COVID-19, Informal Workers and WIEGO’s Work during this Crisis

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informal workers in various settings

WIEGO is focused on the devastating impact of this crisis for the world’s two billion informal workers. We are striving to ensure that informal workers’ issues are addressed, sharing information and advocacy tools, and arguing for policies and plans that include informal workers.

SUPPORT INFORMAL WORKERS in COVID-19: Campaigns you can contribute to

WIEGO's Focus

In this global pandemic, WIEGO is focused on the devastating consequences for informal workers. These workers and their families face additional health risks and economic impact.

Many live and/or work in crowded public spaces with little or no access to water and sanitation, and have no access to health care. And because informal workers depend on their daily earnings to survive—whether they are self-employed, wage workers, casual day labourers or dependent contractors—they face the risk of falling into extreme poverty as a result of government-ordered lockdowns and economic disruptions.

Women informal workers face additional challenges because of their care and domestic responsibilities.

As staying home and away from work is mandated in many places, income replacement measures from the state are critical for informal workers and their families to meet these workers most basic needs. Such measures must go beyond the targeting the very poor and the unemployed to include workers in vulnerable occupations.

The current crisis is both a public health and economic crisis that increases the risks for the working poor and their families, who do not have adequate access to health insurance and health care in the best of times.

Across the globe, our teams are working remotely to maintain contact and provide as much support as possible to informal worker organizations to help articulate and disseminate informal worker demands.

The COVID-19 crisis has made in-person exchange between informal workers more challenging. With this in mind, WIEGO is working to facilitate exchange between workers across sectors and countries. WIEGO's Workers’ Voices webinar series aims to provide a space for learning and exchange where membership-based organizations (MBO) and networks of informal workers can learn about:

  • innovative policy advocacy and organizing strategies during the COVID-19 crisis; and
  • positive policy responses and/or MBO interventions which support informal workers during the pandemic.
Webinar Series for Informal Workers banner
Waste pickers in Bogotá working at the collection centre La Pensilvania. (Juan Arredondo/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment)

APRIL - Rapid assessment of impact on informal workers

Between 23 March and 8 April 2020, WIEGO conducted a rapid assessment with informal worker leaders and others who work closely with them to understand how COVID-19 and the related public health measures are impacting informal workers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This report details what we learned. 

  • Analysis in OECD Development Matters blog: Laura Alfers, Jenna Harvey and Rachel Moussié, who led the rapid assessment, share insights—and assert that short-term safety nets are important in the immediate crisis, but longer-term thinking about recovery and income security for informal workers should be part of the policy response.

Different sectors, different needs

Because we know that the crisis is affecting different groups of workers differently, the approach to each must be different.

WASTE PICKERS: Essential Service Providers at Risk- Waste pickers provide essential services and face specific risks, from handling contaminated materials to losing daily earnings when governments order work stoppages and tell people to stay home.  

HOME-BASED WORKERS Face a New Kind of Isolation – Those who produce goods and services for local markets or as subcontracted workers for national and global supply chains have not had orders or sales for weeks, even months.

DOMESTIC WORKERS: Frontline Care Workers at Risk – Because their work requires them to be in others’ home and to come in close contact with the virus, domestic workers are frontline workers in this pandemic. But they lack protection from infection and from employers who demand they do more work for no more pay--or stay away and earn nothing.

STREET VENDORS: Essential Goods and Urgent Needs – Informal street vendors, market traders and market porters provide necessary goods and services at affordable prices. But in crowded public spaces, physical distance is nearly impossible. Now, government lockdowns are threatening their survival. 

WIEGO’s research into the impact of economic crises in the informal workforce has taught us that informal workers have “no cushion to fall back on”. Rather, informal workers bear the brunt of economic and work disruptions. 

APRIL 2020 PODCAST: Sally Roever talks about what informal workers need right now

Finding solutions

WIEGO is striving to ensure that informal workers’ issues are heard, understood and addressed. We are providing information and advocacy tools for informal worker organizations, and helping them advocate for local/national policies and schemes that include informal workers.

We are keeping track of Informal Workers' Demands and of emergency Government Responses that provide some form of social protection for informal workers.

MAY 26, 2020 PODCAST - Lessons from government responses to protect informal workers with Valentina Barca

WIEGO is also working with the policy research group SPACE to assist government in evaluating responses to the Covid-19 crisis. One of the results of this work is this matrix about the technical considerations for analysing policy responses for informal workers. This is an adaptation compiled by Laura Alfers from her original piece she wrote for SPACE.

WIEGO knows that the best way to find practical and appropriate interventions is for national and local decision-makers to work together on a coordinated disaster response that involves grassroots community groups at the forefront of the daily struggles experienced by the working poor. Street vendor associations, waste picker cooperatives, domestic workers’ unions and home-based worker networks should be viewed as partners, alongside community groups who work with urban populations of the working poor.


How WIEGO is working during this crisis

Our team consists of more than 60 people working in every region of the globe. Much of our work is done, and can continue to be done, remotely. However, there will be some disruptions.

We have cancelled all travel and in-person meetings by our team, closed our Operations office and asked all team members to avoid gatherings and to follow the advice and restrictions of their local health authorities. As countries relax restrictions in some places, we will continue to monitor the situation closely but always err on the side of safety.

This will necessarily prevent some activities that involve grounded, face-to-face encounters with our members, partners and allies, but the safety of our people and our communities is paramount.