ILO Calls For Urgent Need to Revitalise Trade Unions

ILO Calls For Urgent Need to Revitalise Trade Unions

Geopolitical tension, climate change and natural disasters, as well as armed

Conflicts and food and financial crises are exacerbating inequalities of workers and trade union rights, according to an international study.

The study Trade Union Revitalisation: Organising new forms of platform workers in the 2022 edition of the International Journmal of Research launched by the Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAVN) highlghts the urgent need to revitalize trade unions around the world.

The authors of the study urged trade unions to strengthen their unity and cooperation. They also called for new forms of work to be organized, especially on digital platforms, where young people are over-represented.

On the study. ACTRAV Director Maria Helena Andre said “trade unions play an  important role in ensuring peace, social justice and decent work for all. From the ILO’s point of view, we strongly believe that the revitalization of trade union is possible. For this to happen, it is important that trade unions strengthen their unity and develop innovative strategies to attract and organise workers in forms of work especially those in the digital economy. More young people should be attracted to trade unions to reinforce their membership. We hope that this issue will stimulate reflexions and actions to strengthen the trade union movement”


Noting that three messages emerge from the 2022 edition of the International Journal of Labour Research, Maria Helena Andre said, “first a renewed impetus for the work of trade unions, which play an important role in defending workers rights and improving their living and working conditions. Second, in an increasingly challenging environment due to political, economic, energy and climate crises unity and cooperation between trade unions are essential within countries but of course also across regions and at international level. Third, trade unions must seize this unique moment to broaden their membership through innovative strategies to attract and organize more workers in new forms of work, especially those in the digital economy, where the young people are over-represented .”

  • However, existing trade union approaches are not always comprehensive or integrated. A possible new approach would be to experiment, for instance in the COVID-19 context, then try to understand the outcome, and then potentially scale up.
  • Trade unions may choose to focus on one of the three As: anticipation, agility or adaptation. For instance, if organizational openness is a challenge, trade unions may want to focus on socialization, for instance raising awareness or reaching out to other organizations, and build broad coalitions (agility approach).
  • Trade unions have been changing and adapting to new labour-market players, such as online labour platforms, and to new organizational practices.
  • Online platforms have demonstrated a reluctance to enter negotiations with workers where they were not formally organized or institutionally supported, yet various barriers, including employment status and the atomized character of this volatile workforce, hamper long-standing strategies for building a membership base in the digital economy.
  • Traditional labour unions have been deploying existing resources and organizational capacities to form novel networks and alliances, since the core of platform workers’ struggle remain focused on issues that have continually taken the centre stage of collective bargaining: fair pay, decent working time, social protection and labour rights.
  • Platform-based ridehailing and delivery workers are easier to identify and approach; the unions can identify and negotiate with employers within the country’s boundaries and legislative systems
  • However, no attempts to organize other types of workers, such as e-commerce workers or crowdworkers, were reported; unions stated that there was no way to identify these workers and even if there were, it was unlikely that they would be interested in joining trade unions or organizing collectively.
  • There was no evidence of the trade unions making use of the technology that the workers themselves were using to obtain and perform work (the internet, digital platforms and social media).
  • The trade unions’ challenge is to build an agenda to reverse work precariousness and extend representation to all forms of work organization, while ensuring universal rights and social protection.
  • Traditionally, only workers in formal employment have had access to trade unions, which excludes workers in situations of greater vulnerability and sectors of low productivity.
  • Workers who perform their activities at home or informally have no social coverage and find it difficult to organize themselves.
  • Trade union unity and cooperation are important to reinforce union membership, voice and influence at all levels. At national level, unions must focus on moving towards unity by collaborating within the labour movement to reach common positions, extending unionization to groups in vulnerable situations and extending organizing and collective action towards addressing strategic objectives, such as the creation of decent employment, decent work deficits, low wages, the impact of climate change, lack of social protection and so on.
  • Establish collective and permanent mechanisms in trade union entities to achieve greater democratization of trade union spaces, involving youth, women, and vulnerable groups, including migrant workers and persons with disability.
  • Trade unions must adopt innovative strategies to mobilize and organize workers in new forms of work, including those in the platform economy.
  • Where national legislation does not recognize the right of digital workers to join trade unions, unions can explore other mechanisms, such as works councils, creating a collaborative platform with employers for improving occupational safety and health that will serve as a stepping stone to organizing workers formally.
  • Form novel networks and alliances with emerging associations, such as self-organized workers. 8 Deploy digital communication tools in reaching a dispersed, yet constantly connected, online workforce.
  • Identify talent within the union that can help to generate a robust digital strategy and develop digital communication capabilities; this may include members or even staff who are not traditionally considered for such a role, but who have the necessary knowledge of and interest in digital media engagement.
  • Focus on long-standing labour demands, such as decent pay, health and safety, nondiscrimination and working time, thus recognizing commonalities between platform work and other forms of precarious labour.
  • Trade unions can seek judicial expansion of the standard definition of the employment relationship in respect of platform work. Public interest litigation or similar initiatives may provide some advantage for workers and trade unions.
  • Ensure that all those working in vulnerable conditions have access to work and social protection.


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