The African Regional Consultation Workshop was held on the 13 -14 March at the COSATU house in Johannesburg. The intention of the workshop was to prepare informal workers on the discussions that will take place at the International Labour Conference (ILC) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in May-June this year. The workshop was organised by Women in Informal Employment, Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). The COSATU Vulnerable Workers Task Team hosted the workshop.
Globally, a majority of workers depend on the informal economy as a means of living. In South Africa, 1 in every 3 workers is an informal worker. And in some countries as many as 9 out 10 workers are in the informal economy. The Global economic crisis has contributed to the growth of the informal economy, as many people find themselves without jobs and are forced to find an alternative way to make a living. The informal economy has attracted the most vulnerable population groups including youth, older people, migrants, ethnic minorities and women.
At the workshop, informal workers participated in drafting a Platform containing their demands for discussion widely amongst informal workers and trade unionists, and for use at ILC 2014 in May-June. One of the objectives of the workshop was to identify avenues where informal workers can participate and play a meaningful role in the ILC process, before, during and after the ILC, and how trade unions can support them. This will help informal workers gain maximum exposure for their demands
Juan Somavia, former Director General of ILO defined the primary goal of the ILO is to promote opportunities for women and men, to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.
It is therefore important that the informal workers gain rights and protections as a step towards transitioning from the informal to the formal economy. Workers in the informal economy are vulnerable, as they often are not strongly organised, do not have rights to bargain with employers, government or local authorities. They lack social protection and often suffer from outdated and inappropriate laws and regulations. This results in harassment and a struggle to escape from poverty.
The workshop also gathered feedback from representatives of domestic workers, home-based workers, street vendors and waste pickers on issues relating to formalising the informal economy. Participants travelled to Johannesburg from Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Senegal, and different parts of South Africa, Togo and Guinea.
During the closing session at the workshop, feedback from the informal workers was positive. "We have a learnt a great deal from representatives who had experience in the ILC. Everyone had a chance to share their views, how the process of participating in the International Labour Conference works and to be prepared. We are empowered and motivated, as the ILO in the past did not take the informal economy seriously. Informal workers are workers as they work for their living. We deserve to have the same rights. We understand it is not going to be easy but we are ready to lobby and hopefully we will be recognised by the ILO and its constituencies for the important role we play in our countries!!”
Jane Barratt, who is an Affiliate Support Coordinator and Convener of the Vulnerable Workers Task Team for COSATU commented that although she has been a Trade Unionist for 32 years, learning does not stop. "I have to say in the past two days I have learnt a fortune. The comrades have given me great insight to all their challenges. I truly believe that with your involvement, new energy can be injected into the trade union movement!” she said
Barratt concluded the session by encouraging all present to not be discouraged and to keep on forging ahead.
WIEGO, is an international network that aims to improve the situation of informal workers, especially women, and StreetNet International played vital roles in facilitating the process of bringing people together so these discussions can take place and participants can take this valuable knowledge back to their countries, and implement them.
There will be two more workshops that will be held in Argentina and Thailand.
The dates for the two workshops in Argentina and Thailand are as follows:
19-21 March: Workshop in Buenos Aires, Argentina (hosted by CTEP – Confederación de Trabajadores en la Economía Popular)
22-23 March: Workshop in Bangkok, Thailand