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Law and the Informal Economy
March 2019
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Administrative Justice Project
All over the world, poor people who rely on access to public space and public resources to earn their livelihoods face a litany of challenges. A significant number are street vendors, who comprise 15 per cent of the world’s urban workforce ( Roever 2016 ). Street vendors are routinely harassed by police and local authorities: they face evictions and their goods are often confiscated and destroyed even where they have the necessary licences or permits to trade. Often local authorities refuse to grant or renew licences to trade. Moreover, informal traders have limited access to infrastructure and facilities such as toilets, water, shelter and storage that are necessary for their livelihoods. Waste pickers are also harassed by authorities, who confiscate the recyclables they have collected; deny them access to landfill sites and to space to sort recyclables; and exclude them from tendering for waste collection and recycling contracts.

Many of the challenges that self-employed informal workers face are caused by decisions made by local government authorities who control access to public space, to waste, and to infrastructure and services. These decisions have far-reaching consequences on self-employed informal workers’ ability to earn a secure livelihood and on their productivity and income levels. Local authorities are often driven by negative perceptions that informal workers constitute a nuisance and a health risk. This attitude persists despite informal workers’ significant contribution to the economy, including providing poor consumers with cheap food, services and consumer products.

Local government officials typically derive their powers to take actions and make decisions from regulations or by-laws. Most often these regulations fail to recognize self-employed workers’ livelihoods as legitimate. Irrespective of the regulation or the nature of the decision or action, local authorities must comply with the overarching principles of administrative justice. Administrative justice principles regulate the actions and decisions of all government officials, requiring them to follow due process. The principles stipulate that public authorities must behave in a lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair manner—that is, they must follow due process.

In 2017, WIEGO launched the Administrative Justice Project . A partnership of WIEGO’s Law Programme with the Open Society’s Women’s Rights Programme and WIEGO’s Organization and Representation Programme, this project aims to build the capacity of informal worker organizations to challenge local authorities’ decisions where they violate administrative justice principles.

While administrative justice does not mean one can contest the merits of a decision, it allows one to challenge the process that was followed in taking the decision or action. For example, procedurally fair may mean that the administrator should consult the workers before relocating them and provide reasons for their decisions. Typically, if an administrator’s decision is reviewed by a court (or an administrative tribunal) and the court finds the decision was unlawful, unreasonable or procedurally not fair, the court would set aside the decision or action and order the administrator to act again, this time complying with the due process principles of administrative justice.

We chose to focus on administrative justice because we believed that in many cases workers would not need lawyers, as the principles are clear and are less likely to be contested by local authorities. This has proved correct, certainly in South Africa. And, if a matter does go to court (or an administrative tribunal), the review of the authority’s decisions is speedy compared to cases that challenge the merits of the decision. Taking decisions on review is also significantly cheaper!
Workshop in South Africa.
Within a year of the project’s inception, informal vendors who participated in training have realized important gains. In one case, for example, a new by-law was negotiated; in another, vendors stopped the relocation of their trade. And in a third case, a trader was released from prison for not having his licence on his person, and the outrageous fine was retracted.

In the instances where workers have successfully challenged local authorities’ actions, they relied on their training on the basic principles of administrative justice. In none of these cases did they rely on lawyers.

WIEGO’s Administrative Justice Project comprises four components:

  1. Commissioning a technical brief: The first step is to commission an administrative law expert to write a brief that describes the particular country’s legal framework, the by-laws that regulate informal workers’ access to public space and resources, the principles of administrative justice, and the remedies available to informal workers. See Lauren Kohn’s brief Using Administrative Law to Secure Informal Livelihoods: Lessons from South Africa. Briefs for Ghana, Mexico and Senegal are still being finalized.
  2. Developing worker education materials: We develop worker education materials and a workers’ guide that outlines the country’s administrative law in a worker-friendly manner. The workers’ guide for South Africa is available online; final versions of the Accra and Mexico City workers guides are in production.
  3. Building institutional relationships with lawyers: We identify and build institutional relationships with organisations of pro-bono lawyers who can support informal worker organizations when their help is needed.
  4. Training worker leaders Using participatory pedagogy, we train worker leaders over three days on the regulations that govern their work; the principles of administrative justice in their country; and how to use the law to challenge local authorities’ decisions and actions. Participants also benefit from a panel discussion with the pro bono lawyers.

Workshops Deliver Results

In concert with WIEGO’s Organization and Representation Programme , we have trained worker leaders in three countries to date. A total of 88 leaders of worker organizations participated in the training:

  • South Africa (February 2018) – 42 street vendor and waste picker leaders from all nine provinces
  • Ghana (November 2018) – 20 street vendors and 10 waste picker leaders from Accra and Tema
  • Mexico (January 2019) – 8 shoe shiners and 8 tianguistas (street market traders) leaders
Thanks to the workshop I realize that the abuse of power happens because of a lack of information and that we do have tools to defend ourselves .”
~Street-market vendor (tianguista) in Mexico
In the year since the South African workshop, WIEGO has learned of six instances in which street vendors have successfully used administrative law to challenge local authority decisions.
Negotiating for a new by-law: After participating in WIEGO’s workshop, Leah Forbes, Secretary of the North West affiliate of the South African Informal Traders’ Alliance (SAITA), requested a meeting with the local authority in Potchefstroom. She asked for a copy of the by-law (a tactic she had learned), then took the authorities through South Africa’s Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA) and the worker booklet. As a result, a new by-law was drafted in consultation with workers. “They see that I am higher than them (in knowledge) because I know PAJA and I tell them it is high time for councillors to know the Act,” Leah said. She has since distributed copies of the worker booklet to committees of vendors in rural areas.
I am my own lawyer now.
~Leah Forbes, SAITA
Preventing the local authority from moving traders: Within hours of attending the workshop, Rosheda Muller, President of SAITA, received a notice from the Cape Town city council stating that traders would have to move from a huge area in front of City Hall for four days to make way for a film crew. Traders are regularly moved when the council wants to use this area. She wrote a letter to the council, using terminology learned at the workshop and referring to PAJA. Council then met with the traders and reversed their decision—it was the film crew that had to move to another location.
Building Legal Alliances

In South Africa , the panel discussion with two pro bono lawyers was particularly instructive for participants, who learned they could secure services free of charge. WIEGO has negotiated with the Johannesburg-based Socio-Economic Rights Initiative (SERI), that it would represent SAITA and the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA) on administrative law issues throughout the country. In addition, a lawyer from the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) Durban office participated throughout the workshop, including in the role play.
Participants at the workshop in Mexico City.
In Mexico , the Law Programme established relationships with lawyers from three pro-bono clearing houses and secured commitments from their Managing Directors to provide pro bono services in Mexico City. In addition, the lawyer who collaborated with WIEGO in the preparation of the background legal brief—and who also heads a university legal clinic—participated in a Q&A session with workers and committed to providing legal assistance with specific cases that might be identified as strategic to advance the rights of informal workers.

Unfortunately, we were unable to hold the panel discussion with lawyers during the training workshop in Ghana. To address this, we are planning a dialogue and seminar in May that will bring informal workers and Ghanaian lawyers together.

Future Directions

We are deepening the work in all three countries in 2019. In South Africa, a workshop was held in Cape Town in February with the South African Street Informal Traders Alliance (SAITA) to co-strategize for work in South Africa. We envisage training affiliates in two cities, sensitizing local authorities to their responsibilities in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000, and we are exploring the possibility of introducing an App for informal traders to access information and report local authority violations.

In Ghana, our commissioned research revealed that vendors are regulated by 14 different regulations ranging from nuisance law to environmental law. It was a challenge to access copies of the regulations and to analyze how they relate to one another. This analysis will be captured in a paper and will help inform not just the administrative justice strategy, but our broader work at the city level.

As a follow-up to the administrative justice workshop in Mexico City, and in response to demands of workers who find themselves struggling to navigate confusing practices and regulations, we will prepare a toolkit illustrating the process for obtaining and renewing licences for ‘non-salaried’ workers.

In Dakar, Senegal, we will hold a Law Exposure Dialogue Programme  in April 2019, bringing together informal street vendors and waste pickers with lawyers and public officials. The goal is to sensitize legal practitioners and administrators to the life and work challenges that informal workers encounter every day. Lawyers will live and work with informal workers for two nights and a day, after which we will engage with them on the law. This will be followed by an administrative law workshop in December 2019.

As the project develops, more resources and results can be found at http://www.wiego.org/wiego/administrative-justice-project


FES-WIEGO-ALRN-ITUC Africa workshop on Rights Based Social Protection for Informal Workers, October 2018

This workshop, held in Lusaka, Zambia, explored the possibilities for closer and more equal collaboration between membership-based organizations (MBOs) of informal workers and trade unions in four African countries: Ghana, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia. The workshop was supported by the FES-Zambia, ITUC-ALRN, WIEGO, and APSP collaboration under the Rights Based Social Protection (RBSP) in Africa project. A key outcome of the workshop was that trade unions and MBOs worked together in country groups to develop common priorities on social protection advocacy at the national level.

Launch of WIEGO-IDWF Domestic Workers’ Legal Toolkit on C189

In 2018, the Law Programme and the Organization and Representation Programme partnered with the International Domestic Workers’ Federation (IDWF) to develop the Domestic Workers’ Legal Toolkit. The Toolkit is an organizers’ manual that provides key information on the ILO Domestic Workers’ Convention (No. 189) and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 201). It outlines strategies that organizers of domestic workers can adopt to raise awareness about C189. The Toolkit was launched at the second IDWF Congress in Cape Town, South Africa in November 2018. Access more information and the Toolkit and the pamphlet. See “Making C189 Real”: The Domestic Workers Project.

Malawi Collective Bargaining Workshop, January 2019

Since 2016, WIEGO’s Law Programme and Organization and Representation Programme have been supporting the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector (MUFIS) in its efforts to demand that the government implement ILO Recommendation concerning the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy (R204). In January 2019, we conducted a workshop on negotiation skills workshop for 26 MUFIS leaders in partnership with StreetNet International.

Workers also learned how to use Informal Economy Budget Analysis to leverage opportunities to participate in local authorities’ budgetary processes and to demand the allocation of resources that benefit informal workers. We envisage that these skills will enable MUFIS leaders all over Malawi to negotiate with local authorities and make demands for the implementation of R204 and for changes that improve their working conditions, including the provision of water and electricity, child care, refuse collection and toilets.

Read more about WIEGO’s work in Malawi.
Launch of the International Lawyers for Assisting Workers (ILAW) Network

The Law Programme has joined the International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network (ILAW Network). ILAW is a membership organization for union and worker rights’ lawyers that aims to bring together legal practitioners and scholars to exchange ideas in order to best represent the rights and interests of workers and their organizations all over the world. The network is focusing on:

  • workers’ rights and corporate accountability in global supply chains
  • the fissured employment relationship
  • the informal economy
  • migrant worker rights
  • employment discrimination in all its forms
  • bargaining with multinational employers
  • trade union rights

The ILAW Network seeks to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas through its online library and forums and encourages all members to contribute resources. The network will endeavour to convene member conferences as resources allow.

For more information, visit the ILAW Network website .
New Law Programme Publications
von Broembsen , Marlese, Jenna Harvey , and Marty Chen . 2019. Realizing Rights for Homeworkers: An Analysis of Governance Mechanisms. Carr Centre Discussion Paper 2019-004, March 2019.