Promoting the Unionisation of Informal Economy Workers in India

Over half of the world’s active population works in the informal economy. Yet work in the informal economy is often synonymous with precarious employment, discrimination and no representation. In India, the percentage of people active in this sector is as high as 90%. It is against this background that the NGO FEDINA, which has been working since it was set up in 1983 to empower marginalized people to enable them to better assert their rights, has launched a programme to unionise informal economy workers. FEDINA and the Belleville Institute have been working together to this end since 2009. In 2014, the two organisations signed a two-year partnership agreement to support activities aimed at organising people in informal employment as well as contributing to developing FEDINA’s network. To this end, collective meetings and workshops were held with male and female workers in the FEDINA network, such as members of the Karnataka Agricultural Workers’ Union, the General Workers’ Federation and the Union of Retired Informal Economy Workers.

In October 2015, a five-day mission was held in Bangalore to assess the partnership, with the participation not only of the CFDT and FEDINA, but also the Chinese workers’ rights NGO, China Labour Bulletin (CLB). The CLB’s participation was organised with a view to fostering experience sharing with FEDINA. Indeed, although China and India are very different in political and cultural terms, the workers of the two countries may be faced with similar constraints and obstacles when it comes to defending and exercising their rights. The meeting in October provided an opportunity to take stock of the activities undertaken and for discussions between the organisations present as well as with workers in the FEDINA network concerning fundamental aspects of trade unionism such as collective bargaining, the protection of trade union representatives or the training of leaders.

Based on the fruitfulness of these exchanges, the CLB, FEDINA, the Belleville Institute and the CFDT are now looking into setting up a partnership on the unionisation of textile sector workers in the years to come. With economic globalisation having turned China and India into global workshops in this area, a trade union partnership involving a Chinese "organisation" and an Indian "organisation" could prove particularly interesting. The Cambodian Labour Confederation, a partner of the Belleville Institute in Cambodia, could also be linked to the initiative.