Biwater Campaign

Biwater Campaign - Once More!
New PSIRU report (RTF)
Biwater Campaign
World Water Day
PSI Water Code


A global trade union federation has called on the South African government to suspend the threatened privatisation of water services in the city of Nelspruit (capital of Mpumalanga province).

The call has been made by Public Services International (PSI), a federation of unions representing 20 million public service workers worldwide, in support of its South African affiliate SAMWU.

The PSI has simultaneously published a report with evidence of the financial, operational and political problems associated with Biwater, the company which wants to take over the water service in Nelspruit. Prepared by specialist research organisation PSIRU, the report reveals that:

PSI general secretary Hans Engelberts said today:

"This report provides sharp evidence that privatisation of water is economically damaging, endangers the quality of service, and is frequently associated with corrupt practices.

"Biwater, the company concerned, is openly pursuing a policy of obtaining guaranteed profits from water concessions which it knows to be against the public interest. It is involved in performance problems and allegations of corruption or impropriety on 3 continents.

"The company's own partner at Nelspruit is currently the subject of investigation over a recently awarded council contract.

"PSI strongly urges the S.A. government to cancel the proposed contract, and calls on trade unions and democratic governments worldwide to raise their voices for an open and critical debate on privatisation."

A copy of the report is available for download (RTF)

A previous report on Biwater was published by the PSI in May this year.

PSI: Hans Engelberts, phone: +; fax: +; email:
SAMWU: Anna Weekes, phone: +27.21.697.1153; fax: +27.21.696.9175; email:
PSIRU: David Hall, phone: +44.181.852.6371; fax; +44.181.852.6259; email:

Note to editors
Public Services International (PSI) is the International Trade Union Federation which represents public sector trade unions in 135 contries around the world. The affiliated unions, some 500 in number, cover some 20 million public sector members. PSI is an autonomous body which works in association with Federations covering other sectors of the workforce and with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
PSI is an officially recognised non-government organisation for the public sector within the International Labour Organisation and has consultative status with ECOSOC and observer status with other UN bodies such as the UNCTAD and UNESCO. PSI has taken a number of initiatives over water privatisation and has published a water code for observance by public authorities and private companies alike




PSI is asking for worldwide support in defending our sisters and brothers in South Africa against a water multinational, Biwater.

Biwater is trying to get a 30-year water concession in South Africa, while PSI's South African affiliate, SAMWU, is campaigning for water services to be developed by the public sector. Now Biwater has been using economic and legal threats against a SAMWU press release, a newspaper report and a television programme which were critical of privatisation in general and Biwater in particular.

PSI believes that this is a threat to freedom of expression. It has issued the attached press release, and a special report on Biwater from the PSPRU to show that the trade union movement will not be prevented from campaigning over privatisation. It is time for us all to speak up.

Links to more information:
PSI Press Release
Full PSPRU Report
PSI Water Code
SAMWU anti-privatisation campaign
PSPRU web-site



The sixth annual World Water Day is celebrated on 22 March 1998. The theme is GROUNDWATER - the INVISIBLE RESOURCE. The importance of groundwater is not generally recognised; it is in fact taken for granted. Yet, if the entire world's water supply were based on treated surface water, then the cost would be increased by 20 times. Groundwater is affordable and close to the community who can manage it.

Today's concerns are:

For more information consult following web-sites:


Clean water is a basic human need.

Clean water should be accessible to all human beings.

If you are reading this on a computer screen, you probably have access to water by turning a tap. Or you may have to fetch your water by the local well, something that takes time and effort. Some people may not have even a local well.

Whether the water comes from a tap or a well, is it clean and safe? That is something many people care about. To overcome this uncertainty some people buy bottled water in the nearest supermarket; others don't have that choice. Some have no other choice.

Do you feel concerned about the cleanliness and safety of the water available to you? If you have to fetch and carry your own water, you will have certainly thought about the effort and inconvenience. Do those for whom it comes out of a tap think about the quality of the water that comes through all those pipes after all that treatment (if there is any) and what the original source is? Or where it goes afterwards if there are people downstream from you?

In many parts of the world provision of water is the responsibility of the state, the municipality or the community. In other parts of the world that responsibility is contracted out to private enterprise. Does that matter? We believe it does, and so do many workers in services providing the water. They believe that water is a right, not a means of making profits out of vulnerable communities. Many such workers are affiliated to PSI through their local union. Together we fight for stable jobs and decent conditions for these workers as well as reliable water services to the public.

Publicly delivered water services create public service jobs. That responsibility, transferred to private enterprises, should, logically, create private sector jobs surely? It doesn't; so what is the difference?

The difference is that the private sector aim is business profit.

The public service aim is service to the public.

If you are interested in any of these issues - either as a consumer, as a public sector worker, as a journalist, as a policy maker or whatever, you might wish to find out more about PSI, what we stand for and what our policies are. Drop into our:


The PSI Executive Committee approved the proposed Water Code of Conduct at its meeting immediately prior to Congress. The official wording is:

Sign up for Clean and Safe Drinking Water and Fair Labour Practices in Water services

Water: an Essential Public Service

This code of conduct reflects a common effort of companies providing the public service of supplying clean and safe drinking water to communities, and trade unions organising water workers, to address issues related to public service obligations, democratic regulation, environmental standards and fair labour practices. It promotes their common interest in delivering drinking water of high quality and safe treatment and disposal of sewage and other contaminated effluents for citizens.

Access to clean and affordable drinking water must be regarded as a fundamental human right. This right must be protected, monitored and enforced by the appropriate public authorities in the communities in which water companies operate. The Code of Conduct recognises that the health, welfare and prosperity of all citizens depend on the production and distribution of good quality drinking water and the safe treatment and disposal of sewage and other contaminated effluents.

Water service providers have a commitment to ensure quality, universally available, potable water for citizens, careful water resource management and waste water management for our environment and fair treatment for water service workers.

Chapter One: Safe and Clean Drinking Water, Sound Systems of Sewage disposal and Water Resource Management

The aims of the code of conduct are:

Transparency (and integrity) in operations and not engaging in corruption are important conditions to guarantee that democratic decisions prevail. Signatories to this code of conduct advocate democratic regulation based on the citizens' right-to-information and the right-to-participate in the regulation regarding water quality, tariffs and the investment policies of water companies in local communities' water systems for example. Financial means should be provided so citizens can actively exercise these rights. This is a prerequisite for democracy to function.

Profits made, if any, are to contribute fully to the development of the water-services systems in the communities. Regulators are to guarantee compliance with investment plans.

National water programmes integrating economic, environmental and community concerns need to be established to ensure the development of water-resources and water-services proceeds in a consistent manner. Community Water Councils, including representatives of users and workers in the community, will be promoted.

Chapter Two: Fair Labour Conditions in Water Services

This Code of Conduct recognises that the supply of drinking water and the disposal of sewage and other contaminating affluents is best ensured by well qualified and skilled employees, and based on good relations between the water companies and their employees. PSI and the water companies agree that the development of water services to local communities is dependent on professionalism and contributions of the workers of the water-companies.

Constructive industrial relations and social dialogue promote productivity, employment security and good employment and working conditions. PSI and the water companies signatory to the code of conduct recognise that competition in the industry is to be based on the quality of product and service and shall not be based on working conditions and employment as this will bring hardship to workers and their families as well as the communities in which they live.

Citizens and local communities can have confidence that the services provided in accordance with the standards laid down in this code of conduct are not performed under exploitative or inhumane working conditions by the companies signatory to the code of conduct. These companies are also committed to apply these same principles to workers of subsidiaries, joint ventures, sub-contractors and suppliers and will assess and verify whether subsidiaries, joint ventures, sub-contractors and suppliers meet the principles set out in this Code of Conduct.

To this end the following apply:

International financial institutions shall be encouraged to guarantee that all water companies seeking funding apply the provisions of this Charter when such institutions provide loans for investments in water-services. This will ensure a level playing field and fair competition for the companies seeking such investment which will not harm workers, their families and the communities they are living in.

For information about PSI's view on water services, take a look at our publications or our Public Sector Briefing page on Water

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