Emergency workers have among the riskiest jobs in the world.

When disaster strikes, they run towards the danger.

We need to value their work, during times of emergency and normality. Emergency departments need to be well funded, with quality training, equipment and conditions of work. Regrettably, this is not the case in far too many countries around the world.

Emergency service workers are often prevented from joining trade unions and cannot negotiate collective agreements with their employers. This leaves emergency workers unprotected and ill-equipped to defend their rights, even as we ask them to risk their lives to save others.


Reina Aoki

For workers "As Emergency Workers in Japan, we are deprived of the essential trade union rights we need to save lives in safety."

Climate change is causing many more extreme weather events, which cause havoc when they strike urban environments.

With the rate of global warming accelerating and given the inability of governments to significantly limit carbon emissions, disasters will be more frequent and more deadly.

Emergency workers are called on to risk their lives in conflict situations, including when civilians are targeted. Increasingly, we are seeing first responders become targets in conflicts. It is imperative that these workers be accorded the protections enshrined in UN statutes and conventions.

It is rare that workers and trade unions are involved in emergency planning and decision-making, despite the fact that first responders and frontline workers regularly risk their lives, and have acquired in-depth knowledge in the field.

At the global level, to the extent that ‘workers’ are even considered, the focus is most often on volunteers, ignoring the vital role of emergency responders.

We need to raise awareness on the role of well-prepared and trained professional public sector workers in seeing their communities through disasters and emergencies.

The risks of saving lives

Budget cuts and underfunding of emergency services places extreme burdens on frontline workers and increases the likelihood of accidents and deaths.

88,000Firefighters

are injured on the job in the US each year

6,500assaults

on Emergency Staff were recorded in the UK in 2018

132countries

still have not ratified ILO convention 151 which enables public service workers to unionise

We fight to ensure emergency workers:

  • Are not exposed to unnecessary health and safety risks while performing their jobs of saving lives and protecting property
  • Have adequate staffing levels and are properly equipped and trained to provide the protections that communities need, and
  • Are able, post-crisis, to build stronger, more resilient unions and to advocate for quality public services which support just and equitable societies.

Fighting for the rights of emergency workers

We advocate for the extension of trade union rights to emergency workers at the ILO

Check out the ILO Emergency Worker Guidelines



Emergency and disaster preparation

Preparation, anticipation and prevention are essential for dealing with emergencies.

Preparedness before a disaster occurs is the best way to minimize casualties and damage. It also helps in the quick recovery. Workers and trade unions need to be actively involved in disaster planning, updating and monitoring - as our expertise can contribute to ensure continuity of services during emergencies.

“With climate change and associated disasters increasingly growing in their ferocity each day, it has become urgent to pay special attention to the working conditions of these everyday heroes” - Dheepak Dhital, Nepalese Representative to the UN, Geneva


We also need to support community-wide and region-wide preparation, including coordination between different agencies, with the business sector and other relevant stakeholders.

Responding to emergencies

Unions must be a key player in rebuilding/reconstruction (or Build Back Better) plans. Crises expose weaknesses in readiness systems and highlight the need for advance trade union and Quality Public Services.

In the course of their job, first responders and frontline workers show the highest level of professionalism and dedication to saving lives and protecting infrastructure and property. This demonstrates their essential role in post-emergency decision-making.

Video

As one of only four female emergency workers in her unit, Reina fights fires, saves lives and advocates for workers rights in Omuta City, Japan.

Reina's Dream

We're on the frontlines of disaster response

Our affiliates and their members are among the most important forces globally to responding to increasing disasters

We fight for increased investment in worker training and equipment

We need quality safety equipment and tools in order that workers can do their jobs safely and effectively – including in response to future emergencies

We stand up for the rights of first responders and frontline workers

Responding to disaster and assiting with rebuilding includes a lot of dangerous work, including clearing rubble and repairing damaged infrastructure

We push for increased staffing levels in all first-responder services

We need these workers to be ready to go when disaster strikes - not after!

We resist an over-reliance on volunteer labour

While volunteers can be important, a well-trained full time first-responder workforce is essefntion to effective disaster response

We preserve qualtity public services

Through a disaster and the aftermath, our members help re-establish stability and fight for public services to be rebuilt stronger than ever