by Oksana Abboud, StreetNet Organizer
On April 23 – 24, 2014, in the framework of the FLOW Project (Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women), a fund that has been created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands to improve the position of women in developing countries, Federation of Trade Unions of Azerbaijan Xhidmat-ISH, StreetNet Affiliate, conducted the Regional Workshop on Social Solidarity Economy. This was held in Baku, Azerbaijan
In times of a current global crisis: the confrontation with today’s challenges, such as high unemployment rates, increasing inequality, unacceptable conditions of people living in poverty and continuing global warming – oblige us to reconsider the economic and social development practices. Workers around the world are taking steps to form their own economic reality by doing business and creating jobs. And often it takes place in close cooperation with trade union organisations.
Taking into account the fact that such a notion as social solidarity economy is not the common issue for the current region, the workshop organisers decided to provide general information on this subject, focusing on the following: concept of social solidarity economy; cooperatives and trade unions – a partnership to achieve common goals.
In order to strengthen connections, exchange and coordination mechanisms necessary to implement solutions to the problems of the informal trade sector, the event organizers decided to invite representatives of StreetNet member organisations from Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
One of the issues at the workshop was a discussion of the topic "a gradual transition from the informal to the formal economy," which will be also considered at the ILO Conference in 2014. That’s why the organisers invited the representative of the ILO Moscow Office for receiving expert presentation on this and other important issues.
The aims of the workshop were:
- To share experiences and knowledge for the design of strategies for the implementation of a model of social solidarity economy in each of our countries.
- To discuss and develop a common view of the issue “gradual transition from informal into formal economy” among StreetNet affiliates in the region;
- To debate and to move towards the next stage of discussion of the topic “Establishing a Regional Focal Point for Europe”.
The Regional Workshop was attended by the leaders of StreetNet Affiliates from Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Ukraine. The rest of participants represented Xhidmat-ISH from Azerbaijan.
All 35 participants had an opportunity to become familiar with StreetNet priorities and structure; To raise their awareness on the SSE issue, to share the informal economy situation (focusing on trade sector) in their countries and to share their own valuable experience of work.
During the first session of the workshop “Informal Economy in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA). ILO Conference 2014 “Transitioning from informal to formal economy”, Ms. Julia Surina, Employment Unit Officer, ILO Moscow Office, made a presentation about ILO activity and provided participants with ILO definition of “informal economy”, different “informality” factors, categories of workers engaged in informal economy and decent work strategy towards transition to formal economy. She also mentioned the ILO Conference 2014 and its main topic for discussion – Transitioning from Informal to the Formal Economy.
Ms. Savil Zeynalova, Lawyer of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Azerbaijan (AHIK) where Xhidmat-ISH is affiliated to, introduced the main amendments to the Tax Code and Labour Code of Azerbaijan passed at the end of December, 2013 and which mainly focus on “eradication” of informal employment in Azerbaijan. Some of the amendments can be really considered as severe and discriminatory measures imposed by such legislation.
The WIEGO Platform document (Version 1) has been also introduced at the workshop. The participants discussed this document and agreed on its provisions especially regarding the chapter of “demands from street vendors”. However, after working in groups, union leaders added some important items to the demands of street vendors, namely:
- social protection floor for all the workers;
- recognition of informal workers as workers;
- simplified taxation system;
- right to participate in decision making processes at local level;
- protection from harassment and racketeering.
Second session of the workshop was devoted to the Social Solidarity Economy. It’s concept and general understanding.
Oksana Abboud, StreetNet Organiser for Europe and Asia made the presentation about general concept of Social Solidarity Economy, which was based on the ILO Reader 2010 “Social and Solidarity Economy: Building a Common Understanding”. Such documents as StreetNet Resolution on SSE, ILO Recommendation 193 “On Promotion of Cooperatives” (2002) have been also introduced to the attention of participants.
Since “Cooperatives” are the most common form of enterprises and organizations of the SSE for trade unions and StreetNet affiliates, I focused on the “cooperatives”, their values, principles and types.
During discussion, some of the participants started to relate the cooperatives of SSE to the cooperatives which existed during the Soviet Union (USSR) times. However, existence of such cooperatives in the USSR defined their interaction not with a private capital (as it was in other countries) but with a monopoly public sector of the economy. In 1921, after the USSR adopted its New Economic Policy (NEP), namely cooperatives began to create the bulk of consumer goods. But it was impossible for cooperatives to develop their own production activity as the state totally controlled a distribution of raw materials.
The participants showed their interest to the issue of SSE and mainly to the cooperative enterprises and asked their regional Organizer to collect some good examples of such cooperatives in the EECA region in order to get their experience on creating and activity.
During the second day of the event, the participants discussed the topic of StreetNet Regional Focal Point for Europe, the main goal of which was to move forward in this issue and mainly exercise on each country of the region in choosing the RFP for Europe.
According to the first stage of discussion on this issue (in 2013 in Bishkek city), the participants managed to agree that the RFP for Europe has to be in “Russian speaking country”.
So, after working in groups, the participants succeeded to define that the most possible countries and Affiliates in those countries for being chosen as RFP for Europe are: Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine.
As a conclusion we can say that one more step has been made forward regarding the issue of RFP for Europe and it is possible that by the end of the year 2014 or beginning of 2015 the final decision can be made by the Eastern European affiliates towards this issue.
The issue of “Lobbying center” for the StreetNet was also mentioned and the delegates supported the idea that this Center has to be located in some Western European country, such as Spain, where StreetNet already has its Affiliate. The lobbying, especially in such institutions as European Parliament or European Commission is very needed and significant thing for both Streetnet and informal workers in general.
Each participant expressed his/her own opinion as to how properly coordinate and maintain cooperation among affiliates in this region.
The main purposes of the Regional Workshop have been reached and affiliates raised their awareness on SSE and some other issues as well as started to understand better StreetNet International from the insight.
All participants expressed their gratitude to the organizers for the useful and needed workshop and their wish to meet more often.
Particular thanks goes to the ILO Moscow Office, namely Sergeyus Glovackas, for financial and technical assistance in the implementation of this activity, as well as the Federation of Trade Unions of Azerbaijan Xhidmat-ISH for organising and hosting a regional workshop.