The Australian Services Union's global affiliate Public Services International (PSI) has today released a new report that reveals secret trade negotiations may threaten public services across the globe, including in Australia. The ASU, as the principal union in local government and utilities (water & energy) is alarmed at findings that not only could public services be entirely privatised but that such privatisation could be made irreversible.
With the resumption of secret negotiations for the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) in Geneva, Switzerland, the campaign to protect the community from undermining of public services has accelerated. The ASU is part of this global campaign by users of public services and public service workers who are demanding the release of more information on this sweeping trade deal and assurance that it will not affect provision of any public services.
The PSI report released today is the first study to examine these secret negotiations. It has found that the agreement could hinder future governments from delivering vital public services. This could include massive cost increases in the provision of water and electricity. Local government services would also not be immune, with rate rises imminent to ensure profitability of private companies. Quality standards are also at risk given the primary purpose of private companies is profit, not quality service delivery.
In the new report "TISA versus Public Services", researchers highlight how the TISA would lock in existing and any future privatisation of public services. The proposed agreement could make it impossible for future governments to restore public services to public control, even in cases where private service delivery has failed.
The TISA would also restrict a government's ability to regulate key sectors including financial, energy, telecommunications and cross-border data flows. The independence of local government is also under fire, raising comparisons to the proposed GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) which the ASU campaigned against some years ago.
ASU Head of Public Services and Assistant National Secretary Greg McLean OAM said, "The new report has highlighted frightening elements of the TISA negotiations which could seriously affect the quality of life of all Australians."
"We have seen far too many examples of privatisation of essential public services gone wrong in Australia with hefty price hikes, reduction of both quality and service to the community, as well as profits moving off shore. The prospect of irreversible privatisation of public services cannot be tolerated!"
"As with other trade agreements, the ASU is primarily concerned about the independence of local government and state owned corporations. Quality standards must be determined by the community being served, not by foreign based multinationals that take profits away from local communities to be invested elsewhere, often in another country."
"We will campaign loudly to protect the Australian community, not only because our own ASU members in local government, energy and water could bear the brunt of these regressive changes, but because we believe that public services must remain in public hands where duly elected members of governments are accountable for them," said Greg McLean.
Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International (PSI), said, "This is an attempt to secretly extend the most damaging parts of the infamous GATS agreement that previously sparked global protests. The aim of public services should not be to make profits for large multinational corporations. Ensuring that failed privatisations can never be reversed is free market ideology gone mad."
Rosa Pavanelli emphasised, "It is fundamentally undemocratic for parliaments to permanently hand over the people's democratic mandate to multinational companies."
In London, Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, spoke of people's experience in the United Kingdom, "Privatisation of public services has been a costly disaster. Tying our Government's hands to prevent us from dealing with failed privatisations will give business the green light to take us all for an expensive ride."
The ASU's Greg McLean said, "Our Government must immediately release the text it is negotiating so that members of the public can understand the potential effects on our everyday lives."
"Public services are not simple commodities to be opened up to the market for trade and private profit, they exist to provide communities with necessities such as water, electricity, waste collection, social services, education, etc, on the basis of need and rights to access. In fact, public services exist in the first place because the market was incapable of delivering these services. Movement towards any agreement that undermines our fundamental social contract must be stopped," concluded Greg McLean.
To ensure proper public scrutiny the ASU will be calling upon Federal Government Ministers to release all details in the TISA negotiations that could affect the delivery of public services. Unions in the United Kingdom, Europe, North America and more are supporting the ASU call for open and transparent negotiations.
The report "TISA versus Public Services" was written by Scott Sinclair, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood, Institute of Political Economy, Carleton University and can be downloaded below along with a PSI handout. More information about the campaign can be found here: www.world-psi.org/en/issue/TISA
Greg McLean, OAM, ASU Assistant National Secretary - 0419 796 801