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Informal Work
WIEGO Organization and Representation Program: Vision Statement for the International Organization of Workers in Informal Employment (Revised June 2001)

At meetings held on December 3-4 2000 and June 9-10 2001 in Geneva, the Advisory Group of the WIEGO Organization and Representation Program formulated and developed a number of recommendations on a proposed international organization of workers in the informal economy, as a basis for dialogue and debate with partners and allies.

Background

(1) A majority of the world’s workers are in informal employment and this proportion is growing under the impact of globalization: the mobility of capital, the restructuring of production of goods and services and the deregulation of labour markets is pushing an increasing number of workers into informal employment.

(2) This majority is largely unorganized and, because it lacks organization, it is largely invisible and powerless. Unless and until it becomes organized, it will be unable to effectively defend its own interests and to participate, together with organized labour in the formal sector, in the shaping of global economic and social policies aimed at securing an adequate income and dignified conditions of work and life for all workers.

(3) Over the past two decades, an international movement has grown up in support of informal sector workers globally. Much of the international impetus has come from the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) founded in India in 1972, a trade union that is at the same time a women’s movement and a cooperative movement. Subsequently, other unions of informal sector workers were formed (such as SEWU in South Africa) and unions originating in the formal sector started organizing home-based workers (for example SIBTTA in Madeira, Portugal and TCFUA in Australia) domestic employees (FILCAMS in Italy and unions in several African countries), street vendors (in Latin America) and casual agricultural workers (in Africa and Latin America). In the mid-90s two international alliances were formed, HomeNet and StreetNet, to organize home-based workers and street vendors. In 1997, Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) was formed, a worldwide coalition of institutions and individuals concerned with improving the status of women in the informal sector. SEWA is a founding member of both HomeNet and StreetNet, and both these networks are part of WIEGO. In April 1997, the founding members of WIEGO, who now largely comprise the Steering Committee, decided to establish an Organization and Representation Program, which was more clearly defined in May 2000.

Principles

(4) WIEGO recognizes that international trade union organizations, in particular certain International Trade Secretariats (ITS) and the ICFTU, as well as a growing number of national trade union organizations, have become aware of the necessity of organizing workers in informal employment. However, it is also aware of the scarcity of resources that places severe financial constraints on most trade union organizations and it recognizes that in most cases trade union priorities will have to remain the organization of as yet unorganised sectors of wage earners. Therefore it believes that the primary responsibility for organizing workers in informal employment rests with these workers themselves and that it is the task of the international movement of informal sector workers to create the tools for its own organization.

(5) The international movement of workers in informal employment regards itself as a part of the international labour movement and is based on its principles, foremost of which are democratic organization and solidarity. It shares the historical vision of the labour movement of a society based on justice and freedom for all and will contribute to the full extent of its ability to the struggle for such a society.

(6) Women are over-represented in informal employment; therefore the issue of organizing informal sector workers is intimately related to defending the rights of women at work and in society at large. An international organization of workers in informal employment will reflect this reality in its structure and in its policy objectives.

Objectives

(7) The medium-term objective is to establish a self-managing international organization of workers in informal employment based on the principles of representative democracy. This organization will be formed by democratically organized and run membership organizations, such as unions and cooperatives, but will also be open to other types of organizations (in particular women’s organizations) not necessarily based on membership, which would fall within different membership categories with more limited constitutional rights.

(8) The main functions of such an international organization should be:

(a) solidarity: to provide mutual support and defense of its member organizations and between these and the labour movement in general;

(b) capacity building and organizing: to help strengthen and develop existing or new organizations, in particular through education and training programs;

(c) exchanges: to promote exchanges of experience, information and research findings between member organizations;

(d) advocacy and representation, to promote representation of informal sector workers directly via their organizations, through lobbying, in regional and international bodies, both governmental and non-governmental.

How to Get There

(9) The new international organization will be formed in stages:

· Regional meetings to identify and consult with local and national organisations representing workers in the informal economy and their partner organisations, and to build or strengthen dialogue and alliances (2001);

· Formulation of a platform that states the principal demands of informal sector workers, and to lobby for their adoption, in view of the research and discussion process engaged in the ILO leading up the International Labour Conference of 2002, where informal sector issues will be on the agenda;

· International consultative conference followed by regional meetings to discuss and elaborate options for democratic structures appropriate to the needs of international organization and representation of workers in the informal economy, and appropriate relationships with allies in the international trade union movement, NGOs, and inter-governmental agencies (2002-03);

· Once consensus has been secured, an international founding conference to launch the organization (2003-04, if feasible).

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