From 23 to 27th September 2022 the StreetNet affiliates of Eastern Europe and Central Asia gathered in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, for their regional meeting. The host was the Kyrgyzstan Commerce Union. The meeting was attended by participants, representing the SNI affiliate members organizations in the region from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Ukraine, guest speakers from national trade unions and international organizations and the SNI staff.
2022 has been a very productive year in terms of regional gatherings, with all the StreetNet regions organizing their regional meetings in person throughout the last months.
The meeting was opened on the first day by the StreetNet president Lorraine Sibanda, who addressed the participants via teleconference. Oksana Abboud, International Coordinator and Kateryna Yarmolyuk-Kroeck Regional Organizer and Legal Consultant also intervened on behalf of the StreetNet staff.
Key partnerships for a new social pact
The day proceeded with interventions from Anton Leppic, ITUC Executive Secretary for the Pan- European region, and Liliia Kachkinbaeva, ILO Technical Officer on Transition from Informal to Formal Economy.
Anton Leppik focused his intervention on the ITUC Social Contract, an ITUC initiative for economic recovery that centers around the demands of workers for job creation, just transition, end of discrimination and universal social protection. Anton also noted the importance of regional cooperation as a key for development. Liliia Kachkinbaeva delivered a presentation on the transition to formal economy, with a focus on Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. In Kyrgyzstan, in 2021, the employment rate was 56.6% – with the informal economy constituting 25% of the total GDP share. Ms. Kachkinbaeva shared information on ongoing ILO activities on informal employment in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The ongoing project of the ILO in these countries has an objective of raising awareness among informal sector workers of the benefits of formal employment, including job security and social protection through freedom of association and the right to organize. It also promotes various forms of social dialogue to demand decent and safe working conditions in formal employment, including gaining access to health care and social protection, including maternity care. Elena Rubtsova, Program Specialist at the Solidarity Center (AFL-CIO) ofBishkek office also intervened, highlighting their efforts in improving health and working conditions for the workers including street vendors and other sectors of informal economy workers in the country.
A new strategy for the region: priorities for 2023
Among the main objectives of the meeting was the creation of an updated strategy for the region. Each affiliate identified some key challenges they face at national level: some common challenges are the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the energy crisis. Affiliates also highlighted the lack of support from governments to small-scale entrepreneurs and the tax challenges – this last concern comes in particular from Vmeste, our affiliate in Belarus. Another point that was raised, this time by our affiliate from Georgia, was the lack of statistics and reliable research on the informal economy in the region.
The participants worked on this split in two groups, and reached some common solutions and decisions. Both groups agreed on the necessity to hold a Regional Forum on Informal Economy with representatives of governments, trade unions and workers’ organizations in the near future.
Some common necessities were identified: the need to establish more trade unions at market level, the need to unite trade unions under the umbrella organization, that gives an opportunity to participate in the legislative process, to establish a status/professional occupation of a market trader at legislative level, the necessity to continue organizing and recruiting informal economy workers with particular focus on market traders and street vendors. From the advocacy point of view, the organizations decided to keep on negotiating bylaws for the implementation of the Recommendation 204 of the ILO on transition to formal economy, as well as to keep fostering strategic partnerships (e.g. with ILO Offices, Solidarity Center, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, WIEGO, OSF Eurasia etc.).
The meeting was concluded by a trip to the Dordoi Market in Bishkek city. After the exchange on the most pressing issues on the situation of workers, their problems and needs as well as the work and activities of the union, the participants had a chance to observe the work of market traders, their working conditions and to communicate with them directly in a very informal way.
Overall the meeting was very productive and helped the participants have a clear understanding of each other’s challenges and find a common way to move forward. 2023 will be a strategic year for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the first month will pave the way to StreetNet International’s Congress, which will take place in Rwanda in May.
At the end of the meeting days, the SNI International Coordinator Oksana Abboud and SNI Regional Organizer Kateryna Yarmolyuk-Kroeck paid a visit to the Federation of Trade Unions of Kyrgyzstan and had a productive meeting with its leadership – Emil Kyzaev, the Chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions and Omor Arstanbekov, the Vice-Chairman of the of the Federation of Trade Unions.
Both parties discussed the challenges faced by informal economy workers in Kyrgyzstan; the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on labour; the priorities of the work of the Federation and the possibilities of future cooperation between the StreetNet International, the Federation of Trade Unions of Kyrgyzstan.