Dear WIEGO Colleagues and Friends,
Happy New Year to one and all. As we reflect on 2020, I hope that the year’s unprecedented challenges were accompanied by moments that could bring some measure of solace and hope for a more just and peaceful future.
The struggles of the past year, our 23rd as the WIEGO Network, extended beyond anything we could have imagined: within weeks of the beginning of the crisis, home-based workers in global supply chains reported cancelled orders, waste pickers saw drops in the prices of recyclables, domestic workers were no longer welcome in the homes in which they worked and street vendors found lockdowns gave them no choice but to stay home. So many of the world’s workers suffered from lost work days, foregone earnings and the menace of a virus that hit the world’s most vulnerable workers harder than anyone else.
Yet, the past year more than ever, has shown us the strength of our interconnectedness. Representing over 2.1 million workers worldwide, the International Domestic Workers Federation, StreetNet International, HomeNet South Asia, HomeNet Southeast Asia, HomeNet Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers—as members of the WIEGO Network—together called on policy makers to partner on emergency relief, recovery and resilience actions. These networks and their affiliates instantly mobilized to support workers with food donations, alternative livelihood opportunities and financial donations when governments failed to do enough.
Leaders of membership-based informal worker organizations reported that workers were the target of misinformation campaigns about the virus and that they urgently needed clear, appropriate and occupation-specific information. Within weeks, together with our members and partners, we developed WhatsAppable resources for waste pickers, street vendors and domestic workers. Online crowdfunding sites were set up and advocacy resources for domestic workers, home-based workers, street vendors and waste pickers were created and shared widely.
To further support our members’ advocacy efforts, we shared our knowledge about social protection approaches during the crisis, changes to the legal landscape due to COVID-19, and success stories of urban policies that could support informal workers in the context of the pandemic. The recognition of the extent of informal employment, especially with recent advances in official statistics, has been critical for achieving policy gains during the crisis.
Finally, at the start of the crisis, we conducted a rapid assessment with our partners to understand how COVID-19 and related public health measures were impacting informal workers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Building on that, WIEGO launched the COVID-19 Crisis and the Informal Economy Study, which will continue in 2021, to help us unpack the multiple pathways through which the pandemic is affecting informal workers across cities and worker groups.
As we enter 2021, most workers are still not earning as much as they were prior to the pandemic. This year will be a moment of reckoning around the excessive concentration of wealth and power in many countries, especially as economic recovery lags and the pandemic drags on. To transform the systems driving this injustice and rising levels of inequality, informal workers must be seen and heard at all levels.
Our strength is in unity. Let’s continue to build on that in 2021.