City: Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries
Strengthening the movement of home-based workers, the Association (AHBW) in Bulgaria is the first organisation of informal workers in Eastern Europe. It is a non-governmental organisation based on membership and democratic governance, i.e. it takes a bottom-up approach. It is an initiative to make visible home-based workers as well as protect their social and economic rights. It operates at the national and regional level.
Photo courtesy of homeneteasteurope.com
Holding Organisation: Association of home-based workers, Bulgaria Status: NGO Financing: International organisation WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing & Organizing) People involved in the project: home-based workers Public Partners: 12 organisations from Eastern Europe Private Partners: No Creation Date: September 2002 Sources & Links: The managing body of the Association: http://www.homeneteasteurope.com/; e-mail: violetazlateva à gmail.com Contact Persons: Violeta Zlateva, Chair person
The idea is to: a) assist financially vulnerable women employed in the informal economy to gain economic self-reliance and increase their participation in politics, governance and management; b) provide policy-advocacy training to help the home-based workers to influence policy changes that will improve their lives; c) facilitate capacity-building efforts that focus on democratic governance of membership-based organisations. We are trying to strengthen the representative organisations of home-based workers in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe and to expand the regional network.
The local context
According to the latest data, there are about 500,000 home-based workers in Bulgaria, of which more than 62% are self-employed. In a populace of particularly high unemployment rates and low income, home-based employment is a good alternative. Among the 500 surveyed home-based workers in Bulgaria, 78% are women, mostly 35 to 55 years of age. Working hours are generally 10-12 hours/day, without any day off. It is usually the unemployed, middle-aged people who are forced to requalify as home-based workers.
Almost one year after the adoption of the Home-based Work Act, only 8% of the home-based workers are socially insured – a statistic highlighted from a survey by the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria.
The starting point
The idea of protecting the rights of informal workers first occured to us because of the many difficulties we face. The organisation works with volunteers, who are its members. For 12 years now, AHBW has involved more than 50 volunteers to solve problems of home-based workers.
With the support of the Association, in 2009 Bulgaria ratified Convention 177 of the ILO, and in 2011 it adopted legislative amendments concerning hired home-based workers. AHBW has since performed different surveys of home-based work in Bulgaria and another in the Eastern European countries.
For over two years, with the support of WIEGO, the organisation has assisted in the establishment and strengthening of European organisations of home-based workers. There are new NGOs in Albania, Macedonia, Turkey, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kyrgyzstan while relationships are as well being strengthened with the trade unions of informal workers from Ukraine, Georgia and Croatia.
On the initiative of AHBW, in 2011, 12 Eastern European organisations signed a Declaration of Cooperation and in 2013 a network of home-based workers was registered - HomeNet Eastern Europe.
How does it work
Within a period of 12 years, AHBW has established a national structure consisting of 22 centres throughout the country with elected local coordiantors among members. There are local bodies in the municipalities of Sofia, Pernik, Pleven, Petrich, Montana, Rousse, Rousse district, Burgas, Silistra, Smolyan, Stara Zagora, Vraca, Varna, Veliko Tarnovo.
AHBW has established six shopping centres to carry out the production of self-employed home-based workers. At these centres, bazaars / exhibitions are organised on a regular basis. An annual International Festival of home-based workers – manufacturers is also hosted here. Training of 22 coordinators and motivational training of 150 home-based workers has been provided.
In June 2013, the Second International Festival of home-based workers was held in Sofia and Ruse, organized by the Association with the support of the municipality of Rousse. At the Festival, among many other events, there took place competitions for children, descendants of domestic handicrafts masters; a meeting with women-employers of home-based workers, where a partnership contract for long-term collaboration was signed. The festival was covered by the media at national and regional level. Much of the public and other organisations have since expressed an interest and desire for partnership. Following the presentation in Sofia, we received invitations to participate in fairs in Plovdiv, Velingrad and Etara museum.
This year, not only did the Festival gain a lot of media coverage, it also provided a means for financial gain. Everyone was pleased with the sales and the time for joint communication.
Participation and governance
The association is a non-governmental organisation of informal workers based on membership and democratic governance – i.e. it adopts a bottom-up approach. Managing bodies and local coordinators are elected by members. Annual and interim reports are being elaborated, which enable progress monitoring, including the impact, outcome and output data obtained thus far.
Outside WIEGO, which helps us financially, there are partnerships with other international organisations active in providing solutions for problems relating to the informal economy.
Added value of the project
A voice is given to the concerns of home-based workers and solutions for their problems are sought at local level. At the same time, through WIEGO contacts and the exchange of practices, solutions are looked for at international level as well. Thus:
- The Association of home-based workers in Bulgaria strengthens and develops its local structures;
- "Invisible" home-based workers in Bulgaria share their problems and solutions with colleagues from all over the world; and
- Informed and organised in a single network, home-based workers are stronger and their demands become more significant.
The project involves volunteers and active members of local organisations in terms of human potential. In terms of material resources then, in use are crossborder offices of the Organisation, the web pages of HoumNet Eastern Europe and of WIEGO. A specific web page containing information and advice has been developed within the WIEGO site as well.
Difficulties relate to inadequate regulatory framework that does not recognise the existence of home-based workers. For a large part of the authorities, home-based workers are not considered workers at all.
Our goal is for self-employed home-based workers to be recognised as fully-fledged workers. To create a single market for self-employed home-based workers and for the employed home-based workers to participate actively in the National Employment Plan. In order to achieve these objectives, we participate in various projects.
Proposals for change
For 12 years now we have been accumulating experiences of home-based workers and the protection of their rights. Experience has shown us the pros and cons in our work and therefore, whenever there is a need for change, we adjust things as is needed. Time has shown us that respecting democracy in an NGO keeps us on the right path - to help disadvantaged groups in the labour market to understand and claim their rights.
Other valuable projects
In parallel with this project, AHBW is working on another global project related to exploitation in the garment industry. The project duration is 3 years and is entitled: “Research and Campaigning on Living Wages for Garment Workers in the Global East”.