Administrative Justice for Informal Workers

All over the world, people who rely on access to public space and public resources face a litany of challenges to earn their livelihoods. Many challenges result from decisions made by local government authorities, who control public space and access to waste and land. Known as administrative decisions, these have far-reaching impacts on the ability of workers to earn a livelihood and on how much they earn.

Local government officials typically derive their powers from regulations or by-laws. But in doing so, they must comply with the overarching principles of administrative justice, which regulate the actions and decisions of all government officials and requires them to follow due process.

WIEGO’s Law Programme started this project in 2017 to equip informal street vendors and waste pickers to advocate effectively for their rights.

Important Gains

Within a year of the Administrative Justice Project’s inception, informal vendors who participated have realized important gains. In one case, for example, a new by-law was negotiated; in another, vendors stopped the relocation of their trade.

In both these instances, the informal workers were successful because they had learned a basic principle: that public authorities are required to behave in a lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair manner—that is, to follow due process.

While that principal may seem self-evident, it is regularly violated. For example, even where street trade is legal, regulations tend to treat informal vendors—including those who have paid for licences and permits—as a “nuisance” and a health risk. This attitude persists despite research that shows informal traders—who comprise 15 per cent of the world’s urban workforce—provide poor consumers with cheap food, services and consumer products (Roever 2016). Authorities routinely harass vendors, confiscate their goods, evict them, and arrest them for small infractions.

MAY 2019 EVENT IN ACCRA,GHANA: Dialogue with Informal Workers and Lawyers

Our Administrative Justice Project aims to build the capacity of informal worker organizations to challenge local authorities’ decisions, where they violate due process.

WIEGO’s Administrative Justice Project comprises four components:

Because administrative justice is part of a country’s legal framework, the first step is to commission a technical brief, written by an administrative law expert that describes the legal framework and the principles of administrative justice in the country concerned. The brief also outlines the remedies available to informal workers. Lauren Kohn created the brief Using Administrative Law to Secure Informal Livelihoods: Lessons from South Africa in 2017. We are currently finalizing the research we commissioned in Ghana, Mexico and Senegal.

  1. WIEGO develops worker education materials for training workshops with informal worker leaders, including a workers’ guide that presents the law in a worker-friendly manner. The workers’ guide for South Africa is available online; final versions of the Accra and Mexico City workers guides are in production.
  2. WIEGO identifies and builds institutional relationships with lawyers who can support informal worker organizations after the workshop, when their help is needed.
  3. A participatory three-day workshop aims to shift workers’ perception of law; understand the regulatory framework that governs their work, and trains them to use Administrative law to protect their livelihoods. Participants also benefit from a panel discussion with pro bono lawyers.  

Workshops Deliver Results

Three workshops have been conducted to date, planned and delivered in concert with WIEGO’s Organization and Representation Programme. A total of 88 leaders of worker organizations participated:

  • South Africa (February 2018) – 42 street vendor and waste picker leaders from all nine provinces
  • Ghana (November 2018) – 20 street vendors and 10 waste picker leaders from Accra and Tema
  • Mexico (January 2019) – 8 shoe shiners and 8 tianguistas (street market traders) leaders

Thanks to the workshop I realize that the abuse of power happens because of a lack of information and that we do have tools to defend ourselves. - Street-market vendor (tianguista) in Mexico

In the year since the South African workshop, WIEGO has learned of six instances in which street vendors have successfully used administrative law to challenge local authority decisions.

Negotiating for a new by-law: After participating in WIEGO’s workshop, Leah Forbes, Secretary of the North West affiliate of the South African Informal Traders’ Alliance (SAITA), requested a meeting with the local authority in Potchefstroom. She asked for a copy of the by-law (a tactic she had learned), then took the authorities through South Africa’s Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA) and the worker booklet. As a result, a new by-law was drafted in consultation with workers. “They see that I am higher than them (in knowledge) because I know PAJA and I tell them it is high time for councilors to know the Act,” Leah said. She has since distributed copies of the worker booklet to committees of vendors in rural areas.

I am my own lawyer now. - Leah Forbes, SAITA

Preventing the local authority from moving traders: Within hours of attending the workshop, Rosheda Muller, President of SAITA, received a notice from the Cape Town city council stating that traders would have to move from a huge area in front of City Hall for four days to make way for a film crew. Traders are regularly moved when the council wants to use this area. She wrote a letter to the council, using terminology learned at the workshop and referring to PAJA. Council then met with the traders and reversed their decision—it was the film crew that had to move to another location.

Building Legal Alliances

In South Africa, the panel discussion with two pro bono lawyers was particularly instructive for participants, who learned they could secure services free of charge. WIEGO has negotiated with the Johannesburg-based Socio-Economic Rights Initiative (SERI), that it would represent SAITA and the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA) on administrative law issues throughout the country. In addition, a lawyer from the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) Durban office participated throughout the workshop, including in the role play.

In Mexico, the Law Programme established relationships with lawyers from three pro-bono clearing houses and secured commitments from their Managing Directors to provide pro bono services in Mexico City. In addition, the lawyer who collaborated with WIEGO in the preparation of the background legal brief – and who also heads a university legal clinic – participated in a Q&A session with workers and committed to providing legal assistance with specific cases that might be identified as strategic to advance the rights of informal workers.

Unfortunately, we were unable to hold the panel discussion with lawyers during the training workshop in Ghana. To address this, we are planning a dialogue and seminar that will bring informal workers and Ghanaian lawyers together in May.

Future Directions

We are deepening the work in all three countries in 2019.

  • In South Africa, a workshop was held in Cape Town in February 2019 with the South African Street Informal Traders Alliance (SAITA) strategize for work in South Africa. We envisage training affiliates in three cities; sensitizing local authorities to their responsibilities in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000, and we are exploring the possibility of introducing an App for informal traders to access information and report local authority violations.
  • In Ghana, our commissioned research revealed that vendors are regulated by 14 different regulations ranging from nuisance law to environmental law. It was a challenge to access copies of the regulations and to analyze how they relate to one another. This analysis will be captured in a paper and will help inform not just the administrative justice strategy, but our broader work at the city level.

Law Exposure Dialogue Programme and Administrative Law Workshop in Dakar.

In Dakar, Senegal, WIEGO plans to hold an administrative justice workshop in December 2019 with the same purpose and structure of the workshops held in in South Africa, Ghana, and Mexico City. Also in Dakar, a Law Exposure Dialogue Programme in April 2019 will bring together informal street vendors and waste pickers with lawyers and public officials. The goal of the programme is to sensitize legal practitioners and administrators to the life and work challenges that informal workers encounter every day. The program consists in an information session with lawyers and administrators, after which they will accompany informal workers during their work day, sharing meals and spending the night in the workers’ home.

Changing Terms

Why our Administrative Law Project was Renamed Administrative Justice

“Administrative law" has different meanings in civil and common law legal systems. In the Anglo-Saxon common-law systems (South African and Ghana) it refers to the laws and principles that govern the actions and decisions of public authorities, particularly in relation to how they take actions and decisions.

In countries of civil law tradition, such as Mexico, the term "administrative law" indicates a complex normative body which includes three different branches:

  • General administrative law is the body of laws and regulations that determines and regulates the functions of administrative bodies, which in the past decades has come to include rules regulating the administrative process.
  • Procedural administrative law regulates the judicial procedure to be followed when challenging administrative actions.
  • Special administrative law includes regulations, usually passed by local government bodies, which regulate specific matters such as safety, urban planning, waste management, mobility, street vending and other aspects of public space management. These pieces of legislation are referred to as by-laws or simply regulations in common law countries.

To avoid misunderstanding, we are now calling this project “Administrative Justice”.

Informal Economy Theme