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Law and the Informal Economy
March 2018
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Launch of the Law and the Informal Economy Microsite
The Law Programme is excited to announce the launch of the revised Law and Informality Microsite! The Microsite was initially constructed under the Law Project between 2009 and 2014. The microsite provides information about how the law can impinge on or support workers in the informal economy, particularly in four occupational groups (domestic workers, homeworkers, street vendors, and waste pickers). It also provides news on legal developments that affect informal workers around the world.
The revised microsite now features the Legal Resource Portal (formerly the Law Observatory). This is a useful tool that provides access to legal instruments (laws, treaties, and court decisions) that regulate the informal economy and publications about law and the informal economy. It has updated legal materials, which are presented in a more user-friendly format that is easier to browse. The content of the microsite has been organized to allow users to browse the Resource Portal for legal resources as follows:

Legal instruments by geographical coverage (international, regional, national, and local);
Legal instruments by occupational group
Publications and resources on law and the informal economy
WIEGO Law Programme Newsletters

You can access the microsite at http://www.wiego.org/laws. We welcome your feedback on the microsite and on additional legal instruments that could be added to the microsite. Please send your feedback and suggestions to law@wiego.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
Five-Year Strategic Planning
In 2017, WIEGO embarked on a five-year strategic planning process. The process commenced with a five-day planning meeting at the Rockefeller Conference Centre, Bellagio, Italy, in May 2017 and ended with a WIEGO team retreat in Boston in November.

The first two years of the Law Programme have enabled us to understand the four sectors that WIEGO predominantly focuses on — street vendors, home-based workers, domestic workers, and waste pickers — the legal challenges for informal workers in each sector, as well as the advances made by their membership-based organizations (MBOs). Over the next five years, WIEGO’s Law Programme aims to build on its five key objectives:

  • To build the capacity of MBOs in each sector to advocate and negotiate for legal change.
  • To provide technical legal support to MBOs to advance their rights for recognition as workers (which includes the right to form trade unions, to bargain collectively, to be represented in statutory negotiating fora, to fair wages, to social protection, and to access public space).
  • To expand and disseminate knowledge and resources on law and informal work.
  • To develop and promote new conceptual frameworks on law and informal workers.
  • To collaborate with legal and policy allies to further an understanding of how law shapes different categories of informal workers’ livelihoods and productivity and to support informal workers to realize their rights as workers.

This newsletter discusses three of our ongoing projects that build the capacity of MBOs to demand legal change:

  • Implementation of ILO Recommendation 204 on Formalizing the Informal Economy: Capacity building of the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector (MUFIS) and technical support to MBOs in South Africa;
  • Human Rights for Waste Pickers in Latin America: Building the capacity of Waste Picker MBOs in seven Latin American countries to advocate for the recognition of their human rights as workers; and
  • Partnership with the Open Society Foundation (OSF): Building the capacity of Street Vendors and Waste Pickers in six countries to challenge state actions, by using Administrative Law.
Projects to build MBO capacity to demand legal change
Supporting the implementation of R204 in Malawi and South Africa
In June 2015, the International Labour Conference (ILC) adopted a new international labour standard, the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation, 2015 (No. 204). The landmark Recommendation is the first-ever international labour standard designed specifically for the informal economy, which provides a roadmap for the ILO’s 186 member states to facilitate both self-employed and wage-employed informal workers’ transition from the informal to the formal economy. WIEGO played a significant role in ensuring that informal workers’ voices were heard throughout the three-year process leading up to the adoption.

In 2013, WIEGO and SEWA participated in the tri-partite Experts Meeting at the ILO, and in 2014, WIEGO organized regional workshops in Africa, Asia, and Latin America for informal workers to agree to a WIEGO Network Platform on transitioning from the informal to the formal economy. WIEGO then brought informal workers from all three continents to participate at the 2014 International Labour Conference (ILC). In 2015, a delegation of 32 informal workers’ representatives, fully or partially supported by WIEGO, returned to the second part of the negotiations at the ILC 104th Session in Geneva.

The Recommendation contains many provisions supportive of informal workers, such as the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, social protection, occupational health and safety, access to use of public space and access to public natural resources, and gender equality. It stipulates that livelihoods are to be preserved and improved during the process of transition. The task now is to ensure its implementation. WIEGO is supporting membership-based organizations (MBOs) in two countries to implement R204 — South Africa and Malawi.
R204 in South Africa
The ILO has selected South Africa as a pilot country for the implementation of R204. The “Development Constituency” in South Africa (which consists of several informal worker associations) is represented by StreetNet’s International Co-ordinator, Pat Horn, who is supported by WIEGO’s Organization and Representation Programme.

WIEGO’s Law Programme and its Organization and Representation Programme (ORP) are providing technical support to the Development Constituency for the amendment of labour and employment legislation to reflect R204 by extending rights and protections to own-account workers. Traditionally, labour law only recognizes workers who have an identifiable employer. Own-account workers, or “independent contractors” as per their legal designation, are not recognized by labour laws as workers who are entitled to rights, including social protection and collective representation. MBOs of own-account workers, such as home-based workers, vendors, and waste pickers, as well as fishermen and small-scale farmers, are negotiating for their recognition as workers, the statutory recognition of their collective organizations to represent their interests in national social dialogues, and to negotiate with local governments. They are also negotiating for social protection.
R204 Malawi
The Law Programme and ORP are supporting the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector (MUFIS) to advocate for the implementation of ILO Recommendation 204. MUFIS is legally recognized in Malawi as a trade union, its members represent several sectors (domestic workers, street vendors, and waste pickers), and it has a seat on the national Tripartite Labour Advisory Council (TLAC). The Lilongwe local authority has made a policy commitment to allocate 25 per cent of the revenue generated from vendors’ licence and permit fees to providing the m with the necessary infrastructure, which gives informal workers in Lilongwe some leverage.
  • Council officials acknowledged that they need the revenue from street vendors. At the same time, city officials consider street vendors to be a nuisance and support their eviction and the confiscation of their goods.
  • Vendors from Chilimba, Lilongwe, Blantyre, and Free Market complained that there is no fixed rate charged for trading spaces and rates vary between 100-150 Kwatchas (MKW). In many cases officials demand daily fees be paid.
  • Although traders pay permit and licensing fees, local authorities do not provide regular refuse removal services and the sewage systems are poorly maintained. Vendors argued that the unhygienic working conditions affect their sales because customers do not like shopping in filthy areas.
  • Informal traders have to buy water in the markets and pay to use the toilets.
  • There is no access to public child care facilities so women traders either work with their children or have to pay for private child care at an average cost of 6,000 MWK per month at a private nursery. Both women and men raised the need for child care and clinics in the markets.
  • The Tripartite Labour Advisory Council is not functioning because government maintains that it does not have funds to call meetings.
WIEGO’s Law Programme commissioned a local consultant, Dr. Ruth Ngeyi, to analyze the laws that govern street vending and domestic work in Malawi and to make recommendations for the laws to be aligned with the principles of R204. From 12-14 December, WIEGO’s Law Programme and ORP held a three-day capacity-building workshop with 41 vendor leaders from all over the country. Some participants had travelled for two days on a bus to attend the workshop.

The first day’s activities focused on understanding the legal framework governing street vending and how R204 might be used to demand legal reform. The second day focused on the key issues affecting street vendors and prioritizing these issues for negotiation. Access to child care emerged as a pressing issue for women vendors, who articulated that lack of child care negatively impacts their capacity to work, their productivity, and their earnings. Workers also raised safety and security and water and sanitation in the markets as issues for further action. On the final day, the leaders shared their experiences of negotiations with government at national and local levels. ORP offered collective bargaining training, and vendors learnt the principles of negotiation and role-played negotiations with local authorities. Although the vendors have been engaging in ad-hoc negotiations with local authorities, the workshop underlined the need to advocate for structured district-level forums for regular negotiations.
Next steps
During the upcoming financial year, WIEGO and MUFIS will collaborate on the following activities to inform an advocacy strategy:

  • Producing and promoting an informational video that depicts the challenges that street vendors face and that poses possible solutions;
  • Commissioning an Informal Economy Budgeting Analysis (IEBA) to analyze how the government’s budget addresses the needs and interests of different groups of informal workers and to identify the opportunities for informal workers to participate at different stages of the budget process. This is critical information for negotiation purposes.
  • Undertaking a national child care campaign under the auspices of WIEGO’s Child Care Campaign;
  • Conducting in-depth capacity building to enable workers to negotiate with local authorities and within the national Tripartite Labour Advisory Council (TLAC) on the issues that affect them;
  • Undertaking research on Aministrative Law and its potential to address street vendors’ and waste pickers’ challenges.
WP LATAM and Harvard Advocacy project
The Law Programme, together with WIEGO’s Organization and Representation Programme (ORP), is working with Waste Picker membership-based organizations (MBOs) in six Latin American Countries — Mexico, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Dominican Republic and Argentina. The project frames Waste Pickers’ appalling conditions of work in human rights terms. Phase one — site visits, interviews, and focus groups in six countries — is almost complete.
Six law students from Harvard Law School’s Advocacy Project (a project of the International Human Rights Clinic) are working with WIEGO to assist with desk research. Each student has a country and is researching the media coverage on Waste Pickers in their respective countries, the Human Rights Conventions that the countries have signed and ratified and the provisions of each Convention that could be applied to informal work, and any relevant case law. WIEGO’s intention is to have the waste picker organizations apply for a hearing with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.
Administrative Law: Partnering with the Open Society Foundation
All over the world, street vendors and waste pickers work under difficult conditions to earn a living. Street vendors face several challenges, including limited access to designated trading space; harassment by police and local authorities; confiscation and destruction of their goods; relocation to remote locations where few pedestrians pass; and limited access to infrastructure and facilities such as toilets, water, shelter, and storage. Waste pickers’ challenges are linked to factors such as lack of, or restricted access to, landfill sites, exclusion from waste collection tendering processes, and lack of space for storage and sorting facilities.

These challenges largely result from decisions made by (local) government authorities who control trading space (in the case of street vendors) and who control access to waste and land (in the case of waste pickers). These decisions, known as administrative decisions, affect the workers’ income levels as well as their ability to earn a livelihood. Read this blog, “What’s the legal recourse for street vendor evictions?” for further information.

In 2016, WIEGO commissioned a technical brief on Administrative Law in South Africa, which shows how workers can use Administrative Law to challenge local authorities’ decisions and actions that impinge on their livelihoods (see Using Administrative Law to Secure Informal Livelihoods: Lessons from South Africa ) . For example, street vendors can use Administrative Law to set aside a local authority’s decision to relocate them if the decision-maker failed to apply their mind and based their decision on irrelevant factors. Waste pickers can request reasons for a local authority’s decision to prohibit them from accessing a landfill site.

From January 2018, the Open Society Foundation is partnering with WIEGO’s Law Programme to build the capacity of street vendors (and in some countries also waste pickers) to use Administrative Law to challenge the local authorities’ decisions described above. The project has three stages:

  • Stage one involves researching Administrative Law and its potential as a tool for street vendors and waste pickers in specific countries;
  • Stage two involves capacity-building workshops and building institutional relationships with legal organizations to support street vendors’ and waste pickers’ legal actions; and
  • Stage three involves providing technical support to membership-based organizations to review their local authorities’ decisions.

During the next 18 months, together with the Organization and Representation Programme (ORP), we will be implementing stages 2 and 3 in South Africa; stages 1 and 2 in Mexico and Ghana; and stage 1 in India, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. In Dakar, Senegal, a group of lawyers will be living with street vendors for two days and nights to understand their working conditions and will then work with WIEGO to identify legal strategies to challenge state actions.
Recent Publications
Key Recent Law Programme Engagements
  • Participation in the International Research Group on Law and Urban Space’s International and Comparative Urban Law Conference (Cape Town, South Africa, 16-18 July).
  • Participation in meetings of the Global Platform of the Right to the City (New York, USA, 14-16 July; and Nairobi, Kenya, 11-13 October).
  • Presentation of an overview of informal workers’ social protection needs at the Rights-based Social Protection conference, organized by the Africa Platform for Social Protection (Maputo, Mozambique, 18 October).
  • Participation in the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung- African Platform for Social Protection- International Trade Union Confederation Africa- WIEGO steering committee meetings (Maputo, Mozambique 17 August; and 19 October).
  • WIEGO panel at the World Bank’s Law, Justice and Development Week, “Creating an Enabling Legal Environment for Informal Workers” (6-10 November).
  • Presentation of a paper funded by the Carr Centre for Human Rights, Harvard Kennedy School “Labor Rights as Human Rights: Realizing Rights for Homeworkers in Global Supply Chains” (27 November)
  • Participation in a Gender and Global Supply Chain workshop hosted by the Ethical Trading Initiative and the Global Development Institute (Manchester, England, 22 November).