Over the last 20 years, there has been a strong trend towards the remunicipalisation of public services across a range of public service sectors and geographies. Local authorities, citizens, service users, inhabitants and workers have been pushing de-privatisations of public services, infrastructure common goods. Remunicipalisation involves and affects workers. Trade unions are often key actors in the campaigns to reclaim public services from private sector corporations.
What is remunicipalisation?
‘Remunicipalisation’ (also called ‘de-privatisation’ or ‘in-sourcing’) refers to the process of bringing privately owned and/or managed services - including commissioning, concessions, leases, PPPs etc. - back into full local government ownership, management and control. The term ‘municipalisation’ refers to the establishment of new public services and institutions (which did not previously exist) to meet collective needs.
This vocabulary highlights that bringing local public services back in-house overwhelmingly happens at a subnational level, in towns, cities (municipalities), and regions. Local and Regional Governments (LRGs), citizens, service users, inhabitants and workers are increasingly pushing for a de-privatisation, returning vital services into public ownership and control. These new forms of public ownership are often encompassing and experimenting with mechanisms of democratic governance, accountability and participation.
The processes of de-privatisation vary from the non-renewal of multi-year concessions and outsourcing contracts; taking over after private operators’ withdrawal or bankruptcy; via local government authorities’ decisions; or by public votes and democratic referenda.
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The Future is Public
Why should public service workers and trade unions engage in remunicipalisation?
Public service remunicipalisation involves and affects workers. Trade unions are often fighting to return privatised services into public ownership and control so they can be operated to increase the quality and accessibility to public goods, instead of serving private profit extraction. Revenues from vital public services (e.g. water, sanitation, electricity, health, care, education, emergency services, waste collection and disposal, local security, public space maintenance, etc.) are fed back to the municipal budget, instead of paying shareholder dividends.
Trade unions are often key actors in the campaigns to bring municipal services from private management or ownership back into the public domain.
Trade unions are often key actors in the campaigns to bring municipal services from private management or ownership back into the public domain. By exposing to local authorities, service users and union members the evidence of the human and social costs of privatisation, they frequently lead the discourse in favour of reclaiming public services in the common interest.
as of March 2023
vital public services
As remunicipalisation is a complex process, every case is unique, as specific local and national regulations, political and social movement landscapes, and industrial relations differ. Each instance has its specific challenges, which can include issues such as the transfer of workers’ pay and entitlements such as pension funds, annual leave and seniority, to changes in job descriptions or career development paths.
Moving the workforce across sectors can be complicated when different legislations and collective agreements apply, or when the law is silent or unclear. Legal obstacles can stand in the way of transfers, such as rules mandating workers to win a public competition for doing the same job in the public sector. There are also instances where unions are restricted to representing workers in either private or public sector employment, but not in both.
Labour therefore plays a critical role in remunicipalisation processes, both as a progressive force and key collective actor entrenched in the fabric of the transferring services.
What are the benefits of remunicipalisation?
Remunicipalisation benefits service users, workers, the local community and the local economy as cost savings and service revenues can be used to:
expand service access
enhance service quality
maintain and upgrade service infrastructure
lower user fees (when they exist)
keep adequate staffing levels
build in-house service delivery capacity
cross-subsidise other services
ensure service workers are decent conditions with union rights, occupational safety and health (OSH), with adequate work tools and equipment, skills development and life-long training for employability.
Eau de Paris
In 2010, Paris remunicipalized its water facility, creating Eau de Paris. By 2017, the public utility had
in network maintenance and enhancement
in water fees
for water users between 2011 and 2015
PSI work on remunicipalisation
PSI encourages remunicipalisation and has been supporting this process for years, working with a coalition of allies. Trade unions are aware of the challenges for workers in the transition and are engaged to protect their terms and conditions of employment.
Over the past years PSI has stepped up efforts to shed light on the growing union experience in field of remunicipalisation, aiming to lay the groundwork for successful remunicipalisation while avoiding common pitfalls.
Global De-privatisation Database
PSI actively supports and contributes to Public Futures, the only database in the world that collects data on the de-privatisation of public services. For many years, the Privatisation Barometer provided metrics to evaluate privatisation, led by organisations including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Until now, there has been no knowledge resource that tells the other side of the story. Public Futures charts and supports a significant and growing global pushback against the privatisation of public services, in pursuit of social justice and equality, and universal access to quality public services.
All data published on Public Futures is openly accessible and can be downloaded for educational, academic, and professional purposes. The database facilitates robust, transparent, and accessible research on de-privatisation and public service provision. It does so by providing a collaborative space for submitting, verifying, and researching public service provision as empirical alternatives to the privatisation of essential services. As such, Public Futures is a crowdsourced and unique resource that builds an important tool for local, national and global policymakers, as well as trade unions, social movements/NGOs and academic researchers. Users can supplement information for specific cases, and submit new cases and data.
Public Futures is established through a partnership between the University of Glasgow, the Transnational Institute (TNI), and PSI.
This video will take you through the steps needed to submit a case to the Public Futures Database. Public Futures is the only knowledge resource to collect and research remunicipalisation processes. It provides a collaborative research environment by and for a global network of practitioners, communities, researchers and organisations. It is brought to you by the Transnational Institute, the University of Glasgow and Public Services International.
Public Futures Tutorial
In 2018 PSI organised a Global Labour Remunicipalization Workshop that gathered over 50 participants from 28 affiliates, 4 academic and 3 allied organizations from 5 continents at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in Geneva (Switzerland).
In 2019 PSI led an international delegation of 19 PSI trade unions from 14 countries to Amsterdam (The Netherlands) that joined over 300 representatives from civil society, local government, academia and experts at the “The Future is Public” International Conference, organized by the Transnational Institute (TNI).
In 2020 PSI produced a remunicipalisation guide for trade union (available in English, French, Spanish, Hindi and Tamul) that provides an extensive analysis and check list to support PSI affiliates in the process of reclaiming public service ownership and control in the common interest. The guide includes a compendium of 50 remunicipalisation case studies (available in English and Spanish).
In 2021 remunicipalisation was identified as a top policy priority by the Local and Regional Government (LRG) Global Unions’ Network during its membership consultations LRGNext2021, as reflected in the PSI LRG Global Network Action Plan 2022-27: Building the Future of Local Public Services (see section 3.2 - Reclaiming local quality public services for all). Under this Action Plan PSI and affiliates committed to:
Continue building strategic intelligence around the labour and industrial relations dimensions of insourcing and remunicipalisation through action-oriented research, analysis of trade union strategies, and by identifying, documenting and disseminating good practices
Peer-learn, cross-fertilise and co-strategize on LRG union tactics to bring back local public services into public control and ownership, while organising, protecting jobs and conditions of LRG workers in the transition; work together on real cases through an LRG union practitioners’ working groups
Keep on enabling access to in-sourcing and remunicipalisation training and advocacy materials for PSI affiliates; develop specific curricula and digital tools adapted to local realities
Build awareness about in-sourcing/remunicipalisation; involve and outreach rank and file LRG union members and community groups
Step up the collaboration and partnerships with pro-remunicipalisation actors: global union federations (GUFs), progressive LRG employers, CSOs, allies and academic institutions
PSI has also established a Working Group (WG2) on Remunicipalisation/Insourcing under the PSI Global LRG Network’s mandate The WG aims at gathering collective intelligence, facilitate peer-learning, and promoting collective action on remunicipalisation/insourcing as a trade union strategy to win jobs and better conditions at the workplace, as well as to grow union membership in local public services.
PSI also carries out global advocacy with governments at all levels, multilateral and civil society organisations to raise awareness about remunicipalisation, promote it a viable policy that can help redress many forms of inequalities, advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and build service resilience through the multi-crises humanity faces.
Is your union leading a remunicipalisation campaign and you want to share your experience and liaise with other unions doing the same?
Do you want to report a remunicipalisation case that occurred in your community or country?
Want to launch your own remunicipalisation campaign?
Do you have other queries or comments about remunicipalisation, workers and trade unions?