Skip to main content

Start a worker co-op

Two members of Birmingham Bike Foundry
Birmingham Bike Foundry is a worker co-operative that repairs and refurbishes bikes and provides training courses for individuals and organisations

In this section we provide some basic information on worker co-ops – where the business is owned and controlled by those who know it best – the workers!

What are worker co-ops?

Worker co-operatives are trading enterprises, owned and run by the people who work in them, who have an equal say in what the business does, and an equitable share in the wealth created from the products and services they provide. 

Worker co-operatives go further than giving workers a stake in the businesses they work in – the workers own the business. They are not given a share of the profits – the profits are theirs to distribute how they want.

Sometimes workers share ownership and control with other stakeholders, like the local community, or customers in a hybrid model.

Quote mark
In most businesses, workers feel they have little control. In a worker co-op, it’s the opposite – if you work hard and the business is successful, the benefits come back to you.
– Babs Macgregor, Greencity worker-owner
Greencity Wholefoods
Glasgow based Greencity Wholefoods are one of the largest worker co-ops in the UK

How do worker co-ops operate?

In a worker co-op, the co-op is run for the benefit of the people who do the work.

Worker co-ops like Leeds Bread Co-opDelta-T Devices and Creative Coop are controlled by the workers, who all participate in decision making.

These types of co-ops tend to have very flat structures and no hierarchy. Some – but not all – pay all the staff equally, no matter what their role. But this doesn’t have to be the case as the model is very flexible.

Many worker co-ops also encourage workers to have a number of different roles in the co-op, which means workers gain experience in a number of areas.

The workers are involved in decision making and how any surplus is shared out or reinvested in the business. How this works in practice depends on what the co-op has written in their rules.

Support for starting a worker co-op

What to know more?
Read a quick guide to setting up a worker co-op
Related content