The International Labor Conference – ILC, held every year in the headquarters of the International Labour Organization in Geneva, Switzerland during the month of June, brings together the three main actors that make up and arbitrate the world of work: workers, employers, and governments.
This tripartite space is responsible for crafting, adopting and supervising the application of international labour standards in the form of Conventions and Recommendations.
Conventions are international treaties that, once adopted by the Conference, are open to ratification by Member States. Ratification creates a legal obligation to apply the provisions of the Convention in question. Recommendations, on the other hand, are intended to guide national action, but are not open to ratification, and are not legally binding.
The Conference is also a forum where social and labour questions of importance to the entire world are discussed freely. Delegates explore the course of social progress in the world, but the central theme is the report presented each year by the ILO’s Director-General.
StreetNet participation on the ILC
Since the 1990s, before StreetNet was founded, efforts began by informal economy organizations such as SEWA (India) to influence the working groups of the International Labor Conference to draft and approve Conventions that defend the labor rights of informal economy workers. We continued our efforts, despite facing hostility from some unions from the Global North that did not recognize employment in the informal economy as work, as well as employers resistance to our participation stating that informal economy workers were largely self-employed and, as such, they did not belong in the workers’ group, but as entrepreneurs with the employers.
Therefore the representative membership organizations of workers in the informal economy lobbied for that it was understood once and for all that they are workers even if they are self-employed. The first Convention adopted in defense of workers in the informal economy was the Home Work Convention (ILO C177) and Recommendation 284 were adopted, in 1995.
SEWA was accepted to be part of the ILO structures, as a trade union. Then, StreetNet followed suit as the first global federation specific to an informal economy sector. StreetNet was first accredited by the ILO in 2004 to go to International Labor Conferences, participating in equal footing as international trade unions, but other international informal economy organizations were eventually accredited as well, including WIEGO and the International Domestic Workers Federation.
In 2003, an International Coordinating Committee (ICC) for Organizing Workers in the Informal Economy was set up at an international conference on organizing workers in the informal economy in Ahmedabad, India – consisting of StreetNet, SEWA, Ghana Trades Union Congress, Nigerian Labor Congress and the Trade Union Confederation of Workers of the Americas. This structure was set up to work on the international organizational environment to break down some of these resistances to our organizations, which were in various places, and to bring the trade union movement into a more positive frame of mind about working with membership-based organizations of workers in the informal economy.
StreetNet has been progressing each year on the work of preparing its leaders and joining other global networks representing workers in the informal economy for bold participation, which contributes greatly to expand the vision of the trade union movement about organizing informal economy workers and carving a space where informal economy workers can raise their voices and gain recognition in this international forum.
Main achievements of the sector
In the ILC 2015 informal economy workers formulated a Platform of Demands, which was circulated at the ILC along with a Myths and Facts documents. Other delegates cited the materials to support their arguments. The 2015 ILC adopted Recommendation 204 – Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation.
StreetNet also argues that the exclusion of street vendors from social protection violates their right to social security enshrined in ILO Convention 102 on Social Security, the ILO Recommendation 202 on Social Protection Floors.
In 2019, when the ILC discussed the Convention on Ending Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, SEWA’s Sonia George spoke about the experiences of poor women workers. StreetNet International President Lorraine Sibanda articulated how those who work in public spaces have little protection from harassment by authorities.
In 2021 first part of ILC our president Lorraine Sibanda addressed the need for social protection for all workers in the plenary alongside world leaders.