= SMart is a labor mutual, i.e. one of the 'Business and Employment Cooperatives, a legal form (in Belgium, France ?) that allows self-employed to be salaried by their own joint cooperative, thereby obtaining the social protections of the salaried workers
URL = http://www.smartbe.be
Barbara Garbarczyk, Saw-B :
SMart was founded in 1998 in Belgium. It is currently represented in eight European countries and has more than 60,000 members. «Our organisation provides concrete answers, proposes advice, training and administrative, legal, fiscal and financial tools to simplify and legalise the professional activity in the creative sector». Apart from contributing solutions for a large number of workers in the creative sector, Smart has made a major contribution to numerous struggles for the recognition and appreciation of these «atypical» workers. SMart Belgique has recently launched «SMart in Progress», a participatory workshop of several months where all members are invited to participate. The objective? Transforming the association to a cooperative to better respond in full independence to the needs and the challenges of tomorrow." (http://www.saw-b.be/spip/IMG/pdf/a1515_mutuelles_de_travail_-_traduction_en.pdf)
Profile by the ILO, in its series 'Spotlights on Cooperatives' in July 2017 :
* What was the main reason for founding SMart?
SG: SMart stands for “Société Mutuelle pour artistes”. It was set up in Belgium in 1998 as a non-profit organization to support workers in the creative and cultural sectors to deal with paperwork and legal procedures so that they can focus on their creative activities. These workers often engage with multiple employers and changing teams, and are likely to be mobile in their professions developing different jobs around their primary skills. Because of these specific working patterns, they are often confronted with very complex administrative and legal frameworks concerning taxation and social security. To respond to these challenges, SMart has developed tools and services that help creative and cultural workers to manage all these aspects with ease, online.
Today SMart is a cooperative dedicated to the needs of a much wider population than only creative and cultural workers: freelancers. The expanded new goal of SMart is to release freelancers from administrative burdens linked to their professional activities. Without creating their own legal structure, freelancers can work within a legally secured framework, which allows them to focus on their core activity and on the customer relationships.
* What are the main activities of SMart?
The main service of SMart is to provide members with supportive tools, especially on contracts and invoicing. These tools allow for cooperative members to process contracts and declare expenses through a personalised portal. When a member generates a contract through SMart, SMart becomes his/her employer for the duration of the contract. This enables workers to access social protection for salaried workers, which is much more protective than that of self-employment. The tool also allows members to access another level of solidarity through mutualisation of economic risks and benefits. Other mutualized services that SMart offers to its members include insurance, protection against risk, training, workspace, and legal and financial advice.
Although SMart was originally dedicated to workers in the creative field, today these workers represent only about half the SMart community. In Belgium, 80,000 people have used SMart’s tools since 1998, and in 2016, over 20,000 freelancers used SMart for an equivalent of 2,709 full-time jobs. In a world marked by the destruction of social relations, SMart aims to re-articulate, for the benefit of the workers, an ethical and lasting alliance between entrepreneurial economic activity and the socio-professional conditions of the worker who creates wealth.
* How does SMart work?
SMart has 167 permanent employees who provide operational services for members, administer the back office, and develop IT services. In addition, 11 SMart members have open-ended contracts through SMart, allowing them to even their income throughout the year.
Members are at the heart of the functioning of SMart as they are the ones that generate its economic and social value. In order to guarantee their role in decision-making and to ensure a truly participatory and sustainable governance, “SMart In Progress” was initiated in 2015. This process intended to support two major changes that were taking place within SMart: opening up SMart services to freelancers beyond the creative field; and transforming SMart into a cooperative. All stakeholders were invited to provide their opinion on these changes.
Beyond the “SMart In Progress” process, members participate in formal decision-making at the Annual General Assembly. This is an occasion not only for making formal decisions, but also to organise various events and activities that allow exchanges between the stakeholders. More than 800 members and stakeholders participated in the last GA, which was accessible through an online stream to ensure wider outreach. The Board, elected by SMart shareholders, is constituted by a maximum of 18 representatives (all shareholders), including members as well as permanent employees, contractors and partners.
SMart is also a part of a network of sister organizations that develop similar services, with the same values and goals, and in collaboration with local partners. These sister organizations, most of which are cooperatives, are based in eight countries: France, Sweden, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Hungary. The country level services are adapted to the specific national rules and regulations, and the national culture and practice.
SMart is financially and politically totally independent and autonomous. As a shared company, the group's turnover is almost entirely constituted by the economic activities generated by its members (98 per cent). The major financial resources are the capital contribution of members, the capital contribution of SMart to its partner entities, and the fee for the use of the invoicing tools. Additional resources come from the mutualisation benefits including insurance and redistribution by the governments. SMart’s profits are entirely reinvested in the realization of the social objectives and goals of the cooperative, namely in the enhancement of existing services and the development of new ones for the benefit of its community." (http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/cooperatives/news/WCMS_562154/lang--en/index.htm)