Skip to main content

Proposals 7-10: Employment

We believe in decent work

There are millions of public transport workers across the globe. The most visible workers are those who drive vehicles and work at transport hubs and stations. There are many more hidden workers, providing services in the micro-economy that surrounds public transport. Achieving decent work in public transport promises huge benefits for the community and local economy. However, decent work does not come by itself either in private companies or in public entities. Even though the profit motive undermines working conditions, neo-liberal policies also have clear negative effects. The existence of strong and powerful trade unions is the best way to defend workers’ interests, regardless of the legal status of their employers.

The way that public transport is structured by policy and regulation is a decisive factor in shaping the experience of the workforce, and in determining the quality of services. Neoliberal economic policies have led to the privatisation of public transport services – either through PPPs in service operation, or through liberalisation and deregulation. In cities across the global south, this has led to the establishment of powerful private interest groups providing informal public transport services.

Policy proposal 7: Integrate decent work as a central objective of sustainable transport

Public transport is strategically important in the economic and social life of cities. This means that trade unions can contest power not only in workplaces but also in the public sphere where decision-making takes place.

Decent work recognises that the contribution public transport makes to the economy includes the creation of thousands of jobs for local people. It links citizens to their place of work, education and family responsibilities. In cities in the global south, informal provision of public transport services supports a whole micro-economy that provides work to thousands of men and women who are unable to access the limited opportunities for formal employment.

Working poverty drives informal public transport services. Informal work is often disguised, exploitative and fails to meet minimum human rights. Decent work challenges this by creating formal jobs that offer a fair, secure income and safeguards the safety and health of workers and passengers and provides access to social protection[1]. Effective labour inspections are key to guaranteeing this. Decent work also includes equality of opportunity and treatment, prospects of personal development, recognition of work and having your voice heard. Decent work as an objective of sustainable public transport is based on full freedom of association rights as the most effective mechanism to defend the interests of the workforce.

Policy proposal 8: Connect quality jobs for quality services

There is an interdependence between the quality of public transport jobs and the quality of public transport services. Informal transport is inefficient and exploitative. The men and women who work in public transport, best understand how the ways that the workforce is employed and managed, impact on the quality of services provided. Respect for the labour rights of public transport workers to organise and bargain collectively with employers, and to enter into consultation and negotiation with local government policy makers and transport planners, is essential.

A social model of public transport enables quality jobs and quality services to go hand-in-hand. Public ownership and direct management of public transport means service safety and quality are the priority for managers, with no external interests coming into play.

Policy proposal 9: Regulate employment in informal public transport

The regulation of employment is an essential element of pro-poor reform and formalisation of informal public transport services, and is fundamental to achieving decent work in public transport [2]. It is necessary to safeguard the safety and health of workers and passengers and to promote gender equality in public transport.

Regulation of employment is the key to tackling many of the service quality problems endemic to informal public transport services – including unsafe driving, overcrowding, and unaffordable fares – at their root. Informal work creates opportunities for corruption and extortion, further undermining the service quality and the role of government.

This regulation needs to happen at the beginning of any process of reform and formalisation, not least because it enables a just transition for the workforce in evolving and reformed services. Regulated employment enables a sustainable shift of jobs from the informal to the formal sector. Employers are brought into regulatory and legal structures [3]. The resulting tax revenues can help fund and sustain the shift from informal to formal. It turns the workforce into an ally of those who wish to formalise public transport, and removes barriers to further formalisation.

The regulation of employment requires strengthened regulation of vehicle owners and route associations. Strong government commitment is needed to hold employers to account, and address corruption that may defend entrenched interests and the exploitative status- quo.

Policy proposal 10: Involve informal workers in the formalisation of public transport

Trade unions, organisations of informal workers, associations of micro-enterprises and other stakeholders in informal public transport provision must be directly involved in a democratic process to formalise and modernise public transport.

Worker-led change is pro-poor. The men and women who work in the informal public transport industry have the best understanding of the day-to-day reality of service operation. The current unsustainable distribution of income, costs, risks and responsibilities that characterise informal public transport services and turn unsafe driving and overcrowding into economic survival strategies, must be challenged. Worker-led change means a commitment to negotiations and access to financial, organisational and technological support for workers. Trade unions and informal workers associations must fight together to secure a just transition for all workers involved and therefore establish decent work as one of the pillars of sustainable public transport.

[1] ILO Convention 187: Occupational Safety and Health

[2] ILO recommendation 204: transition from the informal to the formal economy

[3] ILO recommendation 198: employment relationship