StreetNet International along with other global organizations of informal economy workers participated at the International Labour Conference, focusing on just transition and labour protection, from 5-16 June 2023.
What is the International Labour Conference?
The International Labour Conference, often called the world’s parliament of labor, is the highest decision-making body of the International Labour Organization. It meets once a year in Geneva, Switzerland, and sets labor standards for the whole world.
Member-States of the ILO participate at the ILC via tripartite delegations – this means that each country must send delegates representing Government, Workers and Employers. This tripartite structure is what sets the International Labour Organization apart from all other United Nations institutions, and it is the reason why the ILC is the most important high-level event where workers can make their voices heard and negotiate on key issues in standard-setting processes.
Who were our delegates at the ILC?
The joint delegation of informal economy workers organizations was composed of 18 delegates, showcasing our diversity and featuring strong women leaders. StreetNet International was represented by President Lorraine Sibanda, Vice-President Alberto Santana, International Coordinator Oksana Abboud and Communication and Media Manager Margarida Teixeira.
StreetNet International along with other global organizations of informal economy workers, as well as other global union federations, is accredited as a non-governmental organization by the International Labour Organization. Therefore, although StreetNet delegates can participate in the committees and observe other proceedings at the ILC, we do not have voting rights.
How did we participate at the ILC?
During the 111th Session of the ILC, our delegation focused mainly on two working committees: the General Discussion Committee on a Just Transition and the Recurrent Discussion Committee on Labour Protection. In addition, our comrades from IDWF also closely followed a case on the Committee on the Application of Standards regarding forced labour in Lebanon which directly impacts domestic workers.
During the ILC, our delegation followed closely the work of these two committees by participating in workers’ meetings devoted to the topics and also the tripartite meetings. Vice-President Alberto Santana addressed the Committee on Labour Protection and Lorraine Sibanda addressed the Committee on a Just Transition. Each representative stressed the unique challenges of their sector, but we had a common message based on our joint position papers on Just Transition and Labour Protection.
In addition, our President Lorraine Sibanda also had the opportunity to address the Plenary of the ILC, where she stressed the contributions of informal economy workers and how we can contribute to the discussions that directly impact us.
What was the result of this ILC and why does it matter?
Regarding the General Discussion Committee on a Just Transition, the conclusions recognize that “ensuring a just transition is important for all countries at all levels of development, and for all economic sectors, the formal as well as the informal economy” (Clause 14) and states the governments should “promote a conducive environment for social and solidarity economy entities to strengthen their capacity to contribute to the just transition” (Clause 21 (m)). Both these items are especially important for informal economy workers’ organizations especially at national level.
As for the Recurrent Discussion Committee on Labour Protection, the conclusions acknowledge that informality is an obstacle to labour protection and stress the urgency to “address the transition from informal to formal economy and from insecure to secure work that is decent, the diversity of enterprises and of national circumstances, is a condition for the design and implementation of well-tailored and inclusive labour protection strategies for all workers.” (Clause 21).
Both committees are not standard setting committees – this means the result of the discussions is not legally binding the way Convention can be. However, they represent a consensus of governments, workers and employers, and can therefore be effective advocacy tools at national and regional levels.
Why is the International Labour Conference so important to build solidarity among workers?
The International Labour Conference is a unique opportunity to meet Sisters and Brothers from all over the world and strengthen our alliances. During the conference, we had the chance to meet with trade unionists from many countries, including but not limited to France, Dominican Republic, Botswana, Canada, Brazil, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Tanzania, Nepal, India, Netherlands.
We participated in the ITUC Preparatory Meeting, where we were warmly welcomed by Acting General Secretary Luc Triangle as representatives of informal economy workers who joined to observe the Workers’ Meeting . We also organized a meeting with António Lisboa, ITUC Deputy President (from CUT Brazil) about the inclusion of informal economy workers in the labour movement agenda. Since the International Union of Food Workers Congress was taking place at the same time, we also joined them and had the opportunity to meet General Secretary Sue Longley and discuss possible ways of cooperation in the near future.
During the ILC, we attended several side events in Geneva. We joined the Nordic Folk School students for a session on the informal economy, participated in an event about the future of work and social justice with the International Catholic Migration Commission and were welcomed by our partners of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung for a reception. As representatives of StreetNet, we also joined protests in solidarity with Ukrainian workers affected by the Russian invasion.
Finally, we met with Xavier Beaudonnet of the Norms and Standards, Freedom of Association Branch of the ILO and Mamadou Souare of ACTRAV to discuss how informal economy workers can defend their right to organize and exercise their right on collective negotiations. It was a fruitful discussion that will surely influence our future strategy to uphold workers’ rights, using a supervisory mechanism of the ILO.
The 111th Session of the ILC proved another valuable opportunity for StreetNet, WIEGO, IDWF, HomeNet and IAWP to raise the visibility of informal economy workers at the global level. We will now be closely monitoring preparations for the next International Labour Conference, which will focus on the Care Economy and informality in the next upcoming years.