Inclusive Finance for Workers

Faced with a fast changing world of work and shrinking membership, workers’ organizations need to develop innovative strategies to retain existing members and attract new members. Rendering services more useful to the daily needs of worker households, such as facilitating member’s access to financial services is a possible strategy.

The reality is that in many countries workers are still unable to access formal financial services including savings, credit, insurance, remittances and payments. Even if financial services are available, they may come with some challenges. One the one hand, services may not be affordable, they may not meet the needs of a particular worker household, or they may not be available within reasonable physical proximity nor regulated and overseen to protect clients. On the other hand, workers may not have the capabilities to make sound financial decisions.

Workers’ organizations have the potential to play a key role in empowering their members to access financial services through collective action. By offering financial services, either directly or indirectly, workers’ organizations are in a position to improve their outreach to workers, organize the informal economy, grow their membership, and potentially increase their revenues. Furthermore using their bargaining power, they can also advocate for a policy environment that supports sustainable and responsible financial services.

In 2013, the ILO undertook a survey with 166 unions from 109 countries representing 441.6 million workers. The survey highlighted that 60 per cent of unions already offer some sort of financial service, and an even bigger percentage, 69 per cent would be interested in starting or improving their offering. Trade unions are using a diversity of institutional options for their financial service provision. Yet they realize, or are learning from experience, that financial services require more specialized expertise than other support services they may offer. They need assistance to be able to provide financial services professionally, so the take-up by members is high enough to sustain and maintain the services without draining the union’s main resources and reserves.

In this context, the ILO Social Finance programme articulates its work on “Inclusive Finance for Workers” around two main areas: i) Institutional capacity building and ii) Knowledge generation and dissemination.

Social Finance work on the topic

Institutional capacity building

Training programme on Inclusive Finance for Workers: The five-day training programme aims to build trade unions’ capacity and inspire them to improve access to financial services for their members and potential members. Ultimately, the programme contributes to enhancing financial inclusion of workers and promoting decent work. The programme was developed in collaboration with the ILO Bureau for Workers’ activities (ACTRAV), and the International Training Centre of the ILO (ITC ILO) and has already been offered to over 50 trade unions in Africa and Asia. 

Training package on Financial Education for Workers: The training package aims to help workers’ organizations to train workers on financial management and equip them with skills related to earning, spending, budgeting, saving, borrowing and managing risks. The training package consists of a trainer’s manual and a trainee’s guide. It is part of a series of financial education training tools developed and used worldwide by Social Finance for the past 15 years.

Knowledge generation and dissemination

Social Finance conducts research and documents experiences of trade unions around the world in promoting access to finance for their members. Examples of Working Papers include the findings of the survey mentioned above – Labour unions and the promotion of inclusive finance for workers, the experience of a workers’ bank in Japan – the Rokin Bank, the trade unions’ involvement in financial inclusion in South Africa and the United States, the role of trade unions in addressing the indebtedness issue of workers in Brazil and Germany. The findings are shared with the trade union movements and contribute to strengthening the above-mentioned training programme on Inclusive Finance for Workers.

Boarder ILO agenda on the topic


Through the policy statement Microfinance for Decent Work, the ILO’s Governing Body has given Social Finance the mandate to enhance the capacity of workers’ organizations to support financial inclusion.