ILC 2024 PSI Address by GS Daniel Bertossa

Speech delivered by PSI General Secretary Daniel Bertossa to the International Labour Conference of the ILO, 12 June 2024.

Honorable delegates, distinguished guests and workers, 

I stand before you today to shed light on the dire situation of public service workers around the world. Public services are the backbones of our societies. They ensure the well-being of our people and the progress of our nations. 

All workers benefit from these services, but the vulnerable workers benefit the most – precarious workers, women workers, migrant workers and children. 

Yet the workers who provide them are under attack. If COVID has taught us anything it is that when these workers can’t do their jobs then we all suffer – and sometimes we die.

In Japan, for over 70 years public service workers rights have been undermined by the lack of compliance with Convention 87. This convention guarantees the freedom of association and protection of the right to organize. But, Japan's failure to uphold these standards means public sector employees, for example firefighters, still don’t have a voice and still aren’t allowed to collectively bargain. 

Labor is not a commodity. Workers are not an expendable resource.

In Kenya, public service workers, particularly doctors and health care workers, are being attacked and intimidated. The General Secretary of our affiliate, the doctor’s union, was shot this year by police at a peaceful protest. Healthcare workers and professionals save lives – they must not be targeted for standing up for their rights. Such attacks not only threaten their safety but they also jeopardize the health of the entire nation. 

In Argentina, the new ultra-liberal government has dismissed massive numbers of public service workers and announced privatisations of essential services. This weakens the public institutions that serve the Argentine people and deliberately undermines democracy. The erosion of job security and public services are alarming trends that must be reversed to protect the social fabric of the country. 

 And in Gaza, our members in the health sector are the most at risk health workers in the world. Almost 500 healthcare workers have been killed in this conflict as well as 190 UN workers – the largest in the UN’s organisational history.

In Ecuador, public service workers have been stripped of their labour rights - and 4 different governments from both the left and the right - have done nothing to restore them. Their voices are being stifled, and they can’t negotiate for fair conditions and wages.

Just a few years ago, we all clapped for these workers. They were at the frontline of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. They risked their lives, to protect us during one of the most challenging times in recent history. 

Yet the gratitude shown has not translated into meaningful support and protection for them. 

Too many governments have already forgotten their sacrifices. 

Instead, they face increased marginalization, job insecurity, and attacks on their rights.  

They were there for us then – we must be there for them NOW. 

The ILO must make the Declaration of Philadelphia real. 

We must strengthen our supervisory mechanisms so that member states comply with the core conventions and uphold the rights of ALL workers. 

Labor is not a commodity. Workers are not an expendable resource. We are human beings with rights and dignity that must be respected and protected. 

That is how we honour the sacrifice of the thousands who died from COVID to keep us safe. 

That is how we will achieve the ILO's mission of promoting social justice and decent work for all.

Thank you.