Domestic Workers Occupational Group

Home-based Workers

Street vendors

Waste Pickers

OG Page Block: Other Groups

Informal Workers and the Work They Do

Street vendors in Mexico City, rickshaw pullers in Calcutta, jeepney drivers in Manila, push-cart vendors in New York city,  garbage collectors in Bogotá, roadside barbers in Durban ... Those who work outside in the open are the more visible occupational groups in the informal  economy. The streets of cities, towns, and villages in most developing countries – and in many developed countries – are busy. Street and market vendors can be found everywhere selling goods of every conceivable kind. In many countries, headloaders, cart pullers, bicycle peddlers, rickshaw pullers, and camel, bullock, or horse cart drivers jostle down narrow village lanes or through a maze of cars, trucks, and buses.

But the informal economy includes workers who are less visible – even invisible. Down crowded lanes are small workshops that repair bicycles and motorcycles, recycle scrap metal, make furniture, tan leather, stitch shoes, polish gems and sell paper and plastic waste.

The least visible informal workers, most of them women, sell or produce goods from their homes: they are garment workers and embroiderers, incense-stick and cigarette rollers, football or kite makers, food processors, and many others. Some home-based workers work on their own account, while others work on a piece-rate basis for a contractor or a firm. Not confined to developing countries, they can be found around the world: garment workers in Toronto; embroiderers on the island of Madeira; shoemakers in Madrid; and assemblers of electronic parts in Leeds.

Then there are those – again usually women – who work in others’ homes: the tens of millions domestic workers around the globe who are among the most vulnerable of all workers.

Other common categories of informal work include contract workers in restaurants and hotels, sub-contracted janitors and security guards, casual day labourers in construction and agriculture, piece-rate workers in sweatshops, and temporary office helpers or offsite data processors. They work without secure contracts, worker benefits, or social protection.

Conditions of work and the level of earnings differ markedly between categories of workers. Even within countries, the informal economy is highly segmented by place of work, sector of the economy, and status of employment and, across these segments, by social group and gender.

Most workers in the informal economy have this in common: they lack legal recognition and protection.

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