Workers at the heart of people-centred business

Co-op News looks at issues surrounding employment and the co-operative movement

In 1919 the International Labour Organization was founded to advance social justice and promote decent work by setting international labour standards. As it celebrates its centenary this year – and as 1 May marked International Workers Day – this issue we put workers front and centre.

But ‘workers’ means different things in different organisations, even within co-operative organisations and structures. ‘Worker-owned’ and ‘employee-owned’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but have different consequences for participation, rights and benefits. Co-operatives UK policy officer, James Wright, and Deb Oxley, chief executive of the Employee Ownership Association, are among those discussing the differences.

This year’s Ways Forward conference also focused on workers, from sociocracy models of worker governance to union-co-op collaborations – and looked at how workers in Syria and Mississippi are using the co-operative model as a tool of revolution and liberation. This is happening in India, too, where the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) has been helping women in the informal economy since 1972.

We also hear from co-operative consultant Alex Bird, who asks if workers should have a bigger stake in consumer co-ops, and from Amanda Gibbons, personnel manager at Heart of England, who is focusing on colleague training and development, along with retention of staff.

As part of the ILO’s 100th anniversary, we speak with Simel Esim, who heads the organisation’s Cooperatives Unit , and from Hagen Henrÿ, chair of the ICA’s Co-operative Law Committee, who edited the third edition of the ILO’s Guidelines for Cooperative Legislation.

Also in this issue author and journalist Andrew Bibby reports on an exhibition in Catalonia which explores the region’s co-operative heritage, while Paul Gosling looks at the regulatory failures behind the Co-op Bank debacle on the back of Mark Zelmer’s investigation into the FSA and PRA.