As part of its efforts to enhance social dialogue in the context of social policy and following a series of policy labs held during 2020. The Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) held a policy lab on Thursday 10 June 20201, which addressed the role of cooperatives and unions in ensuring inclusive social protection and social assistance.
The panelists included local and regional experts and practitioners in the field including representatives of the International Labor Organization (ILO), World Food Program, MENA Social Policy Network, and Development Pathways. The participants elaborated on the challenges surrounding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on almost all aspects of life, and how the crisis is exacerbating pre-existing problems such as poverty and unemployment.
While many Arab states have a strong history of trade unionism, the participants focused on how these organizations could help alleviate poverty in the region; economically through stimulating economic growth, democratically through providing a framework for better economic participation, and socially through building capacity and trust between groups in society otherwise divided along ethnic, religious or political lines.
The participants discussed the different possibilities that cooperatives and unions could offer to enhance the social protection of their members, but also the challenges these organizations face in Jordan (i.e., legislation limiting their role, governmental interventions to curb their role; internal limited capacities to represent workers). They also discussed the many obstacles that cooperatives and unions still face in alleviating poverty in the region. According to the ILO, these include poor relations with the state, lack of independence, inability to access finance and reliance on donors, poor performance management, weak institutions, and inequality.
The participants agreed that syndicates and cooperatives have a unique ability to play a role in providing pathways from unemployment, and informal or inconsistent forms of employment, towards other opportunities. This requires collaboration and a commitment to the principle of workers’ rights. The role of cooperatives and syndicates should be integrated into developmental and social national strategies. Additionally, the development of the role of cooperatives and syndicates should be done with the strategic and conscious effort to utilize their existing resources and capabilities and complemented by other components of society and other stakeholders such as civil society organizations.