Activity report (WIEGO Organization and Representation Programme, 2002)

This report covers the period from July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2002, with a short addendum on July 2002. Activities in the period under review were dominated by preparations for the International Labour Conference (June 2002) (ILC) where the agenda included, for the first time ever, a discussion on the informal sector. These preparations included consultations with organizations within and outside of the WIEGO network to identify the issues to be addressed, consultations with ILO staff, preparation of documents and, in the last stage, organization of a lobby at the Conference itself.

Advisory Group Meetings
The Advisory Group of the Organization and Representation Program (ORP), met on October 5-6, 2001 at the Institute for Development Studies, Brighton, UK (in connection with the WIEGO Steering Committee). Its members also communicated by conference call on December 6, 2001 and met informally at the WIEGO General Meeting in Ahmedabad, India, January 19-22, 2002, and throughout the International Labour Conference, Geneva, June 4 to 20, 2002.

Regional Meetings
As part of the consultation process with other organizations to develop a common platform for the 2002 ILC, WIEGO co-sponsored regional meetings with partner organizations or participated in such meetings called by allied partner organizations:

May 21-22, 2001: WIEGO and Harvard University Trade Union Program: Meeting on the Informal Economy in North America, Cambridge MA, US
October 16-20, 2001: Informal Sector Workers’ Education in Zambia (Seminar organized jointly by the WEAZ and the WEA (England and Scotland), with participation from WIEGO and IFWEA, Lusaka

October 22-23, 2001: WIEGO and Harvard University Trade Union Program: Seminar, “Organizing Informal Workers in the Global Economy: Unions, Co-operatives, Advocacy Networks and Emerging Labor Organizations”, Cambridge MA, US

November 6-8, 2001: WIEGO/Committee for Asian Women (CAW), Regional Workshop on Women Workers in the Informal Economy, Bangkok
April 5-7, 2002: IRENE/WIEGO Seminar: “Decent” Working Conditions for Informal Economy Workers, Soesterberg, Netherlands.

The conclusions of these meetings were summarized in a brochure: Workers in the Informal Economy: Platform of Issues, (8 p., Geneva, June 2002), issued by the Global Labour Institute on behalf of WIEGO and the other organizations participating in the preparation of the ILC. The brochure was widely distributed at the ILC.

In addition to preparing the ILC, the regional meetings also served the purpose of consolidating and extending ties with organizations of informal workers, including some which are already part of the trade union movement, and with NGOs with an organizing or advocacy agenda for workers in the informal economy.

Participants in the two North American meetings included representatives of: AFL-CIO, CWA, IUPAT, AFSCME, NAFE, UNITE (Ontario), Campaign on Contingent Work, Toronto Organizing for Fair Employment, Chicago Jobs With Justice, Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern CA (Workers’ Rights Unit).

The African regional meeting (Lusaka) served principally to consolidate co-operation with the workers’ education movement and with the African trade union movement. Participants included representatives of the Ghana TUC, the Zambia TUC, the Informal Sector Workers’ Association of Mozambique (ASSOTSI), the Ugandan Public Employees’ Union, the Self Employed Women’s Union of South Africa, the Lusaka Street Vendors Association, the Ishmael Nedziwe College of Labour Studies (Zimbabwe), the Workers’ Education Association of Zambia, the Workers’ Education Association (England and Scotland) and the International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations. The WEA of Zambia, with the support of the ZCTU, has been instrumental in organizing street traders in Lusaka and the seminar led to the constitution of a national organization. The active participation of Pat Horn (WIEGO ORP and StreetNet) greatly facilitated this process, which led to the establishment of the Zambia National Marketeers Association (ZANAMA) in 2001 and, in July 2002, of the Alliance of Zambia Informal Economy Associations.

The Asian regional meeting (Bangkok) was principally organized by the Committee for Asian Women (CAW), which is a federation of women’s unions and NGOs. The following organizations were represented: SEWA (India), Street Vendor Union of Jember (Indonesia), National Alliance of Street Vendors (India), Solidarity Front of Women Workers (Taiwan), Women Workers’ Organization (Pakistan), HKCTU (Hong Kong), Women’s Trade Union (Japan), Korean Women Workers’ Association United, GEFONT (Nepal), NFL (Philippines), HomeNet (Asia), StreetNet (South Africa), as well as several Thai unions and women’s organizations In India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. The ICFTU was also represented.

The seminar organized by IRENE (International Restructuring Education Network Europe) and WIEGO in the Netherlands was international in scope but had a strong European component. Union organizations represented included the FNV, the Ghana TUC, the KAD (Danish Women Workers’ Union), SEWA and the ICFTU. Other participants came from StreetNet, HomeNet (International and Asia), CAW, the Clean Clothes Campaign, Kalayaan (Justice for Domestic Workers, UK), WEA Zambia, NGOs in Bulgaria, Chile, Romania, Serbia, Turkey.

A Latin American and a European meeting, also planned for 2002, have had to be postponed for practical reasons until 2003.

The International Labour Conference 2002
In June ‘01, as part of the preparation for the ILC ’02, members of the Advisory Group to WIEGO’s Organization and Representation Program met with the Chair of the ILO Workers’ Group, General Secretaries of several ITSs (now: Global Union Federations, or GUFs), the (then) General Secretary of the ICFTU, representatives from the AFL-CIO and the Ghana TUC, and members of the ILO Task Force on the Informal Economy to discuss their respective plans for the General Discussion on the Informal Economy at the ILC in June ’02. The key message of WIEGO in those discussions was that representatives of membership-based organizations of informal workers should be invited, with the support of the ICFTU in particular, as official worker delegates to participate in that discussion.

This message received a mixed response. The more territorial and conservative element in the international trade union leadership interpreted this request as an effort to introduce “NGOs” into the ILO’s tripartite system, to the detriment of the trade unions. More progressive individuals and organizations in the trade union movement welcomed the official participation of membership-based organizations of informal workers as key future members of a revitalized trade union movement.

This tension within the international trade union movement – regarding the relationship between formal trade unions and informal workers and their organizations – heated up during the preparations for the General Discussion on the Informal Economy at the ILC in June ’02 and reached a peak during the General Discussion. In the end, the progressive majority in the trade union movement supported the language put forward by the organizations of informal workers in the conclusions adopted, which include for the first time the recognition of “own account workers” as workers.

At the ILC, WIEGO was able to organize an effective lobby of about twenty persons, participating in the Conference as part of the workers’ group, of the governments’ group or as observers, from unions and NGOs in eleven countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America. This group met every day during the Conference to review developments and plan strategy. It was instrumental in shaping the conclusions eventually adopted by the Conference.

Towards an International Platform of Workers in the Informal Economy
At its first meeting in December 2000, the Advisory Group of the Organization and Representation Program proposed the formation of and drafted a Vision Statement for an International Platform of Workers in Informal Employment.

The plan called for building towards the International Platform, in close collaboration with the international trade union movement, over a period of 2-3 years. At its second meeting in Geneva in June 2001, the Advisory Group revised its Vision Statement and drafted Twelve Theses: Organization and Representation of Workers in Informal and Unprotected Employment.

In 2001, the ICFTU established a “Task Force on Informal and Unprotected Work”, following a decision of its Durban congress (April 2000). WIEGO was represented at both meetings of the Task Force held so far (Brussels, September 25-26, 2001 and Geneva, March 14-15, 2002). A great deal of the discussion in the Task Force, especially at its first meeting, reflected the alarm of the ICFTU secretariat, relayed by selected participants, concerning WIEGO plans to create an international organization of informal workers. At the second meeting, preparations for the ILC were discussed but it was unfortunately not possible to arrive at an agreement for a joint approach, which led to the tensions described above at the time of the Conference.

The perceived threat of the proposed International Platform is that it would divide the international labour movement. WIEGO has gone to great lengths to assure the ICFTU and ITS leadership that it intends to work with – not against – the international trade union movement and that it was prepared to discuss the form and the functions of the International Platform with the international trade union organizations involved.

In this context, and given that WIEGO is not – and does not intended to become – a membership-based labour organization, WIEGO has taken two recent decisions regarding the proposed International Platform of Informal Worker Organizations: First, to continue to develop the idea of an International Platform with the more progressive elements of the international trade union movement; and, second, to hand over the stewardship of this effort to the oldest, best-known, and most widely-respected trade union in its network, namely SEWA.

It is still not clear at this stage whether the new leadership at the ICFTU will open its own structures to organizations of informal workers or encourage its constituent members (i.e., national trade union federations) to open theirs. In general, it is not clear what follow-up the ICFTU intends to give to the work of its own Task Force or to the conclusions adopted at the ILC.

Other Meetings
On March 24, 2002 DG met with the SEWA Executive Committee in Ahmedabad for a discussion on SEWA international activities and policies.
On April 23, 2002, DG, Dave Spooner, member of the WIEGO ORP AG and international program coordinator of the WEA (England + Scotland) and Liz Cumberbatch (WEA England + Scotland) met with Lucy Rix and Natasha Pierce, co-ordinators of Kalayaan, at their office in London. Kalayaan is a support organization for migrant domestic workers in Britain; it works closely with the Transport& General Workers’ Union and is the co-ordinator of a project-based European network called RESPECT. The purpose of the meeting was to inform Kalayaan of the activities that WIEGO and IFWEA had developed in support of workers in the informal economy, to examine possibilities of future co-operation, to inform Kalayaan of the forthcoming discussion at the ILC and to offer assistance in case Kalayaan wished to participate in an observer capacity (for practical reasons, this participation did not materialize in the end).

The WIEGO ORP intends to resume this contact with the objective of working with Kalayaan towards the establishment of a representative international organization of domestic workers, comparable to HomeNet for home-based workers and StreetNet for street vendors.

In addition to the “Platform of Issues” mentioned above, DG also wrote an article: Organizing in the Informal Economy, in Labour Education, Nr. 127, 2002/2. Labour Education is the journal of the ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV). A provisional edition of the journal was issued in June and was widely distributed at the ILC.

The main achievements of the WIEGO ORP since its inception in May 2000 have been: raising awareness in the general labour movement of the need to organize women workers (and, indeed, all workers) in the informal economy and of existing efforts in this regard; supporting organizing efforts; strengthening cooperation between women’s organizations, unions and other labour movement organizations with an organizing agenda in the informal economy; building coalitions between such organizations, for the International Labour Conference in 2002, but also for the long term.

Notwithstanding these positive achievements, DG decided to resign as Director of the ORP (effectively at the end of 2002) because it became apparent that to continue to do the job responsibly would practically require a full-time commitment and that much of this time would have to be taken up by fund raising and project administration. DG is unfortunately not in a position to undertake this kind of commitment. Consequently, DG submitted his formal resignation at the WIEGO Steering Committee held in Bellagio from July 9 to 16, 2002. The Steering Committee will appoint a new director to succeed DG in the coming months.