The conference brought together sixty representatives of SEE and NIS unions, some participants from the New Member States of the EU, representatives of friendly NGOs, experts of the ITUC, the ILO, the FES, the IUF, the Belgian national centre CSC-ABV and the representative of Hungarian government.
The conference was structured in the four main sessions.
1. Governmental policies to reduce informal economy. During this session the conference debated the different actions the governments of CEE countries are undertaking (or have to undertake), particularly stressing that in this region the "informality" is actually the mechanism to maximize profits by non-respect of the legal provisions, by tax evasion, salaries in envelops and other practices.
2. Social dialog and trade union strategies to address the informal economy challenge. This session discussed the specific initiatives undertaken by unions, particularly stressing that the unions have to make its proposals and positions to influence the policies, to approach all the different elements of the challenge at once.
3,. Outreaching and organizing workers: changes in union strategies and structures. Several interesting examples of trade union efforts to organise the workers were presented, which helped to formalise their social and labour statuses. Particularly, the cases of market vendors, minibus drivers, jewellers were discussed.
4. Interests of and services to special groups of workers: domestic, self-employed, migrants etc. In this session the conference focused on the 2 main challenges: how to approach the domestic and migrant workers and how to avoid the labour exploitation of these workers. In particular, the service ticket system - of registration of domestic work, subsidised by the Belgian government - was discussed, as well as the actions trade unions of Azerbaijan and Bosnia and Herzegovina have undertaken in alliance with the NGOs working with migrants (and victims of trafficking) in the situation of forced labour in Azerbaijan.
In conclusions the conference agreed that the project marked out that the trade union movement can further develop its potential by promoting freedom of association for all, by organising labourers working in informal set ups (self-employed, domestic, teleworkers, licensed professionals etc.), while the main challenge and the immediate threat to the unionism - the existence and the acceptance of shadow economy - is still to be tacked.
This threat includes, first of all, wages in envelops and under-table payments, which both workers and employers are often happy to agree upon, return payments to individuals, who implement purchase of goods or services for their organisations, – up to what is normally be considered as corruption or embezzlement – as part of the price paid, non-transparent or easy to bypass governmental procurement systems, unseen financial and internet transactions etc. These operations are a threat to a sustainable economy the unions are contributing to.
Only first steps were done by unions of CEE to fight this threat. In number of countries the campaigns to stop payments in wages were run, roles of public procurement were installed with union participation, benefits of “white” salaries have been advertised to the workers, joint actions with the state institutions, with responsible employers, with mass media and friendly civil society organisations were launched. But more has to be done by unions.
The participants of the conference called upon the PERC to build upon the lessons learnt from the project and to launch a systemic priority programme action to diagnose and to heal the shadow economy deceases.
The pictures from the conference are available here