The European confederation of industrial and service co-operatives has published a report on the role of co-ops in responding to issues related to non-standard employment, such as precariousness, low income, insufficient social security coverage and workers’ isolation.
The report features case studies from countries including Belgium, Finland, France and Spain where co-ops are helping to tackle decent work deficits. It also looks at the challenges faced by independent, freelance workers, arguing that they are not sufficiently covered by political and institutional debates on non-standard employment.
In the UK 30 actors’ co-operative agencies are organised in the Co-operative Personal Management Association (CPMA), which was founded and supported by Equity, a national actors’ union. The co-ops, which provide connect work-seekers to employers, are run by the actors themselves, who often work in the office on a voluntary basis.
In Belgium, Smart co-operative enables freelancers, organisations and entrepreneurs to develop their activities by mutualising various services, offering them the best social protection while being autonomous. It provides administrative, financial and accountancy management services, insurance services, legal and consulting services, information and training, co-working spaces and mutual financial tools to freelancers who are mainly active in the creative sector and recently to people working through online platforms.
In Finland, Lilith, a co-operative of independent workers, takes care of all of the legal duties faced by employers. It also provides training courses, workshops, working spaces, tools and equipment, discounts on various products and services, networking opportunities, informal, social and recreational gatherings.
And in France, business and employment co-operatives offer similar services. Today, there are around 150 BECs in France, with 7,000 employee-entrepreneurs (entrepreneur-salarié) and 3,000 project holders with a support contract.
A similar model can also be found in Spain with business impulse co-operatives, which channel the entrepreneurial initiatives of their members and provide common services, creating an environment in which they are able to carry out their professional activity on a regular basis.
Platform co-ops such as Coop Cycle in Spain are also on the rise. Coop Cycle has developed a software connecting bike-delivery workers, clients and sellers. The software can only be used commercially by social and solidarity economy organisations such as co-ops, and these organisations must provide employment contracts to worker-members instead of simplified form of self-employment.
The report says these examples point to a better future of work in Europe, in close collaboration with trade unions, public authorities and other actors. Cecop urged member states to adopt adequate legal frameworks for worker-owned co-operatives, and to create a worker member status based on standard employment. It also says non-standard workers should be guaranteed access to adequate social protection regardless of the type and duration of their employment relationship, while dependent self-employed persons should be reclassified as employees.
Cecop also wants the European Commission and its member states to promote co-op responses and experiments as vehicles for decent work, to give special attention to the work and employment of independent workers, and to provide an adequate legal framework in favour of workers in the platform economy.