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Nearly 200 people attended a Live Learning Experience session organized by Public Services International (PSI), United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Metropolis network and UN-Habitat on 13 May 2020.

The virtual session brought together and facilitated dialogue among UCLG’s representatives of local and regional governments (LRGs), their associations, PSI’s LRG workers’ unions and partner organizations. It aimed to share world LRG social partners’ experiences in confronting the common challenges posed by Covid-19 and shared solutions to continue public service delivery while protecting the health and safety of frontline workers.

The session featured contributions from UCLG member representatives of the cities of Goyang (Korea), Nur-Sultan (Kazakistan), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), the Barcelona Provincial Council (Spain) and the local government association of Brazil (CNM); as well as PSI public service union representatives from Italy (CGIL Funzione Pubblica), the UK (UNISON), Brazil (SINDSEP-CUT), Denmark (HK Kommunal), France (CFDT Interco) and Tunisia (UGTT Municipaux). A representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) also joined the second panel and Metropolis’ General Secretary made concluding remarks on the whole session.

Welcoming Remarks - LLE Public Service Workers

Local public delivery is often overlooked in the public debate, but it is a critical aspect of how we live especially during the pandemic. Public workers on the frontline have carried out their essential tasks, which have been critical to support the implementation of sanitary measures. The thirteenth thematic live learning experience paid attention to the important role of public workers and to hear the perspective of local governments and workers experience as the first line of public provision.

Participants highlighted the importance of social dialogue and solidarity as critical aspects for the post Covid-19 recovery and underscored the importance of strengthening alliances between local governments and workers’ unions to build stronger local public services in the aftermath of the crisis.

The session was introduced by Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Service International (PSI). She stressed that many local governments have responded to the pandemic - especially where national level coordination response has been poor - by relocating production, which can also be a way to foster local economic development while stockpiling life-saving materials critical for future pandemic preparedness. She added that the dialogue between local government authorities and workers’ unions are critical to build the preparedness to future pandemics that defaulted this time. Finally, she called to “strengthen the PSI-UCLG alliance and be bolder together, daring to ask for a stronger role for local governments, including powers to raise local taxes on corporations”.

André Dizkus, Chief, Urban Basic Services Section Global Solutions Division of UN-Habitat conveyed the difficulty of carrying out working from home measures for many public workers and called to ensure that they are valued and recognised. He relayed a message from the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Maimunah Mohd. Sharif, who stated that “compassion and solidarity are necessary to tackle this crisis, as are local and regional governments and their work in caring for public workers”

Emilia Saiz, Secretary General of UCLG, argued that, in order to defend public services, a partnership between worker organizations and local and regional governments is needed, to visibilize how much in jeopardy the sustainability of public services is in, and commended the partnership with Public Service International as the way forward. “It will be critical to guarantee the sustainability of public service delivery, and this includes improving the precarious jobs and the under resourced services. The recognition of some jobs as essential, including those that have been outsourced, will need to be part of the equation if we want to create resilient systems”.

Social dialogue for strong, resilient local public services through and in the aftermath of the crisis - LLE Public Service Workers

Edgardo Bilsky, Director of Research of UCLG facilitated the first roundtable, centring on the need for social dialogue for strong, resilient local public services, in which participants highlighted social dialogue undertaken during the crisis. Armand Béouindé, Mayor of Ouagadougou, highlighted measures taken by the city to protect public workers, such as allowing more public employees to work-from-home and increasing turnover between staff in the town hall, as well as reducing working hours. Pilar Díaz, Mayor of Esplugues de Llobregat, and Deputy Councillor for International Relations of the Barcelona Provincial Council, called for local authorities and workers to work together to find the formula to address the current situation, and highlighted the social dialogue endeavours in Esplugues as a way forward. Malika Yerlanova, Deputy Mayor of Nursultan, laid out the measures in her city to deal with the social crisis, in particular by providing groceries to people who needed them, and providing grants to create new jobs and maintain old ones. Juneia Batista, Head of the National Women Secretariat, Central Única dos Trabalhadores and Union of Municipal Servants of Sao Paolo (SINDSEP-SP) Executive, Brazil described the difficult situation for public workers in Brazil, in particular those at the frontline. She outlined action taken by public work organizations to guarantee that more people could work in public services and reduce the toll on services that were under stress. Mads Samsing, Chair of the Standing Committee of the European Public Service Union for Local and Regional Governments Standing Committee Chair and HK Kommunal Vice Chairman, argued that the measures to contain the virus, however necessary, have left an economic crisis and that public services, collective bargaining and social protection have been and will continue to be critical to contain and recover from the health crisis. Nicoletta Grieco, Head of the International Office of Italian General Confederation of Labor CGIL Funzione Pubblica, highlighted the experience of social dialogue in Italy during the pandemic to secure the safety and security of all workers, in particular those of the waste sector and others on the frontline.

Edgardo Bilsky, UCLG’s Director of Research facilitated the first roundtable titled “Social dialogue for strong, resilient local public services”.

Armand Béouindé, Mayor of Ouagadougou, highlighted the measures taken by the capital to protect public service workers in the pandemic, including enabling remote work and increasing shift rotation among town hall staff, as well as reducing working time and enhancing sanitation and health and safety protocols for public building cleaning and maintenance workers.

Juneia Batista, Head of the National Women Secretariat of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT) and Member of the Executive of the Union of Municipal Workers of São Paulo (SINDSEP-SP), Brazil highlighted the dramatic situation and the high contamination risk faced by Brazilian municipal workers, especially those in social and burial services, among which there have been deaths. She underscored the relentless work carried out by municipal workers’ unions to open dialogue with local authorities over adequate staffing levels and access to proper safety equipment needed to ensure public service continuation.

Pilar Díaz, Mayor of Esplugues de Llobregat, and Deputy Councillor for International Relations of the Barcelona Provincial Council, explained that many services have been digitised and procedures mainstreamed in the municipality. She called for local authorities and workers’ unions to cooperate to address the pandemic highlighting social dialogue as the way forward.

Mads Samsing, Chair of the European Public Service Union (EPSU) Local and Regional Governments Standing Committee and HK Kommunal Vice Chairman, said that the best way to deal with the pandemic, as well as with re-opening measures, is through social dialogue, information and consultation and LRG social partners’ agreements at all workplace levels. He announced the forthcoming launch of a Joint Statement between CEMR and EPSU calling, among others, for the allocation of adequate resources to strengthen local public services and ensure a prompt recovery. Full statement by Mads Samsing.

Malika Yerlanova, Deputy Mayor of Nursultan, said that public frontline public service workers must receive adequate PPE, resources and capacity, so as to protect them and reduce stress and fear. However, she noted that in order to do so, not only municipalities’ role is key but also the support and commitment of national governments is needed.

Nicoletta Grieco, Head of the International Office of Italian General Confederation of Labor CGIL Funzione Pubblica, shared that in Italy, social partners reached an early agreement among the national government, both public and private employers and public service unions, negotiating a nation-wide framework agreement to deal with the crisis. This agreement was signed on March 14 and set the guidelines to ensure workers and service users’ safety. This same agreement provides the framework for the reopening process. Italian public service union federations also negotiated and signed sectoral agreements with specific protocols for service continuation and workers OSH in the waste and the public administration sectors. These agreements dealt in detail e.g. with the safe removal and disposal of medical waste, with the digitalisation of public administration and slimmer procedures and made a PPE an entitlement for all workers. Presentation by Nicoletta Grieco.

Live Consultation - LLE Public Service Workers

The Live Learning Experience session "Local public services: keeping frontline workers safe" organized by Public Services International (PSI), United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Metropolis network and UN-Habitat took place on 13 May 2020.

The second roundtable “Local public service continuation and workers’ safety at times of COVID-19” was introduced and moderated by Daria Cibrario, Policy Officer for Local and Regional Governments at PSI.

Jon Richards, Head of Local Government, UNISON, UK, highlighted the critical role of policy coherence, proper planning across public services and workplace dialogue when implementing and moving away from lockout. As UK public service workers are now sent back into duty, public transport frequency is still low and there continues to be a PPE and testing shortage for all. He stressed the importance to have clear science-based evidence shown to workers to build the trust they need to go back to work with confidence. He added that reforms and resources are necessary to strengthen LRGs’ capacity to provide not only frontline public services but also planning to reinforce territories’ resilience, as well as increased administrative and fiscal autonomy. He emphasized that public service staff redeployment must come with adequate training and volunteers in emergency services must not replace core professional workers. Finally, it is necessary to properly acknowledge the work and the sacrifice of public service frontline workers, which includes ensuring safe and decent working conditions for all. Presentation by Jon Richards.

Mi-Jeong Park, Senior Specialist of Goyang City, in the Republic of Korea, highlighted how the local government had worked to reduce the spread of the virus, and carried out emergency dialogue with hospitals and collected opinion from workers to ensure their safety even in the most trying of times. Presentation by Mi-Jeong Park.

Carlos Carrión Crespo, Public Service and Utilities Specialist at the ILO, argued that local and regional governments need to respect the ILO Guidelines on Decent Work in Public Emergency Services, to protect their workers and ensure social dialogue so they can properly focus on protecting communities. He added that municipalities employ many health workers and other first responders who cannot abandon their work during the pandemic, but should not be forced to engage in excessive risks either. That is a necessary bond of trust that has to be established if workers have to go to the frontline with confidence. Presentation by Carlos Carrion-Crespo.

Bernard Dreno, Occupational Health and Safety Specialist at the CFDT Interco Federation, France argued that the outbreak caught authorities and institutions quite unprepared, and yet French local public service workers fully carried out their duties in spite the challenges. The crisis has shown the need to strengthen crisis preparedness and contingency plans for the future. This requires a review of the public service organization, which could start by keeping the joint local government employer-worker crisis management units that were set up during the pandemic, which could be made permanent. Presentation by Bernard Dreno.

Mauricio Zanin, Advisor of the Confederation of Municipalities of Brazil, highlighted the response from mayors in a country in which the pandemic was not being acknowledged by the national government, by mobilizing funds for health, social assistance and funeral care and prioritizing public health. Presentation by Mauricio Zanin.

Makrem Amaria, General Secretary of the Municipal Workers branch of the Tunisian General Labour Union Confederation (UGTT), emphasized the importance of securing adequate financial and human resources for local governments to ensure service continuation in the crisis, while valuing the role and protecting the health and safety of Tunisian municipal workers. He explained that where the decentralisation process has translated into stronger autonomy of municipalities unmatched by adequate financial and human resources there have been steep increases in municipal workers’ workplace accidents and professional illnesses. He explained that in Tunisia municipal workers’ unions and mayors joined forces to urge the Tunisian national government to take action and provide PPE to burial workers. He added that in spite of the tragedy, the pandemic created the conditions for rising awareness over the importance of local government workers’ occupational health and safety, not only among Tunisian mayors and authorities, but also among the municipal workers themselves. Statement by Makrem Amaria.

2nd Roundtable: Local public service continuation and workers’ safety at times of Covid 19 challenge - LLE Public Service Worke

The second roundtable, on Local public service continuation and workers’ safety in times of COVID-19 was introduced by Daria Cibrario, Policy Officer for Local and Regional Governments, PSI. It opened with Jon Richards, Head of Local Government, UNISON the UK’s Public Service Union, who argued that the flexibility of local governments had allowed for fluid communication among workers and institutions, and called for securing funding for local governments to build back better after the crisis. Mi-Jeong Park, Senior Specialist of Goyang City, in the Republic of Korea, highlighted how the local government had worked to reduce the spread of the virus, and carried out emergency dialogues with hospitals and collected opiniona from workers to ensure their safety despite all the challenges. Bernard Dreno, Occupational Health and Safety Specialist, French Democratic Confederation of Labour, argued that the crisis has made it possible to learn by setting up organisations that could become sustainable and to enrich the role of institutional and administrative players. Mauricio Zanin, Advisor of the Confederation of Municipalities of Brazil, highlighted the response from mayors in a country in which the pandemic was not widely recognized, by ensuring funds for health, social assistance, and even funeral care. Makrem Amaria, General Secretary of the Tunisian General Labour Union for Municipalities, argued that securing financial resources for local governments, and strengthening the capacities of municipal actors and local elected officials and guaranteeing public services would be critical for the recovery phase. This was echoed by Carlos Carrión Crespo, Public Service and Utilities Specialist of the ILO, who also argued that local and regional governments need to take measures to protect those that are most vulnerable.

The wrap-up was carried out by Octavi De la Varga, Secretary General of Metropolis, who pinpointed that the crisis unveiled how many LRG services and workers are essential to the well-functioning of our societies and how these need to be adequately resourced and staffed to ensure everyone’s safety. The recovery for the post-COVID era needs to differ from that of the financial crisis of 2008, which dismantled many public services. He further argued that it is essential to shift how local governments, handle human resources and called on local governments, also including public service workers which are outsourced to private providers and who face often worse working conditions. He stressed that, even if working for private companies, these workers should be fully considered as public service workers as they deliver public services.

Closing the session Emilia Saiz, UCLG Secretary General said: “There is a need to recover trust in the public sector - we have been told for decades that the private sector is more efficient, costs less and provides better quality, but then when something like a pandemic strikes we all need to resort to public service provision.

Wrap Up, conclusions, recommendations and next steps - LLE Public service workers

The wrap-up was conducted by Octavi De la Varga, Secretary General of Metropolis, who pinpointed how the recovery in the post-COVID era needed to differ from that of the financial crisis of 2008, which dismantled many public services. He further argued that it is essential to shift how local governments, and societies handle human resources, and called on local governments and all stakeholders to be creative, and for the establishment of a mix of local, regional, and national public workers to deliver these essential services for the populations.

Cities were called to upload their experiences in the platform www.citiesforglobalhealth.org where over 400 cases can be found.

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