12th Academy on Social and Solidarity Economy - Plenary Session 3: SSE, decent work agenda and the future of work

News | 21 January 2022
The second plenary session of the Academy took place on November 19th. It aimed to explore the role of the SSE in relation to advancing the decent work agenda. It also looked into the contribution of the SSE to the changing world of work. The keynote speaker for the plenary session was Mr. Riccardo Bodini, Director of EURICSE. The discussants included: Ms. Ana Olim, General Director of Employment and Labour Relations of the Government of Portugal, Mr. Davidson Magalhães, Secretary of Labour, Employment, Income and Sport of the State of Bahia (Brazil), Ms. Reema Nanavaty, General Secretary of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (India) and Mr. Opio Douglas, Executive Director of the Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE). The session was moderated by Mr. Guy Tchami (ILO) and facilitated by Ms. Giulia Melina (ITC-ILO).

Mr. Tchami (ILO) opened the session by reminding the participants of the ILO Centenary Initiative on the Future of Work, that resulted in the report “Work for a Brighter Future”. He noted that the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work (2019) recognised the role of the SSE for the implementation of a Human-Centred Agenda. Mr. Tchami pointed out thatthe main drivers of the future of work (globalisation, automation, climate change and demographic change) were changing the social contract. He highlighted that the social contract, an implicit arrangement defining the relationship between the government and citizens, relied on human capital, which is weakened by these transformations. He added the necessity to provide a human-centred answer to these changes, by reinvigorating and renovating the social contract through the SSE.

The keynote speaker Mr. Bodini (EURICSE) took the floor to reflect on the complex relation between the SSE and the future of work. He started by providing an overview of the main trends in today’s world of work, through which it is possible to do some forecasts for the future. Mr. Bodini highlighted the following among the main trends:
  • demographic shifts, causing a surplus of labour supply in certain regions that leads to migration flows;
  •  globalisation, that impacts heavily on local firms and supply chains;
  •  technological changes, especially in IT and Artificial Intelligence; and
  •  social changes triggered by the changing social needs.
He explained that these forces were affecting the world of work. He shared the example of growth and employment that were increasingly concentrated in the tertiary sector. He then explained that employment was increasing, but the share of GDP from employment was decreasing. Furthermore, he indicated that precariousness and the use of Non-Standard Forms of Employment were on the rise. Finally, he highlighted that the labour markets were increasingly polarised, between high-skilled and well-paid jobs and low-skilled low-paid jobs. Mr. Bodini pointed out that technological advances are unstoppable: they will lead to the disappearance or downsizing of many jobs, and probably to an overall decrease in total employment. All these phenomena, accelerated by the global COVID-19 crisis, are leading to an increase in inequalities and to a change of attitude towards work, which is already evident in the debates around smart-work and work-time balance. According to Mr. Bodini, this scenario provides the opportunity for a new development and economic model.

On this basis, Mr. Bodini outlined the features of the SSE that are proving useful to face the transformations of the changing world of work. Above all, he indicated that the non-profit orientation of the SSE organisations, as well as their democratic and inclusive management, allowed them to put the people and the communities at the centre of their activities. Mr. Bodini presented highlights from the Report on the Structure and Performance of Italian Cooperatives conducted by EURICSE and the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) in 2019. The research showed that the organisations of the SSE were more likely to create jobs with high value added than traditional enterprises, especially in highly relational and lowly profitable sectors such as social services. He explained that these sectors were less likely to be affected by future technological changes. Furthermore, the study pointed out that the SSE organisations are deeply enrooted in communities, thus more able to detect unexpressed social needs. Finally, he confirmed that collective ownership of many SSE organisations allowed them to be more resilient to crises.

In conclusion, Mr. Bodini reflected on the policy implications of these changes for the SSE. According to him, it is essential to stop framing the SSE as a residual actor that intervenes only when the private or public sectors fail to provide goods or services. Instead, he insisted that it should be recognised as a fundamentally different way to organise the economic activities across sectors. Secondly, he added that as the states had less power to enforce decent work in a globalised world. The grassroots nature of SSE units could support this effort, especially if it is supported by an appropriate legal framework. Finally, he noted the SSE could contribute to the co-construction of social needs for policy development, thanks to its close connection to social needs in the territories. “We are at an interesting juncture of our history”, concluded Mr. Bodini. “It could be finally a point of shift in our social and economic models towards a more sustainable way of organising our economic activity. This does not happen if the SSE does not play a big role.”

Mr. Bodini’s presentation if available here: en - fr - es - pt

Following the keynote speech, Mr. Opio Douglas, Executive Director of the Federation of Uganda Employers, intervened to reflect on the means and challenges of the engagement of employers and their organisations in the promotion of the SSE. According to Mr. Douglas, the Future of Work raises the issue of the capacity of economic organisations and networks to deal with its transformations. Moreover, he noted the rise of informality in many sectors and markets. He highlighted the need for employers’ organisations to change their structures to accommodate entities from the informal sector and to support the processes of formalisation.

Mr. Douglas indicated that regulatory frameworks around the SSE are often absent, as many governments consider SSE organisations as not-for-profit. Mr. Douglas outlined some directions for action to overcome the most pressing challenges for employers.
  • First of all, he mentioned capacity building was essential to develop the skills and knowledge to face the transformations of the future.
  • Secondly, guidelines are necessary to inform employers on how they can reconfigure their scope of action to participate more in the SSE.
In conclusion, Mr. Douglas stressed that employers' organisations must evolve from being only business-supporting organisations towards more solidarity-oriented practices, and this implies different sets of skills. Furthermore, they need to diversify their services, and to improve their outreach capacity towards the informal economy and the SMEs.

Ms. Reema Nanavaty, General Secretary of SEWA contributed to the session via a video message. She shared lessons learned on the role of the SSE during the COVID crisis. In the Indian context, Ms. Navanaty explained that the livelihoods of millions of workers, especially those working in the informal economy, were completely destroyed by the pandemic.

As a first lesson learned, she pointed out that financial support mechanisms such as microcredit and other lending tools could be activated only in presence of a minimum income. This left out millions of workers whose economic activities had to stop. In order to extend social protection to workers in the informal economy, it is essential to strengthen the resilience of these workers and their livelihood. The second major lesson learned is a consequence of the disruption of global supply chains. Organisations of the SSE demonstrated incredible resilience in facing this disruption, thanks to their rootedness in the localities and communities. Thirdly, the role of women workers once more proved to be critical in the crisis. According to Ms. Nanavay, women workers foster an “economy of nurturing” that must be mainstreamed in the new economic pathways. This could be done through the SSE, which helps increase the collective strength and bargaining power of vulnerable workers. The fourth lesson learned, concluded Ms. Nanavaty, lies in the need to give more importance to data in order to increase the bargaining power of their members. “Data is not just a tool. It is bonding for us, it is a relationship. Data builds sisterhood and solidarity”. Digital platforms are going to be new public spaces, she noted. It is therefore essential to deal with them from an SSE perspective, Ms Nanavaty concluded.

Mr. Davidson Magalhães (SETRE, Bahia, Brazil) offered a video contribution to the session. It focused on the role of the State in fostering the action possibility and the potential of the SSE. Mr. Magalhães highlighted that in Brazil, after the pandemic, the Federal and State governments faced many challenges. Therefore they did not play a central role in the recovery.

Among the challenges was high levels of unemployment and informality. Mr. Magalhães stressed the necessity to completely change the approach at the federal level, and to do so by giving more attention to the SSE, which is an effective generator of employment. Among the possible strategies he suggested was the need for the Brazilian government to establish networks of microfinance, designed to reach especially small businesses. He presented some insights on the action of the Government of Bahia to support the SSE in the State. The SSE has a very important role in the economy of Bahia. The State supports it through programs of vocational training and follow-up for SSE organisations and networks. These programs are aimed at expanding the SSE networks and accompanying microentrepreneurs in the access to credit. Furthermore, The State of Bahia organises events to promote the SSE organisations and to expand their markets. According to Mr. Magalhães, this model should be expanded throughout Brazil, to ensure a central role of the SSE in the federal economy.

The last speaker of the session was the General Director of Employment and Labour Relations of the Government of Portugal, Ms. Ana Olim. She reflected on the most important steps undertaken at the international level to promote decent work, sustainability and a fair society, in line with and supporting the principles of the SSE.

First and foremost, she reminded the participants of the UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the ILO Centenary Declaration on the Future of Work of 2019. These frameworks can be operationalised and localised through the SSE. This would be the direction of the 2022 discussions of the ILC, that will address the SSE explicitly. The European Union strategies to invest in the SSE are going in the same direction, in particular the 2021 Social Economy Action Plan of the European Commission. Ms. Olim underlined how the SSE can be important for different economic sectors, thanks to its focus on solidarity and social responsibility and to the non-for-profit orientation.

By putting peoples and communities at the centre, the SSE can in fact play an important role locally to generate employment and to include the most vulnerable and marginalised people. Furthermore, it contributes to the provision of training, necessary for reskilling and upskilling of workers that is essential to be resilient in contexts of crisis and transformation. Finally, the new focus of the SSE on environmental issues is a booster for other alternative economic models, such as the circular economy. In conclusion, Ms. Olim highlighted that the SSE organisations “are here to stay”, and that the world should look at the SSE as an inspiration to develop new socio-economic models in the post-COVID renewal.

Click here to watch the recording of the session with the original audio, or interpreted in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

For more information on the 12th edition of the SSE Academy, click here.