How are cooperatives making a difference to the world of work?

Coops can enable workers in a world of informal and precarious work

Accounting for 10% of the world’s employed population, the cooperative movement has the potential to change the world of work.

During a plenary at the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) International Conference in Kigali, delegates were introduced to some of the innovative models of work organisation pioneered by cooperatives.

Ann Hoyt of NCBA-CLUSA gave examples of US cooperatives making a difference to the world of work. She explained how the National Information Solutions Cooperative offers advanced and innovative IT systems to suit different needs.

Meanwhile platform cooperatives such Stocksy extend democratic ownership by harnessing technology to empower producers.

Likewise in Belgium, Smart, also a platform cooperative, provides social protection and back-office services to 40,000 freelance workers across nine countries in Europe.

Anne-Laure Desgris, a member of the cooperative, said 2% of the revenues were allocated to a guarantee fund to support freelancers in case they are not paid by different clients, particularly those working as delivery drivers.

Reema Nanavati from the Self Employed Women’s Association (Sewa) in India said that while workers in the informal economy were entrepreneurs, they lacked visibility.

Sewa has been organising women in the informal economy for over four decades. “These workers are among the poorest of the poor,” said Ms Nanavati, adding that many pursued more than one trade. An agriculture worker is often also an artisan maker.

The report of the ILO global commission on decent work suggests workers in informal economy can improve their livelihoods by working together as members of cooperatives. And governments across the world are supporting the sector.

Andollahi Bahman from the Iran Chamber of Cooperatives revealed that employment in the coop sector has increased. The movement has a long history in Iran, with the first coops dating back to 1924.

The government is currently placing a strong emphasis on the pursuit and implementation of a national policy on decent work. And coops are seen as key actors in achieving this.

“The employment created in the coop sector in Iran is fully compatible with the principle of decent work,” he said.

Similarly in Rwanda, coops operate across different sectors of the economy. Workers in the informal economy who join savings and credit cooperatives (SACCOs) or insurance coops have access to formal services and training. Producers and entrepreneurs join shared services coops. In 2017 Rwanda approved a decent work country programme for the next five years.

Coops will make a “great contribution to achieving those targets for decent work,” thinks Faustin Mwambari, Director of Labour Research and Employment Promotion at the Ministry of Public Service and Labour.

The government has set a target to create 1.2 million jobs in seven years, with coops identified as a key sector for employment generation.

While informal and precarious work continue to remain predominant in many countries, coops can enable workers in the informal economy to achieve scale and even bid for public tenders, said Mr Mwambari.

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