ILO Future of Work Report highlights role of co-operatives in empowering workers

Workers in the informal economy have improved their situation through organising and working together with co-ops

Co-operatives are part of the solution to the many challenges faced by the world of work, according to a report by the Global Commission on the Future of Work.

The Work for a Brighter Future report identifies new forces transforming the world of work, such as technological advances, the greening of economies and changes in demographics.

In response, the commission proposes a human-centred agenda consisting of three pillars of increased investment – in people’s capabilities, the institutions of work, and decent and sustainable work.

In terms of institutions of work, the report suggests a Universal Labour Guarantee including fundamental workers’ rights, an “adequate living wage”, limits on hours of work and ensuring safe and healthy workplaces. It also encourages public policies that promote collective representation and social dialogue.

Calling for a transformative agenda for gender equality, the report argues that it is critical that women’s voices, representation and leadership are strengthened in both the formal and informal economy.

“Whether in the formal or informal economy, in government, workers’ organisations, employers’ organisations or co-operative ventures, women must be active participants in decision-making. We recommend that governments, employers, workers’ organisations and employers’ organisations actively pursue and support greater representation by women,” reads the text.

The commission also mentions that workers in the informal economy have often improved their situation through organising and working together with co-ops and community-based organisations.

“Workers’ organisations must adopt inclusive organising strategies, expanding membership to informal workers. This is both a pathway to formalisation and a tool for inclusion,” it says.

The commission began its work in October 2017 at the invitation of Guy Ryder, the director general of the International Labour Organization.

Related: Nathan Schneider on how co-ops can spread the benefits of automation

Members of the commission have a background in industry and in trade unions and they include Reema Nanavaty, leader of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a federation where she has been active since 1984. Acting as secretary general since 1999, Ms Nanavaty increased SEWA’s membership, making it the single largest union of informal sector workers. She also helped to establish thousands of women workers’ federations, associations, co-operatives, museums, retail chain companies, trade facilitation centres, digital clinics and management schools across India, we well as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

Launching the report, commission co-chair Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, president of South Africa, said it was the beginning of a process to help working people around the world grasp the changes to the world of work.

“People and the work they do must be at the centre of economic and social policy and business practice,” he said, adding that decent employment was inextricably linked to peace, prosperity and progress.

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