COVID-19 and Informal Workers - Advocacy & Action

WIEGO is gathering and analyzing news from around the globe to capture the impact of this global pandemic on the world's two billion informal workers, and some of the promising interventions by policymakers to alleviate the poverty, inequality and suffering this crisis will cause.

Also see Informal worker demands

Almost 25 million jobs could be lost worldwide as a result of COVID-19, says ILO - On March 18, the ILO wrote that an internationally coordinated policy response is needed to prevent widespread unemployment, underemployment and income loss. "These measures include extending social protection, supporting employment retention (i.e. short-time work, paid leave, other subsidies), and financial and tax relief, including for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises."

LabourStart is compiling news from unions around the world 

In Thailand, WIEGO's members report that the informal workers' movement, with support of our alliances especially the media, strongly called for emergency essential measures. On March 23, the government announced special measures for informal workers in response to COVID-19 include:

  • Cash grants of 5,000 Bhat (about 50% of minimum wage) x 3 months
  • Low-interest 2.5-year loans of 10,000 Bhat (interest is 0.1% /month)
  • Low-interest 3.5-year loans of 50,000 Bhat (interest is 0.35% /month)
  • Reduction in the interest of state pawnshops.
  • Skills training, with a per diem.

This provides for 3 million people in a country where informal employment accounts for about 56% of total employment. A website to apply for the emergency aid is expected to being operating at the end of March.

Health care: Thailand's universal health coverage (UHC) will cover all necessary tests and medical treatments for COVID-19 patients. Informal workers who are  insured through the Social Security Scheme will get compensation for lost work income.

In Mexico, the Head of Government announced support measures for indigenous artisans but left out the majority of the informal sector and domestic workers. WIEGO's Focal City Mexico campaign created this video (in Spanish) calling for them to include and transfer resources to replace income for all informal workers affected by the crisis.

In Jamaica the government announced on March 26 that taxi drivers, barbers, market vendors and domestic workers would be among those who receive emergency assistance from the government.

In Peru, the Central Government announced a cash allowance of 380 soles (equivalent to about 110 USD) to families living in poverty for the current 15 days of quarantine. The allowance is half the value of the monthly basic basket of goods. The government has managed lists of the poor for about 10 years, and updates them annually (last update March 2019); these lists are also used to t give access to free health insurance for the poor. The lists are being expanded to include waste pickers who belong to organizations with municipal contracts. 

The government has now said they want to extend the program to cover informal workers, but do not have any way of identifying them. Because there high levels of registration of many types of informal workers in Peru, the WIEGO Focal City Lima team has been in touch with the government to assist with this. However, there will be challenges relating to street vendors -- those who do not belong to an organization may fall through the crack. 

Newspaper vendors in Lima are allowed to work. In fact they have been thanked for doing so by the government and are protected by the police.

Find out what our Focal City Lima team is learning and doing.

ITUC 12 countries protect workers
The ITUC has published a report on 12 countries that have done the best job of protecting workers, including the self-employed, contract and "gig" workers. 

The Canadian government has established a $107 billion (CAD) emergency aid plan (about US$75 billion). The

package is designed to get cash into the hands of workers--including the self-employed, contract and gig employees--who have lost work or are unable to earn due to COVID-19 (including for illness or caring for others). The government expects to have a fully operational registration system by April 6, with payments reaching residents by mid-April.

“When you’re trying to help get money out to people, speed is of the essence,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “Especially in an unprecedented situation like this one.”

The package includes a new Emergency Care Benefit of $2000/month for the next 4 months to provide taxable income support to workers. There is also new money for low- and middle-income parents and funding for businesses, including small enterprises.

Articles and Op-Eds

In Brazil, "The government has introduced emergency measures. Informal workers will each receive 200 reais a month (£33; $40). But Brazil's currency is plummeting.... It is not enough to buy food for a month for a family, let alone cover rent and bills. This is a menacing virus, but just as menacing is the threat of hunger - how can these families live like this, and for how long?" reports Katy Watson at BBC News. Read Coronavirus in South America: How it became a class issue

In South Africa, the government has taken decisive action to stop the spread of COVID-19, but the lockdown will exacerbate the already precarious position of the country's many working poor, development strategist Kate Philip writes in the Daily Maverick (22 March).

An opinion piece in Modern Ghana notes that in 2014, the Ghana Statistical Service estimated that 86.1 per cent of all employment was found in the informal economy (for women, it was 91 per cent) and descries the lack of action beyond some public service messaging around hand washing. The author, Delali Adogla, notes that some lack running water and also says, "The traders, hawkers and customers in Makola have no choice but to continue with their hand to mouth existence regardless of the threat. Their families must eat" before saying that the informal sector workers are the most vulnerable and that the State should be prioritizing their needs.

In an article about the global response to support children, Joan Lombardi, PhD, an international expert on child and family policy, lists organizations and resources around the world who are trying to address the needs of children and families during this crisis. "People are responding in unprecedented ways that go well beyond borders. Hopefully this can lead to improved conditions for children, a stronger safety net and an enhanced ability to live together in harmony in the future," she concludes.

Karsten Noko writes in Al Jazeera, "In Africa, the crisis has not yet reached epic proportions. But the cracks caused by existing inequalities are already showing." He discusses the realities of informal workers and those who live in slums, who lack access to water and healthcare, and who cannot stay home and off work without incurring terrible hardship. In Africa, social distancing is a privilege few can afford

Informal Economy Topic