Perspectives: The decent work agenda: Securing growth and safe spaces for informal workers

Globalisation has often been cited as a major reason for the proliferation of the informal economy.

In recent years, the informal economy is where most jobs have been created, but it is also where the extreme hitches with regard to workers’ rights are found.

Globalisation has often been cited as a major reason for the proliferation of the informal economy.

The inference tends to be negative – that globalisation is to blame.

However, this can be misleading and is not helpful, especially for policy purposes.

What is more useful is to determine how the different globalisation processes affect employment opportunities and the creation of decent jobs for workers in the informal economy – there can be both constructive and damaging impacts, and much will hinge on domestic and international rules.

Informality is addressed directly in just one SDG target that is SDG 8.3: “promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage formalization and growth of micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises including through access to financial services”.

Indirectly, however, many additional SDGs focusing on poverty (SDG 1), gender equality (SDG 5), equality (SDG 10), institutions (SDG 16) and partnerships (SDG 17) are relevant to informality, and benefit from programmes aiming at gradually formalising the informal economy.

The central ambition of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to leave no one behind certainly resonates with the billions of informal economy workers around the world.

It will be crucial to address the decent work deficits affecting the informal economy so that informal economy workers have a chance to escape

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) posits that, fundamental rights at work are as relevant in the informal as they are in the formal economy: hence the concern to create quality jobs and not just any job.

“Work is as much about human rights as about income. The equity and dignity to which people aspire in employment must be assured for there to be decent work. In the twenty-first century, the employment challenge is about much more than a job at any price or under any circumstances.” 

Decent work means opportunities for every- one to get work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration.

Decent work also ensures the safety of workers and also provides them with support at all levels.

In other words, it's the bare minimum required of a job to actually feel like a secure and meaningful and fulfilling.

Decent work allows people to have time with their families and not miss the important moments that shape their wellbeing as a collective. According to ILO, the decent work agenda is made up of the following four important pillars

  • Promoting jobs and enterprise,
  • Guaranteeing rights at work,
  • Extending social protection and
  • Promoting social dialogue, with gender as a cross-cutting theme.

These four pillars are crucial to advancing the entire sustainable development agenda.

That the rights gap is especially serious in the informal economy is evident from the global reports produced under the follow-up to the ILO declaration on decent work.

Workers in the informal economy often do not enjoy freedom of association or the right to organise and to bargain collectively.

In Zimbabwe calls have been growing for the informal economy to become part of the social dialogue platform.

The systematic denial of the right to organise to certain groups of workers and employers even by countries that have ratified Convention supporting the same is still evident in several parts of the world, as seen by the number of cases examined by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association and the tripartite ILO Conference Committee on the Application of Standards

What are the indicators of decent work?

Some of the indicators of decent work include economic and social context for decent work, employment opportunities, adequate earnings and productive work, decent working time, combining work, family and personal life, stability and security of work, equal opportunity and treatment in employment and safe work environment.

 Economic growth should be a positive force for the whole planet. This is why we must make sure that financial progress creates decent and fulfilling jobs while not harming the environment.

 Decent work provides a coherent framework for identifying which aspects of informality need to be looked at that is the specific components of decent work.

 Furthermore, which types of policy and institutional mechanisms can foster or hinder greater inclusion with the mainstream economy.

This process of moving out of informality is a comprehensive and progressive one rather than a simplistic one-off approach. The goal of decent work must be pursued progressively by:

  • giving priority to reducing decent work deficits in the informal economy in the immediate term, by ensuring those found in it are recognised by law, have rights, legal and social protection and representation;
  • ensuring, in the short and medium term, that job seekers and potential entrepreneurs are able to enter the formal, protected and mainstream economy, and
  • in the longer term, creating enough employment opportunities that are formal, protected and decent for all workers and employers.

Government and its agencies must draw upon their mandate, tripartite structure and expertise to address the problems associated with the informal economy.

An approach based on decent work deficits has considerable merit and should be pursued without any further delays.

The government approach should reflect the diversity of situations and their underlying causes found in the informal economy.

 The approach should be comprehensive involving the promotion of rights, decent employment, social protection and social dialogue.

The approach should focus on assisting departments and agencies in addressing governance, employment-generation and poverty-reduction issues.

This also must genuinely include taking into account the conceptual difficulties arising from the considerable diversity in the informal economy, the vagaries associated with entry into the informal economy and the fact that the space in dominated by the most vulnerable including the disabled and women.

 Equal opportunities and treatment of all women and men is not yet an issue considered by governments and employers in the informal economy.

 They only view it from a protection angle, which sometimes even leads to discrimination against female workers.

For the Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (Viset), this is an important aspect to raise awareness on. In doing so, it is important to take a context-specific approach, respecting the safety of women at work.

  • *Samuel Wadzai  is an informal economy analyst and Viset executive director. He writes in his personal capacity.
  • These weekly articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant of Zawale Consultants (Private) Limited, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe. Email - [email protected] or Mobile No. +263 772 382 852

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