PSI's General Secretary giving a speech at the International Labour Conference

06 June 2012
Peter Waldorff, General Secretary of PSI, was giving this speech at the International Labour Conference in Geneva on June 6.

Let me start by thanking outgoing Director General Juan Somavia for your strong and visionary leadership.

And let me congratulate the ILO for electing Guy Ryder as the next Director General of ILO.

We are looking forward to working with the ILO’s new leadership in the interest of the millions of women and men serving their communities with quality public services.

In selecting your new Director General from the Workers’ Group you send a strong signal of the importance of inclusion instead of exclusion. I am convinced that this demonstration of confidence will resound around the world.

We need to build confidence and trust in order to successfully get out of the current economic crisis.

In Public Services International, we are deeply concerned about the lack of progress when it comes to the employment situation for the youth.

We need to take the worsening developments much more seriously, and governments must take responsibility for the damaging policies that are further deepening the unemployment situation for young people.

Demands that elder people should remain working for more years before retirement is poisonous for the employment situation of the youth; it would be a caricature if we see more and more elderly working until past 70 – leaving “young” people unable to fulfil their professional potential until they are 35 years or older.

We recognise that there are challenges to address, but you cannot ignore that there is a contradiction between asking seniors to work longer at the same time as the line of young unemployed continues to grow.

It is like having an apple tree in your orchard with hundreds of flowers that could become hundreds of apples – the clever fruit grower knows that if you don’t cultivate well, you will have a poor harvest.

What a failure of historic dimension it will be if we don’t develop and maintain the skills of the youth and give them opportunities to grow.

But we also see positive commitments for progressive change through the ILO.

In PSI, we are particularly excited about the work on the Social Protection Floor. We see many opportunities to use the SPF as a strong mechanism to bring people out of poverty. But a truly universal Social protection Floor will not be limited to income protection and health care. Nor can it be successful if governments give over responsibility for essential social protections such as public education, water and energy provision to the private sector. The social protection floor must be the vehicle that brings clean water, education and health through quality public services to the millions who are suffering under indecent conditions.

Unfortunately, trade union rights for public sector workers are under growing attack. More than ever before, we see how employers – including the governments in their capacity as employers – disrespect and disregard trade union rights.

Workers’ rights to organise, bargain or even strike are being questioned or even eliminated altogether.

Therefore, I have a strong message for governments and employers. You must understand your responsibilities under international conventions.

As you continue to downgrade trade union rights, you are responsible for scaling up violence on trade union leaders. The death threats, the killings, the rapes, and the disappearances of trade union leaders will only continue to grow in numbers as long as you continue to question if trade union rights should exist.

When the European Commission seeks to limit the right to strike - the EU puts into question its own role as the guardian for social inclusion.

We hope soon to see Japan grant the right to organise and to collective bargaining to fire fighters and prison services.

Our members in countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Algeria, Botswana, Swaziland and Fiji are suffering from repression and lives of fear. They are fighting for a decent life in democratic societies and they should be supported by this entire tri-partite ILO.

When public sector workers in Wisconsin and other states in the US are stripped of their lawful collective bargaining rights, the balance of the democracy scale is tilting the wrong way.

Is that what the 21st century is about – stripping people from their democratic rights and concentrating the economic and political power in the hands of the elite few? I’m asking you.

This is why you see the strong reactions from people’s movements around the world.

We are indignant!

Because the financial sector continues to rule the world with their immoral behaviour.

Because governments are more enthusiastic about working for the benefit of the wealthy few and not for the common good of the majority of people.

This is why we, as trade unionists are on our feet – building our own strength and forming coalitions with other civil society groups who are determined to fight for inclusive democracies.

We were born to work in the people’s interest and we will continue to fight in the people’s interest!

We will not give up our fundamental human and trade union rights!!

Instead of attacking our rights, I ask governments and employers to work jointly, in good faith, with workers so we can together decide a way forward. As I said in the beginning of this speech - we must work together to build confidence and trust to be successful in getting out of the entire crisis. Together we can build just, equitable, sustainable societies founded on quality public services.

Thank you for your attention!

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