Work Together (Archive)

The ILO highlights the role of cooperatives as innovative care service providers

1 April 2016

Cooperatives are a good solution for both caregivers and for the users, because they can offer quality employment to the former and good services to the latter. This is what is suggested by a report released by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in March. In fact, in the industrial/services cooperative sector there is a growing number of enterprises dedicated to providing social services to people. The report concludes that cooperatives contribute to the response to unmet needs in a changing world in which the aging population is rapidly growing. However, there are also challenges that cooperatives are trying to cope with.

The Global Mapping of the Provision of Care through Cooperatives report] is a joint initiative of the ILO’s Cooperatives Unit (COOP) and Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch (GED).

“One commonly identified source for future job growth in both developing and industrialized countries is the care economy, given the aging population in much of the world (…). What will it take to realize that potential?”, asks ILO General Director, Guy Ryder. “Many existing needs for care either go unmet because of financial constraints or are covered by resorting to underpaid or unpaid careers”.

In the current global scenario, the provision of care is changing, driven by demographic shifts such as the increase in the ageing population. “The number of older people is expected to exceed the number of children for the first time in 2047”, states the ILO.
It follows that the care economy represents a huge potential for employment generation. Nevertheless, the risk of job insecurity and of exploitation of the workers, particularly those that are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, may infringe on caregiving responsibilities. This is why, the ILO says, “new solutions to care are needed on two fronts: in regards to the nature and provision of care services and the terms and conditions of care work”.

The cooperative answer
The report refers to worker cooperatives, social cooperatives, users’ cooperatives and multi-stakeholder cooperatives providing different types of care services, from child care to eldercare, as well as long-term care for people living with disabilities and chronic illness. Most of them are small enterprises.

The ILO describes these cooperatives as “emerging as an innovative type of care provider, particularly in the absence of viable public or other private options”. In particular, they are important employers and generate access to more stable employment and better terms and conditions of work (access to benefits, more bargaining power, regularized hours and safe work conditions). An additional contribution of cooperatives is the provision of formal contracts, “a particular value for informally employed workers and home-based care providers, who are the least likely to enjoy protected terms and conditions of work”.

Cooperatives in the care sector are emerging as important employers and generate access to more stable employment and better terms and conditions of work (access to benefits, more bargaining power, regularized hours and safe working conditions).

Furthermore, they provide decent jobs to people who are often excluded from the labor market: young adults, ethnic minorities, people with a disability, migrant workers, etc.
In particular, women have access to stable employment opportunities and the worker member status is underlined as one of the features leading to an improved flexibility and work-life balance for them.

The experience of the Service Workers Centre Cooperative Society, based in Trinidad, is meaningful. This worker cooperative brings together domestic workers, especially women, and helps to eradicate the exploitation of migrants by providing training and the opportunity to obtain the relevant certification: “At the cooperative, we want to help migrants get their Caribbean Vocational Qualification”, says Ida LeBlanc, secretary of the cooperative. “With this, they are certified. The training and the certification helps them get better jobs and make better money”. She goes on to add that, “being a mother, sometimes things happen. Things just pop up. You have to take care of your children. The cooperative helps when this happens”.

Nevertheless, the cooperative benefit extends not just to employees, but also to users receiving care services. Indeed, the majority of survey respondents state that accessibility, affordability, service quality, durability and community participation are key dimensions of the service provision that cooperatives often actively promote.

The report found that cooperatives have limited access to capital and start-up revenue. In addition, there is a lack of cooperative know-how and knowledge that still hampers the potential of cooperatives. Moreover, despite the overall growing demand for care services provided by cooperatives, the findings suggest that national and local government’s support is critical for cooperatives involved in care services.

How do cooperatives try to cope with these and other challenges? Inter-cooperation and horizontal groups help individual cooperatives be stronger through economies of scale, as Davide Lo Duca, business development manager at the Italian Cooperative Omnibus, which is a member of the VCO Consortium, explains: “Consortia are, in this sense, a desirable solution. They give weight to the cooperatives and help them to be recognized as major players”.

CICOPA was glad to provide its contribution as a careful reader of this report before its release”, says Bruno Roelants, Secretary General of CICOPA, “we believe that this report should be widely promoted, in order to raise people’s awareness about the role of cooperatives in the care provision sector. From our sectoral perspective, as CICOPA we have been observing a huge development of services to citizens and the community over the recent decades, such as social and health care, sometimes with the inclusion of other stakeholders (users, local representatives etc.). This expansion marks a new pathway towards strengthening the relationship between the cooperative movement and society around us”.