Care co-ops in the spotlight at the International Labour Conference 

Co-operatives play a key role in the provision of care in many countries

The 112th session of the International Labour Conference (ILC) discussed the issue of decent work in the care economy.

The co-operative movement was represented by the International Organisation of Industrial and Service Cooperatives (Cicopa), whose secretary general, Diana Dovgan addressed the meeting to talk about the role of co-ops within the care sector. Cicopa participated in the ILC on behalf of the International Cooperative Alliance, which holds an observer status at the ILO.

Coicopa recently published a statement in which it highlights the role of co-ops in providing “quality work to caregivers in a sector characterised by precarious working conditions” and ensuring “quality, affordable, uninterrupted care even to the most disadvantaged persons”. The apex is also calling on governments to form partnerships with co-ops.

Cicopa includes 52 members from 36 countries representing 65,000 enterprises that employ four million people. According to Cicopa, co-operatives play a key role in the provision of care in many countries. In Sweden, for example, 10% of childcare is provided by co-operatives. Similarly, in Spain 1,000 co-operatives provide care services via 500 residential and day centres with another 500 co-operatives providing home care. They directly employ 35,000 people and provide care to 67,000 persons.

Cicopa is calling on governments to promote and support integrated policies and investments into the co-operative provision of care; enable legal conditions for the creation and development of care co-operatives; support co-operatives in accessing government-funded care programs where available; invest in the development of care cooperative movements that engage community stakeholders in the development of local care co-operatives; and support co-operatives as key actors providing care in a formal environment.

The apex also points out that while co-operatives are private, autonomous enterprises, in many countries they regularly partner with public authorities on care service provision, in particular through public procurements. “Although it constitutes an important recognition, public procurement should not be the only possible form of collaboration between public administration and cooperatives in the care sector. A shift towards a more integrated partnership model, based on a joint analysis of community needs and long-term planning of services, is encouraged,” it said in the statement.

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Cicopa also warns that a significant increase in public investment is needed to address current and future challenges including an ageing demographic and potential future pandemics. “Investment is key in the social infrastructure for care, upskilling and reskilling of care workers, and in the green and digital transition of the care sector,” adds the statement.

With care services increasingly being provided through digital platforms, Cicopa also suggests that platform co-operatives be supported as a quality employment model for platform care workers, including through policy and financial instruments

“It is crucial that digitalisation and technological innovation are inclusive and accessible for even the most fragile and disadvantaged people,” the apex added.

StreetNet International, a global organisation of informal traders, some of whom are members of co-ops, also took part in the conversations around the care economy. StreetNet International president Lorraine Sibanda presented the joint statement of StreetNet and HomeNet, a global network of membership-based workers’ organisations to the tripartite Committee on Decent Work and the Care Economy.

She said: “Street vendors and home based workers have very different workplaces but equally suffer from the lack of care services, therefore it is essential to recognise them as workers and direct actors of social dialogue.” She called for “support the social and solidarity economy and co-operatives for childcare and elderly care services” and the ratification of ILO Home Work Convention 177 and the implementation of ILO Recommendation 204 concerning the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy and Recommendation C190 on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.

“We need to ensure access to care for all workers, formal and informal as well as protect the right of care workers in our unrelenting quest for dignity and decent work,” she said.

Ahead of the conference, StreetNet released a Position paper on behalf of global networks of informal economy workers in which it highlighted that workers in informal employment are less likely to benefit from social protection that supports care provision, such as maternity protections, health-care coverage, pensions, and child, disability and sickness benefits. The paper calls on governments to extend maternity protections to self-employed workers in informal employment, expand high-quality public child-care services for workers in informal employment, and provide long-term care services and social protection for older workers.

StreetNet also wants labour and social protections to be extended to child-care workers and community healthcare workers who form the backbone of care services and are often women in informal employment.

The paper concludes by asking for the inclusion of organisations of workers in informal employment in decision-making processes and be able to negotiate collectively on issues that impact them.

“Organisations of workers in informal employment actively engage in broad civil society coalitions calling for universal social protection and high-quality public care services. This advocacy is strengthened through the collaboration of trade unions and organisations of workers in informal employment,” reads the paper.