Basic environmental services
Alexandre Oliveira Tavares

Basic services are constitutionally described as those needed for the safety and maintenance of equipment and facilities, as well as those indispensable to meet overriding social needs. In the legal field they take the form of a law (Law No. 23/96 and its successive amendments until the 2019 version) which defines the framework and mechanisms aimed at protecting the users of basic public services. The definition and operation of these services must be compatible with the theory of fundamental rights, both in regard to access and disruption of services and the right to strike by the workers who provide them. Legally, it is believed that this is a markedly technical definition, aimed at establishing metrics for minimum levels of activity, as opposed to safeguarding rights.

Basic environmental services include, in the broadest sense, those related to water, energy, sanitation, waste or mortuary, and are based on assumptions of access and quality. In addition to their relevance and indispensability, they provide for vital needs, both individual and collective, and determine the duty of continuity in the provision of services, in abundance and with respect for environmental and public health values. These services can be analysed from three distinct perspectives: a technical-operational approach, based on the interrelationship between technical infrastructures and people and institutions; a socio-natural approach, based on the balance between resource mobilisation and the flows of environmental sustainability; a social-legal approach, based on the rights of freedom or social rights in accordance with a citizen’s or community’s right to life, safety and health.

An alternative vision for basic environmental service management must be based on the primacy of collective over individual interests, the public over the private domain, obligation over contractual exceptionality. The ensuring of basic services must rest on the principles of proportionality or reasonableness, for example with regard to the right to strike or mobilise workers, or on flexibility and the capacity to adapt to practical realities, as opposed to the inviolability and non-waiverability of individual and collective rights.

Conformity between collective and individual interests makes it possible, for example, to prohibit suspension of access to basic services and goods and to allow deferral of payment with no need for a contract release, according to the principle of objective good faith in contractual relations.

In a contingency situation, collaborative forms of mobilisation are required to carry out the duty of service provision or readiness, based on consistency of approach and on the proportionality of the measures. In this context, it is fundamental that responsibility be shared and that transparency be guaranteed with regard to how decisions are taken and what the resulting implications are.

How to cite:
Tavares, Alexandre Oliveira (2020), "Basic environmental services", Words beyond the pandemic: a hundred-sided crisis. Consulted at 20.06.2021, in ISBN: 978-989-8847-28-7