Globally, not all workers have access to formal financial services. This is measured in terms of ‘financial inclusion’, in other words the extent to which households have access to a range of modern financial services, including savings, credit, insurance and payments. The concept of financial inclusion also includes education and other support services that help people to make sound financial decisions. Even if financial services are available, they may come with some challenges: they may not be affordable, they may not meet the needs of a particular household, or they may not be available within reasonable physical proximity nor regulated and overseen to protect clients.
Workers tend to have access to a bank account, yet this does not mean that they can access the full range of financial services demanded by them, and under conditions that suit their needs. At various stages in a worker’s life cycle, s/he may require specific financial services: for example to cover expenses related to education, housing, health, productive investments, marriage, old age or death of a family member. The needs and circumstances of an employed worker may be slightly different than those of, for example, a small entrepreneur.
Against this background, workers’ organizations have the potential to play a very strong role in empowering their members to access financial services through collective action. They can also leverage this role to provide services directly to their members, or facilitate it through partnerships, and also to improve their outreach to workers, organize the informal economy and increase membership. If the starting point at hand here is that of financial inclusion, that is providing workers with access to appropriate products, another is that of control, the ability of workers’ organizations’ themselves to fill the gaps on democratic terms most favourable to workers.
A survey undertaken by the ILO in 2013 shows that almost two out of three unions interviewed already offer some sort of financial service, and even more are interested in starting or improving their offering. The institutional options that trade unions are using for the provision or facilitation of financial service provision are diverse. Yet they realize, or are learning from experience, that financial services require more specialization and expertise than other support services they may offer. They need help to be able to provide financial services professionally, so the take-up by members is high enough to sustain and maintain the services without draining the union’s main resources and reserves.
The Social Finance Programme, together with the Bureau for Workers’ Activities have been working together to document the various experiences of workers’ organization’s involvement in financial inclusion and the development of a training programme on “Inclusive Finance for Workers”.
The training toolkit has been developed for workers organizations interested in improving financial inclusion to their members. It also aims at ensuring that financial service institutions observe and promote decent work. The long-term objective of the resource toolkit is to enhance financial inclusion of workers. It is expected that in the longer term, financial inclusion can lead to increased income, better risk management and potentially the formalization of informal workers. The toolkit also aims to empower trade unions to provide additional services to members and potential members, increasing their benefits towards their constituency. Access to finance can be facilitated either directly by the trade union or in cooperation with financial institutions.
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Where we work
This training programme has been developed originally with a primary focus on Africa, and it is now being adapted for other regions. The training has already been delivered in Kenya, Togo and Senegal. The training materials are already available in English and French. They can be accessed through the Social Finance Network Plone.
The training program target trade unions leaders, federation/confederation relevant staff and technical staff from all types of workers organizations.
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