Local government services and trade unions during Covid times: lessons learnt from Belgium and Ireland

PSI releases today two monographies on how local government services and their trade unions responded to the Covid pandemic. Both cases showcase that when local public services are under public control, adequately staffed and unionised, they deliver equitable and resilient services even through emergencies such as a global pandemic.

The monographies encompassed interviews with union representatives from Ireland’s FÓRSA and SIPTU unions and with Belgian Local Government Trade Union Federation CGSP-ACOD and its Confederation. The case of Welfare Care Kempen (WCK) also carried out interviews with local public service management representatives. 

Ireland’s Community Call: Local council workers mobilised nationwise to voluntarily deliver community welfare services

With the imposition of social distancing and stay-at-home rules, the Covid-19 outbreak has posed major challenges to the welfare and well-being of the most vulnerable and isolated within local communities. The Community Call national initiative of Ireland precisely sought to break the isolation of single households and to support the most vulnerable throughout the public health emergency.

Community Call showcases a nation-wide initiative channelled via local government services and the voluntary sector to deliver a community-driven, solidarity-based response to the social hardship caused by the pandemic.  Through this initiative - with the help of local government staff, trade unions and the community - Irish local councils were able to provide home social welfare services at no additional cost for the public purse. The initiative strengthened community bonds and has enhanced social cohesion, resilience and preparedness in case of future emergencies.

Belgium’s Welfare Care Kempen: Public ownership and social dialogue were key to service resilience during emergencies


The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted local public service providers to rapidly adapt, review their processes and operations and re-deploy staff under duress. The case of the intermunicipal consortium of Welfare Care Kempen (WCK) showcases the vital role played by constructive social dialogue between local public service management and local and regional government (LRG) unions representing WCK workers. Besides, public ownership and direct management enabled the intermunicipal consortium to: 

  • continue to bring care to the most vulnerable users;

  • protect workers even in the absence of clear directions by the authorities at the onset of the public health emergency; and

  • maintain a close relation with the local communities. 

Such features that characterize Welfare Care Kempen have safeguarded continued access to quality local public care and welfare services for the Kempen community, while protecting workers as they had to swiftly respond to an unprecedented public emergency.

 This case expands on the on Policy Brief 05 “Local Public Services in Crisis Mode: Adapting Governance Models to Exceptional Times” is part of the UCLG-Metropolis-LSE Cities Emergency Governance Initiative Serie (EGI), aiming to investigate the institutional dimensions of rapid and radical action  in response to complex global emergencies PSI and affiliates contributed to.