Social Dialogue in the SDGs Era – thematic discussion on formalising informal work at the OECD

Trade unions and the ILO jointly organised a thematic discussion on the role of social dialogue in formalising the informal economy. The event took place at the OECD headquarters in Paris on 19 March 2018. It brought together trade unionists from across the world, as well as the ILO, the OECD and representatives from national governments.

In many developing countries, the informal economy accounts for a majority of working people. It is characterised by high vulnerability of workers to exploitative conditions, low access to social protection and both drives down productivity and stunts domestic resource mobilisation. In addressing these problems, the process of formalisation is instrumental to achieving the SDGs. The formal economy is not insulated from contexts of informality. As well as applying downward pressure on working conditions informality is an integral part of global supply chains, in which it enters through unchecked subcontracting practices. Organised in the lead-up to the Trade Union-DAC Forum, this discussion provided a platform for an exchange between trade unions and institutional actors with a view of coordinating an approach to addressing these issues.

The first session reviewed evidence of the impact of social dialogue on the formalisation process and was moderated by Caroline O’Reilly (Social Dialogue and Tripartism Unit – ILO). Trade union represented presented the findings of new research carried out in Argentina, Costa Rica and the Philippines. These examples highlighted the shared interest of workers, employers and governments to jointly address the informal economy and provided insights into how this can be achieved through social dialogue. Overall, social dialogue in these countries was shown to contribute to the extension of social protection, of worker’s rights and of institutional recognition of workers in the informal economy, which are major components of the formalisation process. The provisions required for an effective social dialogue on this issue were also identified. The integration of informal sector representation within these spaces was seen as key and raises a number of requirements. On one hand, social dialogue must be meaningfully integrating as a decision-making process and, on the other, the capacity of unions to organise within the informal economy needs to be further developed.

The second session focussed on furthering collaboration with social partners and featured interventions from Mario Pezzini (Director of the OECD Development Centre), Garance Pineau (Ministry of Labour - France), Claudia Serrano (Permanent Representation of Chile to the OECD) and Stefano Signore (DG DEVCO - European Commission). Pezzini raised the issue of the diversity of actors in the informal economy, including the specificity of a large proportion of informal economy workers being self-employed. In line with this, Signore identified three ways of supporting social dialogue for the formalisation process, namely by: supporting freedom of association, building the capacity of social partners to organise within the informal economy, and by strengthening their representational capacity at the policy-making table. Focussing on France’s recent joining of the Global Deal, Pineau’s intervention highlighted the relevance of social dialogue at international level, notably in driving to further Global Framework Agreements. The relevance of this role was echoed at national level by Serrano’s intervention, which outlined the benefit of social dialogue to labour conditions.

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