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OECD Declaration on Public Sector Innovation – a missed opportunity to stress the importance of social dialogue in the public sector

31 May 2019

The OECD Ministerial Council Meeting on 22-23 May 2019 approved a Declaration on Public Sector Innovation. While the Declaration offers valuable objectives and goals for government action and public sector, the OECD text agreed fails to take sufficiently into account social dialogue principles, the unique societal role of the public sector and the importance of including public sector employees in innovation. This is even more regretful as the legitimate right to collective bargaining, and the right to strike for public sector employees remains restricted, if not banned, in some OECD countries.

Government administrations and public sector at large have been under pressures ever since the fallouts of the 2008 financial crisis – and the return to austerity policies in 2011 when massive budget cuts hit public services and public sector workers front on. Digital transition and greater needs for interconnection and mobility, if not changing aspirations by citizens, pose additional challenges for governments. The Declaration does not take into account that the principle cause for public sector and public services being under severe pressure are these massive budget cuts and austerity measures preceding and following 2008. Thus, eroding peoples´ right to fair and equal access to quality public services and contributing to the rise in inequalities across OECD economies – income based, gender based, and region based.

Against this background – rising inequalities and austerity measures – the Declaration should have made make a stronger case for innovation and effectiveness in public services to aim at increasing coverage and secure fair access to public service.

The Declaration highlights the importance of ensuring adequate skills and capabilities of public sector employees. This is indeed vital when discussing innovation. The text however should have stressed the benefits of collective agreements and social dialogue as an effective framework for ensuring that employees can attain the needed skills and capabilities.

The full potential of public sector innovation must indeed be harnessed through a comprehensive whole-of-government strategy. The Declaration would have been more inspiring had it been shaped by, precisely, a “whole-of-OECD” approach, drawing on key recommendations on skills, collective bargaining and the Future of Work. The Declaration fails to do so and misses the opportunity to harness innovation systems in social dialogue and collective bargaining settings.