Trade Union Action on Decent Work for Persons with Disabilities

05 December 2017
Sandra Vermuyten

On 4 December, during an event at the ILO to celebrate the World Day for People with Disabilities, the ILO’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV) launched a report which highlights trade union action to promote decent work for persons with disabilities. This ground-breaking report will launch a series of actions, with a strong participation of PSI. Sandra Vermuyten, PSI Head of Campaigns, spoke at the event.

 

PSI celebrates the World Day for People with Disabilities together with ACTRAV and all its members with disabilities!

“This report is the outcome of a journey, which in this case has been very much participatory and has led to the instant creation of a global network of unions and passionate trade unionists working on these issues, as well as generated political engagement and commitment towards doing more – at national, regional and global level,” said Sandra Vermuyten on 4 December at the ILO event celebrating the World Day for People with Disabilities.

This new research, launched by ACTRAV, captures and summarises trade union action on disability from over 50 countries, including developed, emerging and developing economies. Trade unions are taking a wide range of steps to achieve decent work for persons with disabilities, and beyond this, making their trade unions more inclusive and contributing to their mission of achieving social justice. This research offers a new perspective to trade unions who have not worked on this issue, and points to opportunities for others to develop their work further.

Sandra Vermuyten’s full speech at the event

Director-General, colleagues and friends,

First of all, thank you for inviting PSI to this event and the Celebration of the World Day of People with Disabilities. Allow me to convey the best wishes of Rosa Pavanelli, PSI General Secretary, who could not join us today.

As you know, PSI has been working closely with ACTRAV on this issue for the last 2 years, and we feel strong ownership and commitment towards this report and future actions to support the work so many trade unions do to ensure decent work for persons with disabilities.

This report is the outcome of a journey, which in this case has been very much participatory and has led to the instant creation of a global network of unions and passionate trade unionists working on these issues, as well as generated political engagement and commitment towards doing more – at national, regional and global level. Which is not bad at all – to say the least!!!

Just one year ago, PSI organized a meeting with the support of ILO/ACTRAV and ILO/GED building on a survey of PSI affiliates’ initiatives on disability inclusion. Examples of trade union action on disability from around the world were featured, from advanced economies as well as low- and middle-income countries and those coming out of crisis or conflict, showing this is not a luxury nor a secondary issue but rather at the heart of the trade union agenda.

Working on disability offers a win-win partnership with social partners and is part of trade union action in fighting inequality and injustice and protecting the most vulnerable. Understanding disability in this social sense also highlights the importance of treating it in an intersectional way, particularly in relation to gender and socio-economic status. Disabled women often suffer higher incidences of violence against women – which is why they are the focus of the 16 days of action against violence in Canada this year. Just today a report was published in my home-country Belgium that shows that 1 out of 4 disabled persons live in poverty.

We welcome the fact that this work has generated a discussion within the ILO around the privatization of public services which adversely affects persons with disabilities. Both in the provision of disability-specific services as well as accessibility/inclusion measures privatization has a negative impact, and this should inform future ILO policies on disability.

New Disability Insurance Schemes, combined with privatization of services, has in many cases not led to the increased choices they were supposed to deliver. This differentiation especially happens across class or rural/urban divides. Sadly, we see the same tendencies in many countries – with austerity measures hitting people with disabilities hard with sometimes fatal consequences. Trade unions are fighting back – and so do our disabled members. We were very inspired by the campaign of our Dutch colleagues who forced their government back to the negotiating table to sign a collective agreement by organizing a massive demonstration in Amsterdam by 7000 workers of sheltered workplaces.

In terms of health provision – it does matter how services are provided and we look forward to continuing to build on the joint work done with ILO and WHO in the ComHEEG that makes a strong case for public health care – including for persons with disabilities.

This work forces us to re-think strategies on OHS, both in terms of prevention and (re)-integration of disabled workers, discrimination and public policies. Public services that work for persons with disabilities are good for everyone – this is a measure for building truly inclusive societies.

Just one month ago PSI adopted a new programme of Action for the coming five years that foresees concrete actions and builds on our partnership with the ILO, ACTRAV and the Disability Alliance. As Lauro Purcil said at PSI Congress: "People with disabilities are part of us and we have to move together to make change happen. Nothing for us without us."

Thank you.

 

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