The ILO International Labour Conference 2021: Why StreetNet stood for social security for all?

Between the 3rd and the 19th of June of this year, the first part of the 109th International Labor Conference – ILC took place, historically held each year by the International Labor Organization – ILO in the same period, and which this time took place online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Once again, the world of work, made up of workers, employers and governments, gathered in debates organized by the ILO to discuss the main challenges and guidelines to be taken by the world. This time, a Recommendation or Convention was not being discussed, but the debate on social security.

StreetNet prepared its leaders, and joined with other global networks representing workers in the informal economy, such as Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing – Wiego, HomeNet International, International Domestic Workers Federation, The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers – GlobalRec and ever present in international spaces and also our affiliate the Self-Employed Women’s Association – SEWA, to work collectively and tirelessly to defend three central points in defense of guaranteeing social security for workers in the informal economy: 1. Equal representation; 2. Universal Social Protection and; 3. Collective and solidarity financing of social protection.

These three key demands bring together principles that we believe are fundamental to our members in a world that has experienced the greatest pandemic in its recent history, which is facing a massive number of unemployment, the increase of the informal economy and more and more human beings working without guarantee of rights. The global networks developed a  position paper on “Extending Social Protection to Women and Men in the Informal Economy”, available in: EnglishFrançaisPortuguêsрусский, and Español.

We defend the direct representation of informal economy workers’ organizations, because we have seen that many formalization efforts seen in the world since Recommendations 202 and 204 did not include informal economy workers in decision-making spaces on the subject, which led to the failure of the proposed schemes. As we always repeat: Nothing for us in us. We press for universal social protection, understanding that the public policies adopted to protect workers must also be extended to workers in the informal economy, after all, we are workers. Last but not least, we fight for collective and solidarity financing of social protection, strongly supporting the proposal put forward by the ILO to create a global fund for social protection, understanding that rich countries can contribute to the construction of social protection systems in poorer countries. We argue that the structure that will be created to manage this fund must be broadly representative and include organizations of informal economy workers.

Active participation of the StreetNet delegation

The participation of StreetNet leaders was intense. The delegations was formed by comrades  Lorraine Sibanda, president, Alberto Santana, vice president, Oksana Abboud, International Coordinator, Annie Diouf, treasurer and Jeannette Nyiramasengesho, International Council member. Our representatives bravely took the demands of street vendors and markets in debates, joint reflections, numerous plenary sessions and collective constructions. On June 11, our president, Lorraine Sibanda, spoke at the plenary session alongside world leaders. See the video below.

In her speech, Lorraine denounced the disastrous impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our members, street and markets vendors: “Covid-19 poses overwhelming difficulties for informal economy workers, many of whom have no access to either Legal or Social Protections, including healthcare and public services –  yet they have had to endure restrictions on their right to work.”

In addition to mentioning the difficulties resulting from work restrictions, Lorraine exposed the issue of the impact of the pandemic on women, who are the most affected since without a care network, they had to bear the extra burden of being responsible for the housework and taking care of their families, in addition of finding ways to earn a living, an enormous burden. In addition, she reported to the world that decrease of the demand for goods and services as people were prevented from shopping in the streets and markets, resulted in the sellers losing capital and livelihoods, running out of livelihood alternative.

To make matters worse, in the vast majority of countries where cash transfer measures were taken by governments to cushion the impact of people’s lack of livelihoods, they left out workers in the informal economy, those who most needed.

All these difficulties reiterate the need for a major transformation in the world of work so that social protection for all is guaranteed.

Annie Diouf, our treasurer, also did a speech on the CDR – Tripartite Committee on Recurrent Discussion on Social Security and spoke out to the world that StreetNet international, in its 6th International Congress adopted a Resolution on the Extension of Social Protection for Informal Economy Workers.

She argues that “Extending the social protection for all informal economy workers is a growing priority for governments and multilateral agencies. Thus, the most crucial challenges for all informal economy workers which prevent their full implementation and exercising of their workers’ rights and interests remains the same: lack of recognition by their national governments, lack of legal and social protection, lack of political will to move towards gradual formalization strategies, exclusion from direct representation of informal economy workers at all levels of social dialogue, limited access to public spaces and infrastructure to running their small-scale businesses, daily evictions of street vendors, which is usually accompanied by violent and brutal actions”.

StreetNet’s participation went even further, taking part in the side event that takes place in this occasion, the Nordic School. Jeannette Nyiramasengesho represented SNI and contributed by bringing StreetNet’s perspective to comrades around the world. She reported the pandemic’s negative impact on street and markets vendors, citing country cases and responses that StreetNet International gave to Covid-19 as such: collecting data and Information from its affiliates; facilitate communication and experience sharing between its affiliates; encouraging its affiliates to collaborate with their governments and other actors for Economic recovery plans; and initiation of online campaigns for crowdfunding. Also presented SNI strategies and advocacy for informal economy workers, recommendations and best practices found among our affiliates.

Where did we arrive and where are we going?

At the end of the Conference, the ILO has launched a final outcome document which has been adopted by the Tripartite Committee on the Recurrent discussion on Social Security, the “Reports of the Recurrent Discussion Committee: Social protection (social security): Proposed resolution and conclusions submitted to the Conference for adoption”, which can be found in English, French and Spanish.

Our work agenda at the ILO is a great collective effort to insert the issues of work in the informal economy, and of the street vending sector in the world of work and although our voices already resonate in this space, as a result of many years of pressure and advocacy, the results are still unsatisfactory. Wiego analyzed how our demands were reflected in the ILC discussions and adopted conclusions in the Wiego ILC Nets final statement document, available in English. Also, it is possible to hear comments from our international coordinator Oksana Abboud and of other allied networks on an episode of podcast, developed by Wiego, about social protection and the outputs of the ILC 2021, check it here.

The second part of the 109th Session of the ILO conference is scheduled to be held virtually on 25 November – 10 December 2021 and will be focused on “Inequalities and the world of work” and “General Discussion Working Party: Skills and lifelong learning”.

In the first stage of the ILC 2021, our team of representatives surpassed themselves, despite all the difficulties, in using technology and different time zones to actively participate in the Conference’s online debates and meetings. In this second moment, we will be even more prepared and sharpened to carry the flag of the rights of street and market vendors towards building equality and economic justice for All.