On Thursday, May 2, 2019, WIEGO and Advocates for Community Alternatives (ACA) brought together street vendors, waste pickers and lawyers in Accra to open a dialogue to foster understanding between workers and legal professionals. The dialogue's goal was to pave the way towards identifying opportunities for collaboration that can improve the lives of these important informal workers while benefitting society.
WIEGO partnered with ACA, which coordinates a network of West African public interest lawyers. ACA planned to build on the outcomes of this discussion to target programs promoting and supporting public interest law in Ghana.
The ILO estimates that almost 85 percent of Ghana’s labour force is informal. However, the contributions of informal workers to the economy and the community are often unrecognized. Here are just a few examples of these contributions:
- Street vendors provide goods and services to the public in convenient locations at affordable prices. They add vibrancy to a city and showcase the local culture, while also contributing to local coffers by paying licensing fees, rentals and tolls.
- Waste pickers collect what others have thrown out and collect materials that can be recycled, reused and upcycled. In doing so, they reduce the amount of material that authorities must transport and landfill—saving the municipality money while also providing environmental benefits such as reduced carbon emissions.
A lack of knowledge and widespread misperceptions about informal workers in Ghana (as elsewhere) exacerbates the challenges these citizens face in trying to earn a livelihood. Their rights as workers and citizens are frequently violated. In turn, this limits the benefits that the city and the society gain from this massive workforce.
About the Event
The event on May 2 aimed to contribute towards shifting this. Specifically, it aimed to:
- expose public interest lawyers to informal workers’ working conditions and challenges;
- examine the laws that regulate street vending and waste picking and consider how these laws impact on working conditions in the informal economy;
- identify the tools and strategies that would be required for lawyers to provide support to informal workers in Ghana;
- identify possible areas for collaboration and the modalities of collaboration.
During the event, street vendors and waste pickers shared their experiences, circumstances and the daily challenges they encounter in their work. These include a lack of access to public space, infrastructure and services that formal businesses expect, the threat of evictions, confiscations and even arrest. Importantly, the exclusion and arbitrary abuse of informal workers who work in public spaces drives them outside the regulatory system, and contributes to some of the visible negatives that the public associates with the informal sector, e.g. overcrowding on the streets, poor hygiene and uncollected refuse.
Laws and Legal Framework
An overview of the laws regulating street vending and waste picking in Ghana, and specifically the applicable by-laws in Accra, was given. In addition, participants discussed the framework that protects the rights of street vendors and waste pickers, including the Constitution, which guarantees the right to just administrative action by local authorities and protects the right of every person to work under satisfactory safe and healthy conditions.
In group exercises, workers and lawyers teamed up and analyzed the laws. The participating lawyers shared the strategies they have adopted when working in the communities that they serve, to identify the lessons that could be learned as we build partnerships to assist informal workers.
Ultimately, the event aimed to identify lawyers with an interest in providing legal support to informal workers, for example, by educating them about their rights, supporting them to invoke principles such as administrative justice, and helping them make inputs to draft laws and policies that regulate their work.
Through our Administrative Justice Project, WIEGO has found that the consistent application of administrative law and regulations can contribute towards a rational and inclusive system and more harmonious relations between local authorities and workers.
Participants included six street vendor leaders and six waste picker leaders representing the Greater Accra Markets Association, Informal Vendors and Hawkers’ Association of Ghana, Kpone Waste pickers’ Association and Biakoye Waste pickers’ Association.
Representatives from the following organizations were present: TaylorCrabbe Initiative; Legal Resources Centre; Centre for Public Interest Law; Law Society of Ghana; Legal Aid Board; Law and Policy Advocacy; Leadership and Advocacy Women in Africa (Ghana); Ghana Trade Union Congress.
● Budgeting and the Informal Economy in Accra, Ghana (2015) by Debbie Budlender.
● Accra was part of WIEGO’s Informal Economy Monitoring Study (IEMS), an action research initiative that evaluated the realities, constraints and contributions of informal workers.
● Full report: Street Vendors in Accra, Ghana (Nana Akua Anyidoho)