EPSU RESPONSE TO THE QUESTIONNAIRE TO SOCIAL PARTNERS, CIVIL SOCIETY AND OTHER STAKEHOLDERS
1. The EC questionnaire states that “An initiative on concessions would aim to facilitate the use of concessions and ensure best value for money for both users and contracting authorities, by providing all interested parties with legal security and guaranteeing transparency and equal treatment for economic operator.” This sentence shows that the framework set for the consultation is heavily biased towards assessing concessions against one perspective only – that of competition. EPSU expected a different approach following the comments by Michel Barnier in the European Parliament, “I will work to put the internal market at the service of human progress, fight social dumping and protect services of general interest.”
2. The Protocol of Services of General Interest attached to the Lisbon Treaty calls for “a high level of quality, safety and affordability, equal treatment and the promotion of universal access and of user rights in public services.” All EU initiatives should reflect and contribute to achieving this objective. Before assessing shortcomings in the current legal framework, the Commission should evaluate national situations against these and other social and environmental considerations. The Commission should also take into account the European parliament’s report on ‘new developments in public procurement’, which questioned the need for EU legislation. The Commission should demonstrate how a directive on concessions would improve, for example, the quality of public and other services: how would new regulations contribute to water quality? Or to waste collection? How would a directive contribute to the implementation of waste hierarchy principles? Or to security of investment and employment? EPSU does not see these issues raised by the Commission.
3. The desired objectives and outcomes for concessions go beyond the narrow framework set by the questionnaire. Achieving “a high level of quality, safety and affordability, equal treatment and the promotion of universal access and of user rights in public services” demands a long-term perspective that takes into account a broad range of factors, including:
Social cohesion: the EU social inclusion programme calls on public authorities to create the ‘framework’ to integrate vulnerable groups into the labour market. The draft agreement by the cross-sectoral social partners on “Inclusive labour markets” also points to the need for policy incentives.
Gender equality: The European Commission in its Communication “Tackling the pay gap between women and men” calls on “national authorities to make every effort to reduce the pay gap for their own staff and encourage their service providers to adopt equal pay policies in the performance of public contracts”. The same would apply to concessions. Job quality and equitable wages: The Commission’s Opinion on equitable wages stated that all employment shall be fairly remunerated. Together with the 10 ‘dimensions’ of job quality, and the ILO’s “decent work” concept (which add social protection) these provide common framework for improving the quality of employment.
Collective agreements: The current decline in the number of workers covered by collective agreements needs to be reversed. Means and ends go together. Public policy should aim to improve the coverage of collective agreements, including in their procurement or concessions processes. Security for workers needs to be taken into account. The EU should promote ratification of ILO Convention 94 on social clauses in public procurement contracts.
Transparency: Public services should be subject to the highest standards of public accountability and control. This goes beyond issues of corruption. Good governance starts by making the right decision about how to provide public services. Wasting public money – for example through expensive PPPs - is also a governance issue. The content of commercial contracts should not be kept secret on the grounds of “commercial sensitivity.”
Employment concerns should be prominent in any evaluation also because quality of work is a fundamental prerequisite for quality of services.
4. The EU must remain neutral as to national and local choices for the funding, organisation and delivery of public services, focusing on desired outcomes rather than processes. The latest European Commission Communication on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) is deeply prejudiced regarding the performance of PPPs. It is not acceptable that the Commission aims to promote PPPs in future EU cohesion policy, ignoring the European Parliament’s calls for the Commission “to draw lessons from failing PPPs”. If services are contracted out to private companies, public authorities need to integrate social and environmental considerations into the procurement process. Best value’ should not mean lowest price (as implied in the EC questionnaire). On the contrary, it should mean the most economically advantageous bid.
5. Trade unions and social partners, in line with the Commission’s impact assessment guidelines should be informed and consulted on the development of procurement and concessions’ policy, including through the EC’s advisory committee on public procurement. The social dialogue committee for local and regional government should also play a key role, given the amount of public services provided at this level.
6. The work programme of the Commission 2010/2011 foresees an evaluation of all procurement directives. It is more logical that such an evaluation is awaited before taking new initiatives. Furthermore this should include how public-public partnerships are developed. We expect this evaluation to be independent and include important issues such as impact on quality, employment, working conditions and collective agreements and how the European Commission will promote ILO Convention 94 (see again the report of the EP). We note that the Commission has still not published its guidelines on socially responsible procurement and that earlier drafts were weak and not sufficient.
The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) comprises 8 million public service workers from over 250 trade unions; EPSU organizes workers in the energy, water and waste sectors, health and social services and local and national administration, in all European countries. EPSU is a member of the ETUC and the regional organization of Public Services International (PSI). EPSU considers that all EU policies should underpin the development of a ‘social market economy’ in order to ensure sustainable progress for society as a whole. www.epsu.org