The Voice for the Voiceless

21 February, 2017

Pictured is Jeannette Nyiramasengesho, SYTRIECI President and StreetNet International Council Member

Jeannette Nyiramasengesho, StreetNet International Council Member and a President of SYTRIECI, StreetNet Affiliate from Rwanda, shares experience on working with refugees in her country.

Sister Jeannette states: “Here in our country we continue our work for informal workers even if it is not an easy task, but we try to be the voice for the voiceless. This month we have reinforced negotiations with the Kigali city about the issue of street vendors.

We also had a meeting with the informal workers-refugees from Burundi who are working now in Kigali and we tried our best to organize them. However, we still need to find some ally organizations which can help them to have a good start.

The SYTRIECI leaders met with the Burundian refugees-street vendors and market vendors in January 2017 and found out more details about their lives since they entered Rwanda.

The Burundian refugees had to leave Burundi between April and December, 2015 at the same time thinking that the chaos would not take longer so that they could go back to their homes in Burundi. Unfortunately the violence persisted up till now. After losing hope and realizing that their financial situations were going too low, and because some of them used to do trade in Bujumbura, they decided to use their remaining little amount of money as the capital so that they could survive more few days ahead.

They couldn’t continue to stay in the Burundian refugee camp at Mahama as some aid they are being given is sometimes not enough for them and their families so it becomes necessary for the parents to find further survival means.

They are grateful to UNHCR for its help even though is not enough and they mentioned that the UNHCR help them by providing some food, and healthcare only to the children under 12 years old and to those with incurable diseases, etc.

There is a number of challenges that Burundian refugees are facing while doing trade activities and which are still a serious problem to them: a very low capital; lack of renting plot fees; doing trade on streets; lack of experience; being not recognized by the group leaders; being chased away by their fellow traders.

SYTRIECI consider this category of people as strong enough for deciding to find ways of surviving even though they do it in such a very difficult situation. SYTRIECI found it necessary as its duty to organize street and market vendors towards their brighter future.

However, there is also a number of needs, which have to be mentioned and addressed: help for refugees’ recognition into the market through formed groups; advocacy to the officials for tax reduction within a given period of time; trainings on doing business, savings and accessing loan schemes; circulating loan that would enable them to uplift their lives as a group.

Today SYTRIECI is helping by organizing them in order to be recognized by the authorities and for a better way to advocate for them where and when it is necessary. Up to now SYTRIECI asked the refugees who are already involved on street trading activities, first to bring the copy of their refugee status so that it might be clear that they are refugees, to identify them accordingly to what they sell on lists, to adhere the small groups of where they operate from and to elect those who are to lead them in order to ease the process of circulating information”.

Moving forward with new StreetNet International Council

30 January 2017

By Oksana Abboud, StreetNet Media Officer

Pictured are StreetNet Council members during the Leadership Training

A three day Leadership Training for the members of StreetNet International Council took place on 23-25 January in Durban, South Africa.

The training program was aimed on getting new Council members to be familiar with StreetNet structure, policies and power as well as outlining strategic areas for the next three years.

The training method was participatory, with participants breaking into language based groups who had to read through the clauses of the StreetNet Constitution which describes the roles of the office bearers (clauses 9.5 to 9.9), as well as the powers and duties of the International Council (clause 10.6), and the StreetNet policies.

Pictured are StreetNet Council members during the Leadership Training

The groups reported back describing the relevant Constitutional clauses and developed some suggestions which included the following:

  • Greater clarity needed on International Council member responsibilities, particularly in relation to regional authority and responsibility e.g. Council members should be responsible for bringing in new organisations from the region into StreetNet, and should be able to travel to other countries in the region;
  • Policies should be more concise;
  • Code of Conduct is comprehensive and needs no additions.

The Fundraising strategy and information about specific donors was presented by Pat Horn, StreetNet International Coordinator, which turned into a lively discussion among participants and resulted in proposals’ list to be discussed at the International Council Meeting on 26-27 January.

Pat Horn emphasized that while approaching the donors, we have to create confidence and make sure that we are continuing to evolve in a way that is collectively supported by the leadership. Donors get very worried if old decisions, obligations and planning are abandoned by new leadership.

She also reminded that a big task for the coming period is to raise funds, as currently there is very little money in the StreetNet’s pot.

Day two of the StreetNet Leadership Training was aimed at Strategic Planning. Jane Barret, WIEGO International Coordinator was facilitating the whole day sessions.

Pictured are StreetNet Council members during the Leadership Training

The participants were working on the following issues: Impacting on laws and urban policies through collective negotiations; how to roll out to all StreetNet affiliates using the New Urban Agenda; Implementation of R204; gaining access into tripartite forums; extension of social protection; social solidarity economy structures. The Council Members also discussed the issue of regional impact and informal cross-border traders, regional alliances, how to roll out to more regions. Consolidating a strategic plan for current International Council mandate was successfully achieved.

The third Day of the Training was focused on management of resources in order to equip the new leadership to lead on these issues, and to make any recommendations for amendments to the systems in the International Council meeting. Pat Horn, StreetNet International Coordinator introduced to the Council Members the issue of Resources Management and Annelene Muhammad Shafi, Financial Administrator clearly briefed about current StreetNet financial situation.

During the evaluation session, the participants expressed their views and satisfaction about the training, pointing on learning a lot of useful and necessary knowledge about StreetNet functioning and other interesting topics.

Leadership of Ubumbano Traders’ Alliance, StreetNet affiliate from Durban, visited the Training to greet a new StreetNet President and the Council Members.

Pictured is StreetNet International Council during its Meeting in Durban

On 26-27 January, StreetNet International Council took place in StreetNet Office in Durban.

Lorraine Sibanda, StreetNet President professionally chaired the Council Meeting which had a lot of items on its agenda.

The first Council Meeting was held successfully as all the agenda issues were discussed and agreed by the Council members.

The Council also adopted a Draft Strategic Plan which indicates main four strategic focus areas for StreetNet work going forward. The strategic areas are the following:

  • Using collective negotiations and other related strategies of mobilization and pressure to influence laws and urban policies in favour of street vendors and other informal workers;
  • Implementing ILO Recommendation 204 at country level including gaining access to tripartite forums, extension of social protection and advancing social solidarity economy structures;
  • Building regional solidarity between StreetNet affiliates across borders and building regional alliances to advance the interests of cross-borders informal traders;
  • Continue growing and developing StreetNet International.

International Coordinator’s report and recommendations have been also supported and adopted by the International Council.

Happy New Year 2017!!!

Dear Affiliates

Happy New Year 2017!!!

May this year will be full of success for all of us and street vendors’ rights will be respected and recognized in each country!

Nothing for Us without Us!

Ukrainian small entrepreneurs ask to stop violence and to let them work to feed their families!

28 December 2016

Pictured is Mrs. Valentyna Korobka, FTUEU Chairwoman

Free Trade Union of Entrepreneurs of Ukraine (FTUEU), a StreetNet affiliate from Ukraine, reports about continuous violence and harm towards its members and other market/street vendors in Ukraine, namely in Kyiv city – the Ukrainian capital.

Kyiv Local Administration talks about so called “beautification of the city” development program and started to dismantle trading booths and local markets from their locations, which is aimed to pave the way for the establishment of a new entertainment center.

Bizarrely, the small business entrepreneurs and market traders have never been informed in advance neither about the plan to destroy their working places, nor about any relocation plan perspective.

Consequently, an immense conflict started to take place between the Kyiv City Council and the large and small businesses concerning the placing of trade stalls. It has to be noted that the local authorities together with employees of the National Police of Ukraine often, in contrary to the applicable law, support the large businesses only. This leads to cases of theft or destruction of property of small entrepreneurs, injury and even death of people.

Pictured are destroyed trading places of small markets in Kyiv city

On December 17, while attempting to demolish the stalls at the market near the metro station "Kyiv Polytechnic Institute", local clashes erupted with police which resulted in an injury of at least one trader.

On December 20, a number of small entrepreneurs were injured by police officers as a result of local clashes during a peaceful gathering in front of the Kyiv City Council.

On December 22, as a result of collisions of small entrepreneurs and volunteer battalions with police, while trying to pull down trade stalls at the market near the metro station "Kyiv Polytechnic Institute", one woman was hospitalized and two police officers got injured.

Later, on December 25, 2016 during the fire at Lisovy second-hand market, one woman died and 11 people were injured. This case and a number of other aggressive actions towards traders which took place at other Kyiv markets of Darnytsia and Kharkivsky districts, is totally in violation of related Ukrainian Laws and all ILO Conventions and Recommendations. According to some witnesses, it was an arson fire.

Pictured are destroyed trading places of small markets in Kyiv city

The above was just some examples of recent violent cases involved “traders” issue in Kiev city.

“Though the small business entrepreneurs have to suffer so much in order to survive and to fight so hard for keeping their livelihoods. They don’t violate the laws or regulations of the country, and though they are those people who created jobs living for themselves, it seems that the authorities have set a plan for closing all routs for their survival and for depriving them from finding any means for living along with their families”, – says Valentyna Korobka.

FTUEU, with support of its umbrella organization – Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine- held the urgent Press-Conference to draw attention of the City Local Administration, General Prosecutor’s Office and Members of Parliament to stop violence towards small entrepreneurs and traders and to start immediate investigation process of those incidents which caused even the death of one trader.

Valentyna Korobka, FTUEU Chairwoman clearly announced all demands on behalf of small entrepreneurs to Ukrainian authority and called on traders to mobilize and unite as only traders themselves can and have to protect their rights and interests.

StreetNet International has already expressed its concern to the Mayor of Kyiv and the Speaker of Ukrainian Parliament with appeals for their consideration of the issues rose above. StreetNet requested the Officials to facilitate the investigation process with regard to the above-mentioned cases, and to take measures to persuade the Kviv City Council to adopt a more inclusive way of dealing with street/market vendors in Kyiv through negotiations with Free Trade Union of Entrepreneurs of Ukraine (FTUEU) and Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) representatives.

FTUEU has its own supporters and allies around the country. Thus, a Coalition of human rights’ Organizations of Ukraine also calls on all parties to begin negotiations as soon as possible to stop the violence on the streets and return to the legal field. It also expressed some recommendations for the government and National Police of Ukraine.

Information provided by the FTUEU.

Strengthening our internal organizational democracy

2 December, 2016

By Pat Horn, StreetNet International Coordinator

Pat Horn, StreetNet International Coordinator

StreetNet was launched on 14th November 2002, and has held 5 international congresses every three years in accordance with the StreetNet Constitution – in 2004 in Korea, 2007 in Brazil, 2010 in Benin, 2013 in Chile, and in 2016 in India. This is an important part of maintaining our organizational democracy. But does this mean that our work of strengthening our internal organizational democracy is done?

If we are listening to what StreetNet’s affiliates are saying, the answer is NO. Since the Fifth StreetNet International Congress in Delhi, India, in October 2016, we have had many expressions of dissatisfaction about undemocratic practices that were observed in the Congress, despite the Congress being held in compliance with StreetNet’s constitution, policies and established practices. Dissatisfaction has been expressed about the “slate” system (an electioneering tactic whereby certain participants pass around lists of who should be elected, during democratic elections), punitive electioneering behaviour on the part of some delegates, electioneering through spread of misinformation on the part of other delegates, and failure to uphold the principle and established StreetNet practice of equitable regional distribution of office-bearer positions in the International Council. It should be stressed that there is no official complaint demanding a nullification of the elections which took place at the Congress. However, any democratic organization ignores such expressions of dissatisfaction at their peril. So we have resolved that we must listen to our members, create a safe and transparent space where they can express themselves without fear of victimization, and we are asking for suggestions for ways of strengthening weaknesses in our internal democracy.

StreetNet’s West and Central African Regional Focal Point convened a post-Congress teleconference, where a frank analysis of the congress was done, starting with a frank self-criticism of the lack of unity between delegates in their own region. They went on to critique of the quality of French interpretation, and also the last-minute logistical organisation with regard to tickets and visa arrangements, and poor communications. For these inconveniences StreetNet coordination has taken full responsibility and apologized to the Regional Focal Point.

The critique went on to mention observations about lack of democratic conduct by some participants – without going into detail.
In retrospect, we realised that we have not been sufficiently active in publicising the StreetNet Code of Conduct and advising our members how to defend their democratic rights using this Code of Conduct. So we are now rectifying this by circulating the Code of Conduct to all StreetNet affiliates and asking for feedback (which will be kept anonymous unless specified otherwise by the organisation concerned) with regard to the following questions:

  1. Do you feel that the Code of Conduct was well observed during the Fifth StreetNet International Congress?
  2. If not, can you give examples of which clauses you believe were breached by staff or delegates?
  3. What are your suggestions to StreetNet to ensure that the Sixth StreetNet International Congress in 2019 will be more democratic than the last one in 2016?
  4. Are there missing elements which you feel need to be added to the Code of Conduct?
  5. What is your view about the “slate” practice during democratic elections?
  6. Any other concerns/comments.

In future, we will include the Code of Conduct in the documents packages of every StreetNet event – and all participants will be made aware of their rights in accordance with the Code of Conduct, and those who step out of line can be guided by their fellow delegates using the Code of Conduct, at the time of the problem. We hope that this will increase the level of trust and confidence of our members about the protection of their democratic rights, as well as the level of understanding of all delegates about the ethical limits which apply to the exercise of democratic rights. In the meantime, we hope that there will be a transparent debate about this issue, so that we can do better during the Sixth StreetNet International Congress.

Click here to find a full version of the Code of Conduct: http://www.streetnet.org.za/docs/policydocs/2016/en/coc-eng.pdf

Streetnet holds successful Regional Workshop in LAOS

28 November, 2016

By Oksana Abboud – StreetNet Organizer

Pictured is a group of all participants attending the Workshop

StreetNet held a successful Regional Workshop on Organizing Informal Workers, on 21-22 November 2016 in Vientiane City, Laos. The workshop was part of a StreetNet-OXFAM partnership.

40 participants attended the workshop which Oksana Abboud, StreetNet Organiser, facilitated.

The main aims of the workshops were:

  • To understand how to organise workers in the informal economy and conduct collective bargaining;
  • To learn about international experiences and best practices in other countries;
  • To understand the role of trade unions in transitioning from the informal to the formal economy;
  • Planning a programme and the way forward;
  • Information-sharing on the informal economy.

Participants were welcomed by Mr. Simoon Ounlasy, Vice-President of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), Mr. Inpeng Meunvieth, Acting Director of its International Relations Department and Mr. Antonino Faibene, Programme Manager of the Oxfam office in Laos.

Mr Ounlasy highlighted the importance of informal sector workers, their contribution to the country’s national economy and the challenges the LFTU faces in organising informal sector workers in Laos. The country’s Trade Union Law doesn’t mention informal workers and their right to be organised. LFTU plans to amend this law to include "informal workers” in its definition. He pointed out that informal workers outnumber formal workers and are an important source of worker power. When street vendors are brought into society, they become formal workers – a development which can be beneficial in financial terms, i.e. they pay taxes. The budget from the government to help street vendors is insufficient; support from other parties is needed.

Pictured are (from left to right) Mr. Simoon Ounlasy, LFTU Vice-President, Mr. Antonino Faibene, Programme Manager of the Oxfam office in Laos and Mr. Inpeng Meunvieth, Acting Director of LFTU International Relations Department

70 % of Laos’ workforce is active in the informal sector, said Mr Antonino of Oxfam. 90 % of these are women, who often lack skills and knowledge and are vulnerable. The Government has not taken any concrete actions to address their situation.

Mrs. Souphone Voravong presented research – ‘Street vendors in Vientiane City’, Laos" – by UN Women, which underlined the substantial growth Laos had made in its GDP over the last few years. This is needed, she said, to help women get income, make them less vulnerable and let them feel they are protected, appreciated and welcomed by society and government. She also suggested training on credit and negotiations for women street vendors, building their capacity, self-esteem and self-respect to strengthen them.

The workshop comprised seven activities. The first was introductory. The rest was made up of small working groups which discussed and developed different tasks around organizing and negotiations in informal economy sector.

Workshop participants while working in groups

The groups first discussed the need to organise workers in the informal economy . Central to this was understanding the specificities of organising in the context of the informal economy, developing appropriate organising strategies and responses for informal economy workers and developing and understanding key skills and abilities required by good organisers.

The groups next discussed addressing the needs and demands of informal economy workers through collective negotiations aimed at gaining a better understanding of some of their problems and demands. They also examined the importance of direct representation in collective negotiations for informal economy workers.

Next, the working groups identified three issues of their sector workers and had to translate these into demands for negotiations. The facilitator explained how this process is done, through simply re-phrasing the issues. She emphasised the use of specific wording as demands should be realistic and aimed at achieving maximum success. This is especially important for an organisation at the beginning of negotiations.

Lessons from trade unions in other countries on organizing in the informal economy, followed. Participants used cases studies to examine how trade unions around the world organised in this sector. This exercise was to enable them to develop their own thinking and ideas around organizing in the informal economy.

Workshop participants while working in groups

One of the most crucial ILO documents, Recommendation 204, was also discussed and analysed. ILO Recommendation 204 focuses on transitioning from the informal to the formal economy. This activity was important for understanding the meaning and concept of the informal economy, organising within it and the requirements for an effective transition from the informal to formal economy. The groups had to read ILO Recommendation 204, identify the formalisation elements, most progressive clauses and the missing elements in it. Most participants found this task difficult.

To help, the facilitator spoke on the key strategic gains of ILO Recommendation 204, which were very progressive and good for informal workers. She also mentioned those clauses which could harm them, and issues which were missing in the Recommendation, e.g. the lack of inclusion at local level authority level.

The last but very important activity, was developing a union strategy for informal economy workers. Participants revisited earlier discussions in order to develop a clear strategy and practical action plan directed towards achieving the vision of the different union groups, in the future.

The working groups drew up their action plans, defining their target groups and key priorities. They presented the step by step actions needed to organise informal workers and to overcome the obstacles they face in building their strategy.

During the workshop evaluation, participants expressed their happiness at learning about organising informal workers, and about ILO instruments. The workshop had offered them a chance to express their own views; however, learning about other countries’ experiences was a bonus. Vietnamese and Cambodian delegates had added value to the workshop by sharing their experiences in organising informal economy workers.

Workshop participants while working in groups

In his closing speech, Mr. Simoon Ounlasy stated that LFTU would implement the acquired knowledge and skills fruitfully in its trade union activity. He hoped for further support from both OXFAM and StreetNet International.

The Regional Workshop was successful and very useful for the LFTU participants who had just started learning about organising informal economy workers. Their leadership understands the importance of and need for organising informal workers in Laos; they have a great willingness to learn about this to move forward.

Lastly, StreetNet thanks Khamphy Khammvong, Oxfam Programme Officer in Laos. His dedicated preparatory work made this Regional event possible.