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Law and the Informal Economy
October 2018
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Bringing Home the International Victories and Making Them Real!
WIEGO worked very hard over the past five years to influence global agreements and processes — the Sustainable Development Goals, the New Urban Agenda (NUA), the ILO Recommendation on formalizing the informal economy (R204), and the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. We invested a lot of energy into opening spaces for informal workers’ voices to be heard in these processes, and into getting the language of these agreements right. We got good results and now we need to leverage them so that they directly benefit workers.
This is a key part of the vision for the next five years. We know that providing a way for our institutional members to advocate as part of a global network made a huge difference to the outcomes of R204 and the NUA, and that the specific language we advocated for is making a difference now. But we have to capitalize on the opportunity that these agreements present at the local level.
~Sally Roever, WIEGO’s International Coordinator
(from the WIEGO Blog, 19 March 2018)
In this edition of the newsletter, we highlight the WIEGO Law Programme’s work, in collaboration with the Organizing and Representation Programme (ORP), to support membership-based organizations (MBOs) as they strive to turn “victories” at the international level into justiciable rights at the national level.
Victory #1: Homeworkers
In June 1995, the International Labour Conference (ILC) began a two-year discussion on a convention to protect homeworkers—women and men who work in or around their homes to produce goods for domestic and global supply chains. The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) of India, with the support of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Association (IUF), led the campaign for a convention.

SEWA’s Ela Bhatt asked Dr. Marty Chen of Harvard University to gather statistics on homework to highlight its significance and build a case for adopting a convention. Marty and a colleague published their findings in a landmark statistical report on homework across the globe. This helped to convince governments to vote in favour of adopting the Homework Convention (No. 177) the following year.

This victory was a catalyst for WIEGO’s establishment in 1997, with Marty as its founding International Coordinator. Since then, WIEGO has supported informal workers’ organizations to campaign for their inclusion in international standards.

WIEGO has facilitated MBOs’ effective participation in ILCs by convening regional meetings of informal worker organizations to develop platforms of demands. These platforms have formed the basis for advocacy in international meetings. We have built alliances with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and with the IUF. And during international standard-setting conferences, we have provided technical, financial and logistical support to informal worker delegations, who participate in discussions of the Worker group (when allowed by the chair).
Victory #2: Domestic Workers
In 2011, the ILO adopted the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189) and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 201), which extends rights such as paid leave, minimum wages and employment contracts to domestic workers. This victory was achieved through a lengthy, concentrated campaign led by the International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN), with the support of the IUF and other allies. WIEGO, in concert with the IUF, was instrumental in the formation of IDWN, which represented domestic workers at the ILC and in 2013 became a full-fledged international federation. (Learn more about the Campaign for C189.)
Victory #3: Transition from Informal to Formal Economy
Four years later, in 2015, the ILC adopted the Recommendation concerning the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy (No. 204), which recognizes diverse categories of workers in the informal economy. The Recommendation provides guidelines for extending protections such as occupational health and safety and social protection to all workers, including own account, self-employed workers, and it exhorts Member States of the International Labour Organization (ILO) to include informal workers’ MBOs in social dialogue.

WIEGO facilitated the participation of 32 informal workers in ILC sessions where R204 was discussed and adopted. (Learn more about WIEGO’s role.)
Victory #4: Homeworkers in Global Supply Chains
Through pre-conference discussions with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the participation of informal worker organizations in the 2016 ILC general discussion on global supply chains, the WIEGO network ensured that homeworkers were recognized by the ILC as legitimate workers in global supply chains. And through research for the Global Labour University, WIEGO indirectly contributed to a chapter on homework in the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector. (“Decent Work for Homeworkers in Global Supply Chains: An Analysis of Existing and Potential Mechanisms for Worker-Centred Governance” is forthcoming.)
The Work Continues

Translating these gains into rights that can be realized at the national level requires governments to:

  • ratify conventions,
  • incorporate the international standards’ norms into their national laws, policies and practices, and
  • enforce these laws.

WIEGO’s Law Programme and its Organization & Representation Programme play a role in “bringing home the victories”. We do this by providing capacity-building, research and technical support to MBOs to improve their overall capacity for advocacy and to help them understand how the conventions and recommendations apply in their national context.
The process of incorporation differs for conventions and recommendations.

For a convention, the first prize is for Member States’ lawmakers to ratify a convention. Ratification commits the Member State to the ILO reporting system that monitors national efforts to implement conventions. (A Member State may comply with the convention without ratification, in which case the state is not accountable to the ILO.)

A recommendation is a set of guidelines and is not subject to ratification. Member States are therefore free to choose when and how to implement a recommendation. However, in terms of article 19 of the ILO Constitution, the ILO may ask countries to report on their implementation of conventions that they have not ratified, and on recommendations. The ILO’s next general survey (conducted in terms of article 19 of its Constitution) concerns the general employment standards. Countries will be asked to report on their progress in ratifying several conventions and implementing several recommendations, including C177 and R204.

Domestic Workers and Convention 189:
Making it Real

Since the adoption of C189 in 2011, three ILO Member States from Africa (Guinea, Mauritius and South Africa) have ratified the Convention. In Africa, domestic work is one of the largest employment sectors for women. It is also a driver of in-country migration and migration to neighbouring countries in Africa, and to the Middle East (particularly Gulf countries) and Europe.

IDWF leadership and affiliates have highlighted the need to build the capacity of African affiliates to use C189 in their struggles for domestic workers’ rights. WIEGO recently partnered with IDWF to develop a Domestic Workers’ Toolkit that comprises:

a) A training manual for organizers on C189, which contains information such as:

  • “Convention 189: What is it?”: a worker-friendly summary of the Convention;
  • a "compliance checklist” to help domestic workers determine whether their country’s laws and policies are aligned to C189;
  • a model contract of employment and a model payslip.

b) A workers’ pamphlet that gives a brief overview of C189.

A revised toolkit will be distributed at the IDWF Congress in Cape Town this November.

WIEGO and the IDWF convened a workshop in Nairobi, Kenya in June 2018. The Domestic Workers and Convention 189: Making it Real workshop aimed to increase African IDWF affiliates’ capacity for advocacy and worker education. Hosted by the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA), it intersected with International Domestic Workers Day (June 16th).

The workshop brought together 28 organizers and educators from 21 IDWF affiliates from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe.
Workshop participants role-play a negotiation between a domestic worker and her employer during the Nairobi workshop.
The workshop was an opportunity to debunk the assumption that C189 is a standalone issue far removed from workers’ everyday realities and trade unions’ struggles. We demonstrated that C189 addresses most of the challenges that domestic workers experience. Our goal was to encourage trade unions to better understand how C189 and its provisions can improve the lives of domestic workers if it is ratified and implemented. We also explained that domestic workers can play a critical role in implementing C189 by negotiating directly with their employers to gain the rights in the Convention, such as for written employment contracts.
ILO Recommendation 204 Concerning the Transition of the Informal to the Formal Economy
Together with the Organization and Representation Programme, the Law Programme is supporting informal workers’ MBOs in Malawi and South Africa to implement R204.
R204 in Malawi

WIEGO chose to support the implementation of R204 in Malawi because it is one of a few countries that have allowed informal workers to register a trade union. Malawi Union for the Informal Sector (MUFIS) holds a seat as a workers’ representative on the country’s social dialogue institution, the Tripartite Labour Advisory Council. The WIEGO team’s collaboration with MUFIS has focused on street vendors, who form the majority of MUFIS’ members.

The main aim of the WIEGO-MUFIS partnership is to strengthen MUFIS leaders’ capacity to engage in collective bargaining and negotiations with the authorities. This will enable them to articulate their demands for national and local government to implement R204 by addressing issues such as child care, occupational health and safety and social protection for informal workers. WIEGO is also supporting the MUFIS campaign to demand quality child care facilities that are open during the hours that traders must work.

WIEGO commissioned an Informal Economy Budget Analysis (IEBA) in Lilongwe. IEBAs analyze both national and local budgets, as well as the local government institutional framework and budgetary process. We will integrate these findings into a workshop on collective bargaining to provide substantive content to MUFIS's bargaining strategy, allowing MUFIS to target the stages at which they can participate in the budgetary processes and to identify the stakeholders that they must influence to secure adequate funds.
The ILO Home Work Convention (No. 177)
UNITY (TUSIW “Edinstvo”), the Bulgarian Trade Union of Self-employed and Informal Workers, is using the ILO reporting mechanisms as part of a strategy to hold its government accountable.

Bulgaria is one of the 10 countries that have ratified the ILO Home Work Convention 177 (C177). After ratification, a country must report to the ILO on the Convention’s implementation within two years and then every five years thereafter. Bulgaria had to submit a report on its implementation of C177 by 1 September 2018.

Since ratification, the Bulgarian government has amended its Labour Code so that homeworkers are treated on equal terms with other employees, in accordance with C177. But according to UNITY, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy is not enforcing the legislation because it claims that unless homeworkers have written employment contracts, they are not entitled to the chapter VIII provisions for homeworkers. In 2014, UNITY sent a letter to the ILO Committee of Experts on the Applications of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR). The CEACR asked the government to respond to these charges.

The most representative trade union and employer organizations may comment on their government’s report; they may also submit their own independent reports on the implementation, both in law and in practice of the convention concerned. Because UNITY is a registered trade union, it can submit its own report to the ILO.

Following meetings with trade union and other allies and interviews with homeworkers, WIEGO’s Karin Pape (Deputy Director of the Organizing and Representation Programme) and Marlese von Broembsen (Director of the Law Programme) held a workshop with UNITY for homeworkers in August in Petrich, Bulgaria. At the workshop, homeworkers participated in drafting the report and formulated their demands on the implementation of the law.
Participants at the implementation workshop in Petrich
WIEGO’s Law Programme has assisted UNITY with writing its own report for submission to the ILO. The CEACR also requested that the government submit any official research on homeworkers’ terms and conditions of work. Since there is no official research, WIEGO conducted ethnographic research, interviewing 30 homeworkers and holding two focus groups – one with a group of homeworkers who make shoes for Italian firms, and the other a group of homeworkers who pack socks for Greek firms. This research paper was also submitted to the ILO. The Committee of Experts is still to meet.

Learn about the successful campaign of the Bulgarian Homeworkers Association (now UNITY) for the ratification of C177: Challenges and Experiences of Organizing Home-Based Workers in Bulgaria.
Recent News and What’s Coming Up in the Law Programme?
Recent news

“Sample law” in Mexico City: The Right to Work in the Mexico City Constitution
Mexico City’s constitution enshrines a right to work. The constitution states that a secondary law must be drafted to realize the right to work. We commissioned a consultant to provide a research brief analyzing the right to work and to develop a “sample” secondary law based on this research. Informal workers will use the research brief in their advocacy work.

United Nations High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development Goals
This Forum took place in United Nations headquarters in New York in July 2018. Tania Espinosa, Coordinator for Latin America, attended on behalf of WIEGO as part of the Global Platform of the Right to the City (GPR2C).

During the HLPF, the government of Mexico spoke about the inclusion of the right to the city in Mexico City’s legislation. The right to the city was also discussed during the side events that the GPR2C organized. The discussions during the side events were about leaving no one behind, and the interlink between the sustainable development goals and the New Urban Agenda.

Second African Labour Law Society Conference
This conference was held in Cape Town, South Africa in September 2018. Pamhidzai Bamu-Chipunza presented a research paper on Recommendation 204, its implications for labour law and efforts to implement it in Africa.

FES Rights-based Social Protection in Africa workshop
The Law Programme is joining the Social Protection Programme and ORP to convene a workshop to bring together trade unions (ITUC-Africa affiliates) and informal worker MBOs from six African countries. The workshop will be held in October in Lusaka, Zambia. The aim of the workshop is to develop action plans to collaborate on social protection issues.

Administrative Law Workshop: Ghana
The Law Programme is collaborating with the Accra Focal City team to build the capacity of street vendors and waste pickers to use administrative law in Ghana. The workshop will bring together street vendors and waste pickers and link them with legal aid clinics that can assist them.

Administrative Law Workshop: Mexico
The Law Programme, Mexico City Focal City team and the Organization and Representation Programme are working with four categories of workers in Mexico City: ayateros (buyers/sellers of used goods, similar to flea market vendors), tianguistas (vendors in traditional open air markets – tianguis – selling a variety of goods), street vendors, and shoe shiners. The team is implementing the administrative law project in three stages: commissioning researchers to draft an administrative law brief, producing worker education materials, and holding a workshop. The workshop will take place in January 2019 and its objective will be to build the capacity of workers to use administrative law.
Recent Publications and Research Outputs
WIEGO Resource Documents and Blogs

Academic Publications

  • Bamu-Chipunza, P. “Extending occupational health and safety law to informal workers: the case of street vendors in South Africa” in Oxford Human Rights Hub Journal, forthcoming.
  • Bamu-Chipunza, P. 2018. “A pluralistic approach to organizing migrant domestic workers: The case of the Zimbabwe-South Africa global care chain,” International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations, Vol. 34, Issue 3, pp. 313-344.
  • Von Broembsen, M. 2018. “Constitutionalizing Labour Rights: Informal Homeworkers in Global Value Chains” International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations, Vol. 34, Issue 3, pp. 257–280.

Presentations and Conference Proceedings

  • Von Broembsen, M. Lecture on the Informal Economy, Faculty of Education, University of Cape Town (18 May)
  • Von Broembsen, M. “ILO Recommendation 204 and South Africa: A Legal Reform Perspective” Open Society Public Event, London (6 May 2018)
  • Von Broembsen, M. “Formalizing the Informal Economy: Malawi and ILO 204” OSF /WIEGO Dialogue, London (6 May 2018)
  • Von Broembsen, M. and Harvey, J., Presentation of paper “Realising Rights for Homeworkers in Global Value Chains” at the conference “Long-term Perspectives on Home-Based Work” at the Labour Movement Archives, 23-24 May [convened by the Labour Movement Archives, WIEGO and the Women’s Centre for Development, Delhi).