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31 October: UN World Cities Day – “Stop precarious work in local public services!”

October 30, 2018
On UN World Cities Day 2018, PSI calls the United Nations, governments and mayors to halt the widespread use of precarious work in local and regional government services that hurts local communities, undermines the quality and accessibility of local public services, and stands in the way of achieving sustainable, inclusive and resilient cities (SDG11).

The United Nations established World Cities Day on 31 October to draw the international community’s attention to the challenges of global urbanization and to promote sustainable urban development. On UN World Cities Day 2018, PSI calls the United Nations, governments and mayors to halt the widespread use of precarious work in local and regional government services that hurts local communities, undermines the quality and accessibility of local public services, and stands in the way of achieving sustainable, inclusive and resilient cities (SDG11).

As the world undergoes the fastest urbanization in history, an increased frequency of extreme weather events and disasters, social strife and rampant inequality, more than ever, cities need access to quality urban public services.  Safe potable water and sanitation; public lighting and household electricity; municipal waste; community health centres; crèches and auxiliary education workers; municipal police; firefighters and emergency first responders are just some among the many vital public services local and regional government provide.  None of these services are possible without a dedicated, well-trained and remunerated workforce, drawn from the community and treated with dignity and a voice at work.

“Quality urban and local public services are what make cities vibrant hubs of opportunities and engines of inclusive socio-economic development.  Local and regional government workers delivering essential public services are the cornerstones of such development. Whether urban expansion creates wealth and inclusion, or poverty, marginalization and social unrest depends on the quality of those services and access to them in our cities and local communities. When public services are missing, left to the private sector, and when workers suffer precarious working conditions, everybody pays the price,” says PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli.

What is precarious work?

Prejudices are common when it comes to the alleged “privileges” and conditions enjoyed by government and public service workers in terms of excessive pay, light workload, short working hours and job security.  The evidence drawn from around the world shows a different picture.

Among the women and men who deliver local and regional government (LRG) public services daily, many suffer precarious working conditions, which include some or a combination of the following features:

  • economic insecurity due to low or unreliable income, insufficient to support a household
  • poor protection of employment from termination, job tenure instability or unpredictability
  • limited or no social protection associated with formal full time employment (paid leave, pension dues, sick leave entitlements, etc.)
  • irregular or unpredictable working time
  • employment contract-based discrimination
  • lack of voice and influence over their working conditions, also associated with the lack of access to representation through a trade union (freedom of association) and collective bargaining.

Because of their consequent vulnerability at work, precarious LRG workers are more prone to endure violence at work, lack professional training and job-related equipment, suffer from discrimination, work longer hours and have fewer career development opportunities. The refusal of many countries to ratify and abide by the fundamental human rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining in the public sector and the lack of professionalization of the category in many jurisdictions leaves LRG workers especially vulnerable and at the mercy of mayors and local and regional council elected politicians, who often lack training and practice in industrial relations and hardly see themselves as employers.

Women workers in LRG services often carry the brunt of precariousness not only due to gender bias and discrimination they endure in any industry, but also because women overwhelmingly make up the bulk of the sector. 

Precarious work in local and regional government (LRG) services: a widespread occurrence across the world

In a recent 2018 comprehensive study, PSI’s affiliate the Municipal Workers’ Confederation (CTM) of ARGENTINA looked at the working conditions of a sample of 748 workers employed by the Avellaneda municipality of Buenos Aires. The study found that almost 90% of the workers earned a basic wage below the poverty line. More than 60% of these sought to make up for their income by taking up overtime and weekend work, access to which depended entirely on the local government employer’s willingness to grant it, impose it or deny it in a discretionary manner. Over 30% of the workers interviewed had an unstable employment relationship with the municipality and more than 50% reported some form of violence at work including ungrounded threats of dismissal. Unsurprisingly, over 40% declared they could not join a union of their choice at the time of taking up work in the municipality, leaving them even more exposed to power abuse and intimidation. These practices are widespread in the country and breach the “Paritarias Act” law in many ways, including the cap on municipal contract employment fixed by the law at a maximum of 20%.

In FRANCE, the public sector hires contract workers on a regular basis, and it is in LRG services that the highest numbers of precarious workers are found. While 2013 figures indicate that 1 out of 5 LRG workers are precarious – according to unofficial 2018 estimates by the Parisian Public Services union (SPP) affiliated to PSI’s member CFDT Interco, precarious workers in French local and regional government services make up between 25% and 30%[1]. These workers are not covered by the public sector collective agreement and negotiate individual employment contracts, mostly fixing pay. Unlike in the private sector where precarious contract renewals are capped to a maximum length of 1.5 years, in the public sector short-term contracts can be renewed almost indefinitely and workers do not enjoy compensation for the instability.

The privatization and outsourcing of public services, together with public sector hiring freezes and inter-governmental funding cuts imposed by a usterity and neoliberal policies, create favourable grounds for precarious work in LRG public services.

Bolivia, bureaucracy (police), 2005. Marlene Abigahit Choque (1982), detective at the the Homicide Department of the Potosi police. The department has only broken typewriters, no computer, no copy machine, not even telephone. It shares a car with the Vice Squad: "If there is no petrol in the car, we have to buy it from our own money. If the car is gone, we take the bus. We have to pay the tickets ourselves." The head on the cupboard to the right is used to make witnesses of murder cases show where the bullets went in or out.Monthly salary: 920 bolivianos (euro 102, US$ 114).

France, bureaucracy, Picardie, 2006. France-B03/2007
[Amb., LM (b. 1965)]. Laurence Maillard (b. 1965) works seven hours per week as town clerk in Ambrief (population 72), Aisne department, Picardie region. She holds the same position in another village nearby, working a total of 19 hours per week. Monthly salary: € 500 (US$ 657).
Bolivia, bureaucracy (police), 2005. Marlene Abigahit Choque (1982), detective at the the Homicide Department of the Potosi police. The department has only broken typewriters, no computer, no copy machine, not even telephone. It shares a car with the
Vice Squad: "If there is no petrol in the car, we have to buy it from our own money. If the car is gone, we take the bus. We have to pay the tickets ourselves." The head on the cupboard to the right is used to make witnesses of murder cases show where the bullets went in or out. Monthly salary: 920 bolivianos (euro 102, US$ 114).

In the UNITED KINGDOM, the rise of “zero hours contracts” has aggressively extended to the public sector. A 2015 study of the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that the use of casual workers and agency workers in the UK was more prevalent in the public than the private sector. According to the ILO, “Nearly half (48%) of public sector employers employ casual workers compared with a third (32%) of the UK private sector. Furthermore, half (51%) of public sector employers employ agency workers supplied by a third-party agency for periods of up to 12 weeks compared with 30% of private sector employers.”

In JAPAN, the funding cuts for local and regional government services has resulted in the amalgamation of cities, towns and villages. Central government merged 3,229 municipalities into 1,718; many local government jobs were cut and they launched local public service privatization. As a result, the numbers of precarious workers rose and became a cheaper labour force having to meet increasingly diversified service demands. As of 2017, there are roughly 640,000 temporary and non-regular local public service workers in Japan. Of these, women make up around 75%[2].The main LRG jobs affected by precarious work are office work assistants, teachers, childcare workers, school meal cooks, librarians and nurses. As of now, says JICHIRO “public services in Japan cannot be provided without relying heavily on these temporary and non-regular local public service workers. For teachers, childcare workers, nurses and other similar professions, working conditions are pushed down to the lowest level despite the workers’ qualifications and that they are doing the same work as permanent workers”. Most temporary and non-regular local public service workers receive a basic wage of 800-1000¥/hour (6-7 EUR), many of them earning an annual income of about 2 million ¥ (15,400 EUR). This is between one-third and half of the annual income of regular workers.


Liberia, bureaucracy, 2006. Liberia-38/2006 [Mon., LNS (b. 1964)]. Louise N. Smith (b. 1964) keeps files at the Department of Statistics of the Bureau for Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) in Monrovia. Monthly salary: 1,000 Liberian dollars (US$ 18, 17 euro), almost all of which is spent on transportation to and from work. Sometimes she receives nothing for three months, except for support from family in the United States.
Liberia, bureaucracy, 2006. Liberia-19/2006 [Nye., WW (b.1963)]. Warford Weadatu Sr. (b. 1963), a former farmer and mail carrier, now is county commissioner (administrator) for Nyenawliken district, River Gee County. He has no budget and is not expecting any money soon from the poverty-stricken authorities in Monrovia. Monthly salary: 1,110 Liberian dollars (US$ 20, euro 19), but he hadn't received any salary for the previous year.

Traditionally a stream of reliable income for whole families and communities in the midst challenging labour market and social conditions, local and regional governments jobs in BANGLADESH are also increasingly privatized and subcontracted. A 2016 PSI FNV-Mondiaal-funded research looked at the effects of precarious work on the employees of a municipal waste service utility in the City of Dhaka (street cleaning/sweeping, waste collection and disposal services); and of a municipal mosquito eradication service in the City of Khulna (ward-based awareness raising and community training). The study found that city services were clearly discriminating between regular and precarious workers.

While regular workers - making up only 40% of the service - were payed 16,000BDT/month (160 EUR) and enjoyed some benefits (holiday and medical allowances, annual leave and overtime pay premium), precarious workers performing the same job (called “muster roll” workers) made up the 60% of the service, were casually hired on a “no-work-no-pay basis”, and paid 475 BDT/day (4.8 EUR) in Dhaka and 350 BDT/day (3.5 EUR)  in Khulna, without any benefits. While the permanent women workers were entitled to 6-months maternity leave, precarious workers had to arrange for a replacement to work on their behalf in agreement with the supervisor, with the worker and her replacement sharing the salary. Precarious municipal workers were also found to live in extremely poor conditions in terms of housing, access to water and sanitation, and health and safety.

While this is a limited sample of cases, a generalised lack of labour statistical data and professional classifications for LRG workers worldwide stands in the way of a comprehensive assessment of their working conditions and consequent policy analysis and formulation, as publicly highlighted in a joint call by PSI and United Cities and Local Government (UCLG) in the 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians.

India, bureaucracy, Bihar, 2003. India-15/2003 (Pat., SP (b. 1947)].
Suresh Prasad (b. 1947) is assistant clerk of the "Bihar House"
department in The Old Secretariat, Patna, State of Bihar. Monthly salary: 9,000 rupees ($ 197, euro 179). Suresh Prasad (b. 1947) is assistent-klerk op het departement "Bihar House" in The Old Secretariat, Patna, State of Bihar. Maandsalaris: 9,000 rupees (euro 179, US$ 197).
USA, bureaucracy, Texas, 2007. USA-24/2007 [Lin., SC (b. 1971)]. Shannon Crenshaw (b. 1971) is deputy clerk at the county clerk s office in Linden, Cass County (some 30,000 inhabitants), Texas. Monthly salary: US$ 1,750 (euro 1,302).

Trade unions: standing up for decent work and quality public services in local and regional government

Local and regional government workers’ trade unions are standing up to defend decent conditions for LRG workers as well as quality local public services for users and communities. They are doing so in many ways, by organizing precarious public service workers, and pushing to fully exercise their right to bargain collectively with local authorities and secure that adequate legislation and fair public procurement rules protect all LRG workers regardless of their employment status.

In SPAIN, the economic and political crises of the last years had caused public service workers a loss of 13,1% of purchasing power and a widening pay and condition gaps among contract and permanent workers. During the crisis years, collective bargaining in LRG services has been non-existent and under the measures implemented by the Rajoy government, out of a total 8,112 municipalities, 3,800 – accounting for services to over 85% of the Spanish population - were subject to austerity and funding cuts, taking a heavy toll on the quality of living of LRG workers and local public service users alike[3]. However, in March 2018 public service unions CC.OO., UGT and CSIF signed a new national-level collective Agreement that secures wins such as a 1,200€ minimum wage for all public sector workers and the re-opening of public sector hiring after years of freeze – and reduces public sector contract employment to a maximum cap of 8%.

JICHIRO and JTUC-RENGO public action in support of decent work for precarious LRG workers.After an assiduous organizing campaign, in November 2015, PSI’s affiliated trade union All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers Union (JICHIRO) succeeded in organising and representing 90 out of the 300 “non-regular” workers employed by the Prefectural Local Government of Wakayama, JAPAN. These workers were mostly found in administrative positions at the service of permanent workers and had extensive working time including week-end work. Their remuneration levels were low (5950¥/day = 45 EUR for general office work; 6300¥/day = 48 EUR for administrative position jobs). Some were elderly workers re-employed with “non-regular” status after reaching their mandatory retirement age. The recruitment of an important share of “non-regular” workers enabled JICHIRO to be in a stronger negotiating position with local authorities in favour of equal treatment and employment stabilization. JICHIRO continues to work on organizing precarious workers in Japanese municipalities to build negotiating strength and push for their full entitlement to workers’ rights and decent conditions under the Japanese Local Public Service Act and private sector labour legislation.

In DENMARK, a 2014 Danish study found that the outsourcing of LRG services in construction and industrial cleaning led to precarious work situations of low pay, below minimum sector collective agreement standard and defaulting compliance with labour regulation ending up in the LRG service supply chain. Taking advantage of their high unionization rates, Danish public service unions are using tripartite dialogue, public procurement rules, and labour inspection to deal with the social consequences of local government services outsourcing and privatization.

On 31 October 2018, PSI calls on local and regional government authorities, central governments and the UN and IFIs to halt the promotion of precarious work-generating policies such as privatization, outsourcing and austerity cuts of local public services and to promote instead decent working conditions for LRG workers to enable them to deliver the quality public services our urban and local communities need.

This concretely means that Governments and LRG employers should: 

  • Restrict the use of contract work and their renewal to situations where their use is exceptionally necessary and justified and set a maximum cap; 
  • Establish fair stabilization paths for precarious workers providing public services that are needed on a regular basis
  • Avoid outsourcing LRG services to private contractors or employing self-employed workers for such purpose;
  • Ensure equal treatment among LRG workers doing the same jobs, while accounting for qualifications and experience
  • Promote the negotiation of collective agreements with representative, democratically elected trade unions and expand collective bargaining coverage to all eligible local public service workers regardless of their employment status
  • Ensure a fair living wage for all LRG regardless of their employment status
  • Allocate adequate resources and strengthen the capacity of local government authorities and workers to properly deliver quality public services to communities
  • Favour accessibility and transparency to public service labour markets.

Posters in 3 languages for download

Poster EN FR PosterES poster

         English - PDF (1.8MB)                   Français - PDF (1.8MB)               Español - PDF (1.8MB)

[1] PSI interview with SSP, 7.09.2018.

[2] All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers Union – JICHIRO; contribution at PSI’s 2017 Congress, Local and Regional Government Public Discussion Panel.

[3] Report by Angeles Villaverde, UGT at the EPSU LRG Standing Committee, Brussels, 4 October 2018.

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