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Report: The Role of Public Service Trade Unions in achieving Decent Work for Persons with Disabilities

8 December, 2016
PSI, with ILO/ACTRAV and ILO/GED support, held a meeting 8-9 of December 2016, on "The Role of Public Service Trade Unions in achieving Decent Work for Persons with Disabilities" in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting built on a survey conducted by PSI and ILO of PSI affiliates’ initiatives on disability inclusion, and on ILO research giving a global overview of trade unions actions on disability inclusion.

PSI affiliates from a range of sectors and from around the world shared their experiences, alongside specialists in subjects related to labour. The conference raised awareness on disability issues, disseminated information on initiatives taken around the world, and helped to identify the way forward for PSI affiliates, PSI itself and the ILO.

This conference marked the opening of new ground at an international level: in terms of a global union federation in partnership with ILO exploring disability, and specifically in the role of the public sector and the public services. As a participant observed, there have been many cases of people with disabilities discriminated in government service across the world, and this initiative is part of a historical change in the position of disability and persons with disabilities.

Examples from around the world of trade union action on disability were featured, including advanced economies as well as low- and middle-income countries as well as those coming out of crisis or conflict. Even in countries where this would be challenging to introduce, or trade unions are fighting for their existence, there was a committed acknowledgement that disability should be treated as an integrated concern going forward.

Working on disability offers a win-win partnership with social partners, and is part of trade union action fighting against inequality and injustice, and protecting the most vulnerable. Understanding disability in this social sense also showed the importance of treating it in an intersectional way, particularly in its relation to gender and socio-economic status.

The issue of disability is of particular relevance to PSI and its priorities in terms of privatization and cuts to public services which have adversely affected persons with disabilities. With the public sector, different levels of the public administration, as well as different sectors will need different approaches, especially in terms of securing resources needed for implementation. Education was a key example, showing how the sector is both relevant as an employer of persons with disabilities as well as vital in providing services and inclusion of children with disabilities.  

A clear result of the conference was in showing the relevance of disability to different dimensions of PSI and its affiliates, in their role as unions and public sector representatives:

  • Mainstream inclusion of persons with disabilities and disability within trade unions and their activities;
  • Public sector employment of persons with disabilities – important in fulfilling responsibilities and being a role-model for the society;
  • Defending public services, through identifying and acting on the risks persons with disabilities face in challenges to public services;
  • Promoting public services, through developing services inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities.

While PSI acts across arrange of contexts with affiliates in diverse situations, there is a common need for trade unions to reflect and deepen action on persons with disabilities. With this increased clarity on how disability fits into PSI and its programme of action, there is guidance on the issues to be explored further next year and in wider collaboration between PSI and ILO.

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