In 2016, the creation of quality employment is one of the main challenges “all countries and regions of the world are confronting”, according to the recently published International Labour Organisation (ILO) study, ‘World employment and social outlook: Trends 2016’1. The study sets out a series of policy recommendations, including the “strengthening of labour market institutions to ensure that social protection systems are well designed” in order to prevent further increases in long-term unemployment, underemployment and working poverty. A rebalancing of the efforts aimed at reform is also needed, according to the ILO, in particular, “financial reforms need to guarantee that banks perform their role of channelling resources into the real economy and into investment for sustainable enterprise expansion and job creation”.
“Industrial and service cooperatives are particularly concerned by this challenge as they have, as their core mission, to provide sustainable jobs or economic activities to their members. The fact that the members (namely the co-owners of the enterprise) are the workers or the producers themselves, sharing all the entrepreneurial responsibilities and implementing the entrepreneurial strategies together, provides a guarantee that priority will be given to safeguarding their jobs and economic activities in the long term, together with proper remuneration and working conditions. Governments can ill afford to look away when the cooperative movement can offer a significant part of the solution to the worldwide issue of employment”, underlines Bruno Roelants, Secretary General of CICOPA. Worker ownership is a business model on the rise and according to the ‘Cooperatives and employment: a global report’ study, there are 11 million cooperative worker-members worldwide.
The results of the ILO study reveal that even in those countries where unemployment is expected to decline, especially in Europe and Northern America, “long-term and youth unemployment remain significant social challenges to take into account”. At the European level alone, the core mission of over 4,000 social cooperatives in the CECOP network is the integration, through work, of disadvantaged groups, a large part of whom are long-term unemployed. For example, in Poland around 1,000 social cooperatives have been created by at least one unemployed person. “The fact that businesses can be democratically governed, including by the most disadvantaged, provides the conditions for an adapted and long-term type of integration. Thus cooperatives are ideal partners for member states on the issue of long-term unemployment”, adds Roelants.
The ILO report points out that due to a lack of decent jobs, workers are more likely to turn to informal employment, with informal non-agricultural jobs affecting over 65% of workers in one-third of countries with comparable data. In the world of work, women continue to be overrepresented as contributing family workers or in informal jobs. Furthermore, in most regions of the world, women are more likely to suffer from pay gaps, be underemployed or work under temporary contracts. The document ‘Cooperatives are key to the transition from the informal to the formal economy’, published by CICOPA in 2015, argues that the cooperative entrepreneurial model is particularly adapted to lifting people out of poverty and carrying out the transition to the formal economy by providing a socio-economic voice and representation to ordinary citizens, economies of scale, a wide array of enterprise support services (training and education, financing, advisory services etc.) and gradual administrative formalization. Cooperatives are entrepreneurial instruments open to all people, providing them with the skills and the necessary economies of scale that allow them to ensure this gradual transition. This applies in particular to vulnerable groups such as women, ethnic minorities, long-term unemployed, the disabled, immigrants etc.
The recent surge of refugees into Northern, Southern and Western Europe, mostly coming from Arab States as a consequence of on-going conflicts, raises the question of integrating a large number of individuals in these labour market and society, says the ILO study. As is currently being demonstrated in the South of Europe, cooperatives are helping refugees to have a more dignified life, both in providing social and emergency services and in contributing to their integration according to the specific national regulations. Worker and social cooperatives have decades-long experience in providing social services and work integration to migrants. For example, the Italian social cooperative Ruah, created in Bergamo in 2009, provides primary, psychological and social assistance, linguistic mediation and professional training to a wide range of people in need, such as migrants. Since 2014, it has sheltered 1,000 people, including refugees from different countries, providing them with social and professional services and thereby fostering their autonomy and labour integration.
1 In 2015, global unemployment reached 197.1 million – almost 1 million more than in the previous year and more than 27 million higher than the pre-crisis level of 2007- and growing unemployment in emerging economies (especially Brazil and China) is expected to edge the global unemployment rate up as a whole -the number of unemployed globally is expected to rise by about 2.3 million in 2016. http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_443480.pdf