Bernardo M. Villegas
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World Declaration on Worker Cooperatives

           A distinct advantage of emerging markets like the Philippines in the next two to three decades is the demographic dividend which endows them, not only with large domestic markets, but with a young and growing work force, in contrast with the aging societies in the developed world.  Even in this era of highly advanced technology, human labor will continue to be a competitive advantage of the so-called "breakout" nations, to use a term of Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley.  It is important, therefore, that there be more innovative approaches to organizing workers for both productive and inclusive growth.  One of these innovations has already been introduced to the Philippines by some pioneering labor leaders and is about to benefit from the work of enlightened legislators who are introducing a bill "to further strengthen the standard of protection and enhancement of the welfare of self-employed workers and craftsmen and the promotion of entrepreneurship, thereby amending Section 8 or Republic Act 8282, otherwise known as the Social Security Act of 1997."

          Because the concept of a worker cooperative is relatively new in the Philippines, it is important that there be more public dialogues about the benefits it will confer on Filipino workers.  As the bill introduced by Rep. Emil L. Ong and Rep. Hermilando Mandanas states, "studies show that self-employed individuals compose the second largest sector in the country.  Around 54.9% of the entire Philippine population is composed of wage and salary workers, 28.8% are self-employed, 6.4% are unemployed and 19.1% are underemployed.  Unlike the wage and salary workers who have long been protected by an array of laws, contingent, non-regular and self-employed workers do not have a single law that is duly dedicated to protecting their rights and interest."  With the view of informing leaders in government, business, civil society and the academe about workers' cooperatives, the First Philippine Worker Cooperative Conference has been organized for July 18, 2012 at the University of Asia and the Pacific under the auspices of the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) and Co-op Works, an association of self-employed worker cooperatives.

          Here, let me quote from the World Declaration on Worker Cooperatives by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) in a general assembly in Cartagena, Colombia on September 23, 2005:

          --Among the modalities of worker ownership, the one being organized through worker cooperatives has attained the highest level of development and importance at present in the world, and is structured on the basis of the universal cooperative principles, values and operational methods enshrined in the Statement on the Cooperative Identity (Manchester, 1995), agreed upon within the framework of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), and incorporated in the ILO Recommendation 193/2001 on the Promotion of Cooperatives.

          --Worker cooperatives are committed to being governed by the above-mentioned Statement on the Cooperative Identity.  Moreover, it has become necessary to define at world level some basic characters and internal operational rules that are exclusive to this type of cooperatives, which have specific goals and purposes that differ from cooperatives belonging to other categories.  This definition will enhance the coherence and universal identity of cooperative worker ownership, stimulate its development, and produce recognition at world level of its social and economic function in creating decent and sustainable jobs, while also preventing deviations or abuses.

          --A world declaration is also needed in order to focus on the importance of cooperative worker ownership, the promotion of worker cooperatives, and their relations with cooperatives belonging to other categories, as well as with the State, international organizations, the entrepreneurial world and the trade unions.  This is necessary to guarantee the development and promotion of worker cooperatives, as well as the full recognition of their role as actors in the solution of the problems of unemployment and social exclusion, and as proponents of one of the most advanced, fair and dignifying modalities of labor relations, generation and distribution of wealth, and democratisation of ownership and of the economy.

          It is obvious that the attempts to develop worker cooperatives in the Philippines as one of the possible modalities of organizing workers for productive and inclusive growth are in consonance with international agreements sanctioned by both the cooperative and labor movements all over the world.  Those who are interested in attending the conference at the University of Asia and the Pacific on July 18 may get in touch with Dr. Veronica Ramirez at  email address veronica.ramirez@uap.asia. For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.