8 June 2015
StreetNet is an international federation of 52 organisations of street vendors, informal market vendors and hawkers in 46 countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Eastern Europe, representing 567 464 paid-up members. Most of the workers in our sector are self-employed.
It has been difficult for ILO to provide our sector with meaningful instruments to help us to achieve decent work – because of the tripartite structure of the ILO, designed for employees in formal employment relationships. So when the discussion on transitions from the informal to the formal economy was placed on the agenda of the International Labour Conference in 2014, we saw the opportunity to participate in the discussions to ensure that we finally get an ILO Recommendation addressing the situation of self-employed (own-account) workers.
In this Recommendation we have won recognition for our rights to the use of public space, which is our principal workplace. We hope that the recognition of this right in an official ILO instrument will assist street vendors and informal traders throughout the world to be able to work without constant harassment and evictions from their workplaces.
We welcome the "future of work" centenary initiative of the Director General, and the fact that it recognises the "increasing probability that various permanent forms of self-employment will become alternative destinations". We believe there are two major challenges which face the ILO in continuing to remain relevant in this future work scenario.
1. Becoming more effective at local government level
Like all United Nations bodies, ILO works at two levels – international and national. However, the level of government which has most impact on the lives of workers in the informal economy is local government. Currently ILO instruments do not address the role and responsibilities of local government, save for general pronouncements about the importance of different levels of government coordinating their work. Our first challenge to the ILO is to break new ground and start engaging seriously with local governments as the implementing agencies for policies and measures which form part of transitions from the informal to the formal economy.
2. Adapting tripartite structures to become more inclusive of new kinds of workers
In the years since StreetNet was first accredited to attend the International Labour Conference in 2004, we have made many efforts to get recognition for the rights of own-account workers to be directly represented by their own democratically-elected negotiators in collective negotiations with the appropriate negotiations counterparts who hold power over their working conditions – and these are not employers, but authorities such as local government authorities. However, our experience is that incumbent representatives of the traditional employed workforce are not yet ready grasp the challenge of establishing new types of bargaining forums which are more representative of the workers in the informal economy and new forms of work, least of all self-employed workers.
Our second challenge to the ILO for the next centenary is to find ways for tripartite structures to adapt so as to increase their level of representivity of workers in these new forms of work.
"Nothing for us without us!"
I thank you.