COVID-19 and the World’s Two Billion Informal Economy Workers

By StreetNet International
May 22, 2020
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Informal economy workers’ organizations across the global economy call on governments at all levels to partner with us on relief, recovery and resilience efforts that are emerging from the grassroots during this time of unprecedented crisis.

Informal Economy Workers Are — and Have Always Been — Essential Workers

Street vendors and market traders are a crucial link to food security
and basic necessities, especially for the poorest segments of society.
Waste pickers / recyclers provide sanitation and solid waste services
that contribute to public health, lower landfill costs and a healthier
environment. Domestic workers are on the frontlines of meeting hygiene
standards and providing care, including for the sick and elderly.
Home-based workers keep supply chains running and are sewing masks and
medical coveralls for the frontline workers. Economies everywhere depend
on our work.

The Global Economy Can’t Recover Without Us

Lockdowns and other restrictions to contain COVID-19 are negatively
impacting 81% of the world’s 3.3 billion workers, according to the International Labour Organization.
Fully 61% of that global workforce — some two billion workers — are
informally employed. In developing countries we make up 90% of total

Public health measures restricting movement have prevented many of
our members from working at all. Every day they are unable to work, they
are unable to earn. They cannot stay at home without starving and they
cannot work without being exposed to the virus. Relief efforts in many
countries are not reaching our workers. Brutal evictions and domestic
violence against women are pervasive. Our study of the early impact of the crisis
shows the pathways through which earnings in our sectors have been
affected. Workers in the informal economy who have long lacked social
protection and access to health care are suffering the harshest
consequences. Societies need informal economy workers’ organizations to
help design more effective public policies in response to the crisis,
and in view of longer-term recovery and structural reform.

Economies Must Be Reset to Align with Core Principles of Inclusion  

The COVID-19 crisis has drawn the world’s attention to longstanding
inequalities in the way governments and industry deal with the world’s
massive informal workforce. The International Domestic Workers’
Federation, StreetNet International, HomeNet South Asia, HomeNet
Southeast Asia, HomeNet Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the Global
Alliance of Waste Pickers — as members of the WIEGO Network — urge
policymakers to implement the following principles in all their
emergency relief and recovery actions, and in their strategies to manage
public health and economic activity:

  1. NOTHING FOR US WITHOUT US. We, the global
    movement of workers in the informal economy, have decades of experience
    with organizing and facilitating connections between workers,
    communities, governments and companies. Our leaders are experienced
    negotiators and peer educators, know the inner workings of their
    respective sectors, and are working tirelessly to address the acute
    crisis facing our grassroots members and to maintain social cohesion in
    crisis contexts. Including us in decision-making will benefit not just
    the 61% of the world’s workers who are informally employed, but local
    communities, national economies and the global systems that connect us
  2. DO NO HARM. Policies and practices during and
    after the COVID-19 crisis must recognize informal economy workers and
    their organizations, and issue clear directives to enforcement agents to
    refrain from harassment, violence, bribery, forced evictions, and
    demolition of workers’ assets, including their homes and workplaces.
    Special attention needs to be paid to risks and costs borne by women
    workers in the current context and in the long term.
  3. SEE THE TRANSFORMATION. There is a need for a new
    model of work and production, equitable and redistributive, that
    recognizes and values all forms of work. The transformation required to
    achieve that model must begin now, with a commitment to recovery plans
    that focus on transitions from the informal to the formal economy in
    line with the rights-based ILO Recommendation 204. Long-term investments
    are needed to rebuild economies around the understanding that informal
    economy workers, especially women, sustain households, communities, and
    economies; are central to the rebuilding of local value chains; and
    require a guarantee of decent work standards in all sectors.

International networks of informal economy workers jointly sign WIEGO global solidarity platform

The undersigned organizations are members of the growing global
movement of informal economy workers and together represent over 2.1
million members worldwide.

International Domestic Workers’ Federation (IDWF)
Elizabeth Tang, General Secretary,

StreetNet International
Oksana Abboud, International Coordinator,

HomeNet South Asia
Janhavi Dave, International Coordinator,

HomeNet Southeast Asia
Suntaree H. Saeng-Ging, Coordinator.

HomeNet Eastern Europe and Central Asia
Violeta Zlateva, President,

HomeNet International Working Group
Janhavi Dave, International Coordinator designate,

Global Alliance of Waste Pickers
Nohra Padilla, Waste Picker Leader,

Technical Support
Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO)
Sally Roever, International Coordinator,