The Organization & Representation Programme helps informal workers’ organizations build their organizational and leadership capacity, connect to each other, and align with allies as they fight to improve the working conditions and livelihoods of their members.
Stronger Organizations Give Workers Voice
Workers in the informal economy – especially women – are the least able to make their voices heard by policymakers, governments, employers, international agencies and others with the power to affect their lives. Collective voice is key to improving the income, working conditions and status of women and men in the informal economy.
Strong, democratic membership-based organizations (MBOs) are the most effective way to create positive change because MBOs are created and controlled by the workers, rather than on their behalf.
Through MBOs, informal workers gain knowledge, skills, confidence, and solidarity, and can pool their resources. They can voice their demands to governments, companies, employers and other negotiating counterparts. Ultimately, they can fight for their rights as workers – rights to legal and social protection, to trade rights and financial services, and to resources, land and urban space.
WIEGO’s Organization & Representation Programme helps build the capacity of MBOs, and in particular to support their national, regional and international networks. It helps to increase strategic linkages with the trade union and co-operative movements, the International Labour Organization (ILO), and other important allies.
We also conduct research into informal workers' organizations and into organizing and collective bargaining in the informal economy. And we create resources and worker education and advocacy materials that MBOs can use.
Helping women leaders gain the necessary confidence and skills to be effective is a high priority in all our work.
Most of our current work builds on past work and achievements.
Strengthening Organizations, Building Networks
Around the globe, informal workers are forming organizations and making progress. Small, localized associations are uniting into larger alliances in cities, countries, regions and internationally. WIEGO has played a role in building and facilitating these networks, helping to raise funds and providing capacity-building and technical support.
Domestic Workers: The programme provides ongoing support to the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) as it coordinates with local organizers to see the international Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (C189) ratified and implemented around the globe. WIEGO also offers technical support and training to national and regional organizations. For example, Karin Pape, our Europe Advisor, acts as the IDWF’s Regional Coordinator. Also, when the African Domestic Workers’ Network was launched in Cape Town in June 2013, Chris Bonner, Director for Organization & Representation, facilitated a session where operational guidelines were developed and a declaration drawn up. This work continues through the Domestic Workers' Leadership for Empowerment project.
Home-Based Workers: MBOs, groups of home-based workers and supportive NGOs have joined together in Asia to form national and regional HomeNets. The programme offers organizational development and capacity-building assistance to HomeNet South Asia, which WIEGO played a large role in establishing, and some country networks (e.g. HomeNet Thailand and HomeNet Pakistan) and organizations.
In Eastern Europe, networking is underway among organizations in different countries, led by the Bulgarian Association of Home-based Workers. In March 2013, the way forward for the newly registered HomeNet Eastern Europe was discussed at a regional conference in Sofia, Bulgaria.
WIEGO has been conducting research and mapping in Africa and Latin America to learn more about home-based workers and their organizing activities in these regions. Regional workshops have been held for home-based workers and support groups in these regions. Globally, home-based workers have had an opportunity to connect through exposure visits: East Europe to India; India, Sri-Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal to Kenya.
Street Vendors: In this sector, too, WIEGO has helped create networks and strengthen organizations. We played a role, alongside the Self-Employed Womens’ Association (SEWA), in helping establish the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI). In 2014, SEWA and NASVI were instrumental in getting the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill passed, making India the first country to adopt progressive, centralized legislation in favour of street vendors.
We support the organizational development and the worker education activities of StreetNet International on request.
Waste Pickers/Recyclers: WIEGO and partners support waste pickers/recyclers to network globally through the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, and host a website dedicated to news from grassroots waste picker groups: www.globalrec.org. We also support the development of local MBOs and national networks, including intensive projects supporting integration of waste pickers into solid waste management systems in key cities such as Pune, India and Bogota, Colombia.
WIEGO helps waste pickers develop common policy positions and represent themselves in global forums. See A Common Vision for WIEGO's Work with Waste Pickers.
Linkages to the Trade Union and Co-operative Movements
WIEGO provides technical and strategic support for promoting the organization and representation of informal workers within the international and national trade union and cooperative movements.
The trade union movement has recognized the need for informal workers to organize. In some cases new unions of informal workers are being formed, or informal workers are joining existing unions. WIEGO works with informal workers' organizations to help them build on, strengthen and sustain these positive developments. In 2014 WIEGO facilitated the participation of informal workers in the International Labour Conference on Transitioning from the Informal to the Formal Economy, and built links with the trade unions and the ILO at that event. Also, through WIEGO’s Regional Advisor in Europe, we are working with the union movement and NGOs to encourage the organization of informal workers in Europe, especially domestic workers in West Europe and home-based workers in East Europe.
WIEGO is an associate member of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA). Organization & Representation, along with other WIEGO teams, brought informal workers and their issues to an ICA Expo in October 2012. The delegation hosted a booth and informal worker representatives presented on their organizations. The concept of informal workers as workers is not generally part of the co-operative movement’s discourse, so this event raised awareness. Linkages have also been strengthened with the ILO Cooperative Unit. Read more.
WIEGO has been a key supporter and catalyst for bringing informal workers’ voices to the world stage. See details below under Impact & Achievements, below.
WIEGO and its partners hosted regional workshops in 2014 to ensure the voices of informal workers were integrated into a common Platform dealing with issues of transitioning from the informal to the formal economy. Representatives of domestic workers, home-based workers, street vendors, waste pickers, and other workers came together in Argentina, Peru, South Africa, and Thailand. The Platform was widely distributed by a delegation of informal workers/organizers, at the standard-setting discussion on the "Transitioning from the Informal to the Formal Economy” at the International Labour Conference (ILC) 2014. Read more.
A Growing Knowledge Base
Database: The WORD database offers detailed information on organizations of informal workers around the globe. With over 800 entries, it continues to expand. This is an ongoing project and organizations are invited to participate. Visit the WIEGO Organization and Representation Database (WORD).
Organizing Models and Strategies: Our research and documentation on MBO organizing models and strategies continue to expand the knowledge base and provide information for informal workers' organizations. Recent publications include:
- Spooner, Dave. 2013. Challenges and Experiences in Organizing Home-Based Workers in Bulgaria.
- Francoise Carré. 2013. Defining and Categorizing Organizations of Informal Workers in Developing and Developed Countries.
See WIEGO’s Publication Series for more.
Collective Bargaining: WIEGO and the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center in the USA collaborated on research into collective bargaining in the informal economy. Five case studies dealing with different occupational groups and regions were produced, along with an overview of the research lead Debbie Budlender. See Collective Bargaining for information and links.
Workers’ Education, Capacity Building and Training Materials
WIEGO helps build the organizational and management capacity of its members/partners and develop worker education materials and skills on organizing informal workers and policy issues. See Resources for Workers.
Law and the Informal Economy
This initiative examines how law impacts on informal workers, how laws can be improved, and how workers can use law to improve their livelihood security. It also works to empower informal workers to engage with governmental authorities around law and policy. After pilot projects in Colombia and India , WIEGO began working with partners in Ghana, Peru, and Thailand, and has now expanded to South Africa and India. Learn more and view resources at Law and Informality.
• Organizations of domestic workers came together to create the International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN). The IDWN, along with the trade union movement and allies, was victorious is achieving a Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (C189) (see Domestic Workers: A Victory for Decent Work.) In 2013, the IDWN transformed itself into the first global union organization run by women: the International Domestic Workers' Federation (IDWF). WIEGO and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) played key roles in these achievements.
Read "Yes, we did it!" Domestic Workers Launch an International Federation (Bonner, Budin and Pape).
• WIEGO played an important role in the General Discussion on the Informal Economy at the 2002 International Labour Conference (ILC), where we organized a coalition to advocate for a platform of demands that had been developed during a series of preceding regional workshops. These efforts were successful in getting the ILO to adopt a positive Resolution Concerning Decent Work and the Informal Economy, which for the first time accepted own account informal workers as workers.
• Many of our founding members were involved in supporting home-based workers in the formation of HomeNet International, and in their efforts to secure an international convention. After the adoption in 1996 of the ILO Convention on Homework (C177), WIEGO, SEWA and UNIFEM joined forces to help extend organizing of home-based workers in South and South-East Asia and to influence policy on home-based workers. In 2000 we jointly convened a conference, bringing together government officials, representatives of informal workers’ organizations, and researchers in South Asia. The resulting Kathmandu Declaration committed governments to promote national policies supportive of home-based workers. HomeNet South Asia was formed at that conference.
• WIEGO supported the growth of networks of street vendor organizations in India (NASVI) and Kenya (KENASVIT) and a global alliance of street vendor organizations, StreetNet International, which was formed in 2002.
• WIEGO’s support has been important in helping waste pickers achieve recognition and policies and practices that have led to inclusion in solid waste management systems in cities such as Pune, India and Bogota, Colombia. We also provided support that allowed waste pickers to be heard at climate change negotiations and at the ILO in 2013.