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Collective Bargaining by Workers of the Indian Unorganized Sector: Struggle, Process, Achievements, and Learning

Indian Sector for Self-Employed Women, December 2012

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Summary :

“Collective Bargaining by Workers of the Indian Unorganized Sector: Struggle, Process, Achievements, and Learning” is one in a set of five case studies examining collective bargaining by informal workers. This research was conceived by Women in the Informal Economy: Globalizing and Organizing and supported by the Solidarity Centre. Each of the case studies covers a different category of informal workers in a different country. Please see a list of case study titles and their authors below.

  • “Negotiating the Recycling Bonus Law: Waste Pickers and Collective Bargaining in Minas Gerais, Brazil.” by Vera Alice Cordosa Silva

  • “Collective Bargaining and Domestic Workers in Uruguay.” by Mary R. Goldsmith

  • “Collective Bargaining by Workers of the Indian Unorganized Sector: Struggle, Process, Achievements and Learnings.” by the Indian Academy For Self Employed Women

  • “Collective Bargaining among Transport Workers in Georgia.” by Elza Jgerenaia

  • “Collective Bargaining Negotiations Between Street Vendors and City Government in Monrovia, Liberia.” by Milton A. Weeks

Collective Bargaining is usually understood as taking place between an employer and employees to achieve a collective agreement, primarily around wages and working conditions. (For the International Labour Organization’s definition of collective bargaining, see C184: Collective Bargaining Convention, 1981 [No.154]). Workers in the informal economy, including own account workers, engage in many forms of collective bargaining through their membership-based organizations (MBOS) on a range of “non-traditional” issues. However, their counterparts across the table are often not employers. Street vendors most often negotiate with local authorities, for example, and with different municipal departments on different issues (such as with police regarding harassment and confiscation of goods). Waste pickers may negotiate with local authorities for storage and sorting facilities or, more ambitiously, for the right to provide collection and recycling services for which they are paid. Many need to negotiate with buyers for better prices for recyclables.

Unlike workers in the formal economy whose rights are usually laid down in labour statutes, most informal workers do not have statutory collective bargaining rights. While the right has been acknowledged by the ILO (see Resolution and Conclusions Concerning Decent Work in the Informal Economy, ILC, 90th Session, 2002), including for own account workers, it has not generally been extended to these workers.

Most often, negotiations take place in ad hoc meetings – often arising out of a crisis – or in consultative forums without statutory obligation on the part of the authorities, and without enforceable agreements or continuity. While dialogues, consultations, or meetings to resolve immediate disputes play a role in enabling informal workers to raise their voices and make gains, agreements reached can be easily ignored or undermined.

However, as the case studies listed before outline, increasingly informal workers are finding a place at the table: with national and local governments – or, in the case of domestic workers, in forums involving employers.

Sources :

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing - Wiego website: wiego.org