Organising workers engaged into informal labour relations

A sub-regional meeting of leaders of unions of workers engaged into informal labour relations was organised by the PERC, the ILO-ACTRAV and the StreetNet in Tbilisi, 11-13 of July 2011. The meeting goal was to exchange unions’ experiences in dealing with these workers, to analyse challenges of organising them, to identify actors towards which negotiations to promote social and economic interests of them could be undertaken, to debate issues of sustainability of the workers’ organisations.

Some 30 participants took part in the meeting, from different economic sectors – street and market vendoring, taxi and minibus driving, textile and sewing industry, commerce and services. According to some preliminary estimation, only 200000 workers engaged into informal labour relations are unified in the NIS region, however, the overall participation in these occupations might equal half of the entire workforce in certain countries.

The meeting was opened by Irakliy Petriashvili, President of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation, who welcomed the participants and explained the difficult situation the Georgian trade union movement is put into by the ultra-liberal government, which was undermining unions by the legislative means, by intimidation and by attempts to directly interfere in internal union affairs. He also reported that the informal economy is booming in the country, in agriculture, commerce and transport sector, these workers do not have proper status and are discriminated and deprived from labour rights protection. Through self-organising and unification these workers can obtain this protection and the GTUC has been supporting this organisation building processes.

Pat Horn, Streetnet coordinator, presented the mission and the history of her organisation, which was set up in 2002 and now unifies some 38 organisations of unions and associations of street vendors and market workers around the world. By building capacities of leaders of these organisations the StreetNet empowers their capacities to collectively bargain with employers or municipalities and landlords.

Anton Leppik summarised the experienced the PERC accumulated in the work on informal employment. Two main areas are equality important for the PERC approach:

- law enforcement, when informal (or atypical) forms of labour exist despite the fact that legally they are not existing. The role of the state institutions is crucial to bring “dishonest employers” under legal frameworks, through positive or negative sanctions, including eligibility for tenders, to set up economic incentives for the workers to declare their labour, through access to social security, health and safety tutorship;
- extension of self-employment schemes to diverse segments of labour market, en fin, actually legalizing these atypical forms as the only income strategy for considerable part of workforce. In this regard, in addition to work through state institutions, unions are actually exploring different patterns of working with these individuals, bringing them within formal labour frameworks and unions.

Sergeus Glovackas of the ACTRAV informed about different organising practices existing in the region. He also introduced the ILO conventions, which particularly can be used by the unions in protecting interests of these workers. He also referred to the newly adopted ILO Convention on Domestic Workers and introduced the Decent Work country programmes existing in the region (all countries have it, apart from Russia which has special arrangements with the ILO, similar to DWCP, and Georgia). Many of the programmes include the necessity to reduce informal employment and to protect interests of those engaged in it.

Svetlana Boincean presented successes and challenges of organising workers of agricultural sector in Central Asia, particularly, in South Kazakhstan, where many migrants are working in mostly informal environment. Bettina Musiolek informed the participants about targeted campaigning the Clean Cloth Campaign is running to get workers rights respected in textile sector, directed on giants of sports and retail industry to make them concern and act on the abuses that exist in their subcontracting and supplying chains.

In discussion participants exchanged examples of organising. In Spain a special law was adopted that allows to regulate the activities of the self-accounted or autonomous workers. In Georgia, the transport workers unions bargained social guarantees for its members, mostly informal drivers. In Ukraine the resistance to fiscal reform united several dozen self-accounted traders (entrepreneurs). In Kyrgyzstan the booming textile sector employs more than 200000 workers, who often work without clearly defined employment relations. In Azerbaijan, the Hidmet-Is union has been running educational campaigns and trainings and through these activities has been involving new members, including so non-traditional professions such as workers of religious institutions.

The participants brainstormed a set of recommendation that include, inter alia:
-  Organisation of tripartite seminars in the countries on informal employment to get social partners aboard;
-  Inclusion of informal economy challenges into ILO Decent Work country programmes by the union initiative; as well as into other related programmes the ILO is running – on migration, on child labour, on occupational health and safety;
-  Campaigning to get the related ILO Convention ratified by the countries, particularly the Convention No 189 on Domestic Workers;
-  Publishing and dissemination training and practical informational materials in Russian language, organising specific collective bargaining trainings for the leaders of the organisations of workers engaged in informal relations;
-  Generalisation of existing materials and experiences and dissemination of a simple set of materials on organising advantages;
-  Organisation of exchange visits for the leaders of the organisations so that they can study practical experiences of their colleagues from other countries;
-  Organisation of technical seminar on how the workers can use the mechanisms of the ILO;
-  Organisation of annual meeting of the leaders from different countries.

presentation Leppik
presentation Babaeva
presentation Boincean IUF
presentation musiolek CCC