PSI May Day Statement: PES workers should be recognised not only in times of Covid and wars

On this May Day, PSI calls on governments to invest in their people, reject austerity and further cuts to public services and value public emergency service (PES) workers, whom in most cases are denied fundamental rights, whether because of essential services legislation or for being grouped under what is sometimes known as uniformed services, which include firefighters and police.


The world is focusing on the war in Ukraine. Photos and videos of devastation show firefighters and emergency medical technicians scrambling through the wreckage to save lives, even at the risk of their own. Others show health service workers at their jobs, even as the shells destroy hospitals and clinics. However, this is not the only conflict where these workers are at risk; Yemen, Syria, Palestine, are just a few of the many examples where our friends and colleagues put their lives at risk.

Many public emergency service (PES) workers are denied fundamental rights, whether because of essential services legislation (which includes emergency medical technicians – EMTs) or being grouped under paramilitary services, sometimes known as uniformed services, which include firefighters and police. This means that these workers are not allowed to negotiate their terms and conditions of work, although in PES it is crucial that workers participate and are able to exercise their full rights. 

Many that are called on to perform PES work are untrained, ill-equipped, poorly coordinated. The ILO Guidelines (2018) on Decent Work in PES lay out in detail the needs of PES workers. They also point to the risks of relying too heavily on volunteers. But these are non-binding rules that are hardly enforced.

Emergency response is much more than firefighters and EMTs – although these two groups are the most visible, and arguably the best prepared, and perhaps the most at risk. But many other professions should be involved in preparedness and response; most municipal workers need to anticipate, whether to lock down and protect infrastructure (public transport, water and sewerage, energy, internet, data, communications), to coordinate response teams, to receive refugees and displaced people, and to ensure access to essential services in the recovery phase. Health and education workers need to anticipate evacuation. Health workers need to anticipate 24/7 operations during the most intense and dangerous times. 

We need appropriate public investment to reduce loss of lives and livelihoods, and economic and environmental damage

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction also contains government commitments to allocate funds and personnel to anticipating natural and man-made disasters to reduce risks and losses in lives.

The climate crisis will cause more frequent and intense weather events such as wildfires, floods, droughts, high winds. And it will be  PES and other workers who will deal with them to keep us safe.

We need appropriate public investment to reduce loss of lives and livelihoods, and economic and environmental damage. Austerity and further public cuts are an outdated narrative that in the end turned out to be a fallacy – while governments claim there are no funds to be invested in public services, to raise salaries, to invest in health, they are literally making money rain to finance a war that brings only death and destruction. 

On May Day 2022, PSI calls on governments to invest in their people, reject austerity and further cuts to public services, and encourages all affiliates to keep mobilizing for an alternative and sustainable development.

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We are the public service workers who make society work. We’re your nurses and carers looking out for your loved ones. We’re the utility workers keeping your lights on and the water flowing. We’re there for you in the good times - and in moments of crisis.

PSI - We are the workers who make society happen