible benefits of public service provision in developing countries; share information on private sector companies working in the public sector, and develop joint bargaining strategies for dealing with these companies. Specifically, through working with the above sister unions, networks and NGOs, defend core labour standards through implementation of ILO Convention 94, which advocates a fair wages clause preventing public service terms and conditions from being undercut by private companies;

c)through the UNISON International Development Fund, respond positively to requests from sister trade unions to support their advocacy work in defence of public service provision and to counter privatisation;

d)demand that the British government review its financial support for the World Bank’s Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility, which has an unquestioning pro-privatisation agenda; and that the British government promote and support the development of structures to support Public-Public Partnerships, to facilitate knowledge and expertise sharing between public service providers, and therefore building up their capacity to be more effective.