The Law Programme strives for the recognition, inclusion and protection of the rights and work of informal workers in international instruments, national and local laws and regulations; and to build the capacity of informal workers and their organizations to use the law to fight for secure livelihoods and labour rights.
Often, informal workers and their businesses are excluded from labour, employment and business legislation. They are therefore denied the rights and entitlements afforded to formal employees and businesses. At the same time, a complex range of national, sector-specific and city-level legislation regulates informal workers’ businesses and activities and are often punitive in their effect. Contravention of this legislation is frequently treated as a criminal offence, compromising informal workers’ livelihoods and often violating their human rights. Also, police harassment of informal workers and denial of their due process protections under rule of law are common.
In most countries, labour and employment legislation and policy focuses only on formal employment relationships. Policy for informal workers is either in the form of small business support (with an emphasis on supply-side interventions such as micro-finance and business training), or poverty-alleviation projects (particularly for women, who are over-represented in the most low-income sectors). Such programmes benefit individuals, but fail to challenge informal workers’ structural exclusion from the economy, and from the broader social contract.
Read our semi-annual newsletter, Law & Informality Insights, which includes key developments in regulations, jurisprudence and scholarship.
Our Law & Informality microsite includes legal instruments by geographic region and occupational group.
Ultimately, we strive to see a world in which:
- international instruments, national and local laws and regulations recognize, include and protect the rights and work of informal workers;
- informal workers use the law to fight for secure livelihoods and labour rights.
To advance these ultimate goals, we aim to:
- improve the legal knowledge of membership-based organizations of informal workers so that they are better able to know, use and shape the law (including international legal instruments and administrative justice).
- increase the number of legal and civil society organizations that support the recognition, inclusion and protection of informal employment in law and policy at local, international and global levels.
- encourage legal scholars and labour lawyers to advocate for informal workers in their scholarship and in policy contexts.
Values that Guide our Work
Political struggle and law reform are inseparable: Progressive legislation on its own is seldom enough to extend entitlements and protect rights. In the absence of political will to implement and enforce legislation, strong organizations are needed to struggle for rights to be realized and legislation to be implemented and enforced. We therefore work closely with WIEGO’S Organization and Representation Programme and with membership-based organizations of informal workers.
Institutions (cultural, socio-economic, political and legal) determine how laws are interpreted, applied and enforced: Legal arguments or laws cannot be transferred wholesale from one context to another, since the political economy and institutions (including cultural, political and legal norms) fundamentally affect how law is interpreted and whether and how the law is enforced.
International law is important for advocacy at the national level: Recognition of informal workers at the global level can translate into effective advocacy at the national and local levels, and enforcement mechanisms such as the ILO and UN Reporting mechanisms, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and OECD National Contact Points can create pressure for national governments to come to recognize and engage with organizations of informal workers.
Effective enforcement mechanisms are as important as substantive rights: Even if legislation is progressive, enforcement is often ineffective, especially if the legislation is viewed as investor-unfriendly, or if the state is under-resourced, authoritarian, and/or controlled by elites. Paying attention to enforcement mechanisms is therefore as important as crafting substantive rights.
Using Administrative Justice to fight for access to public space
Many challenges that informal workers face are the result of 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 workers' livelihoods. WIEGO’s Administrative Justice Project aims to build the capacity of workers’ organizations to use administrative law — the branch of law that requires government officials to respect due process — to challenge local authorities’ decisions and actions. Read more.
Using International Instruments for National Advocacy
Many global instruments recognize the rights of informal workers and their role as essential economic actors. Examples are ILO Conventions No.189 on domestic work, No.190 on violence and harassment, No. 177 on homeworkers, and ILO Recommendation No. 204 on the transition from the informal to the formal economy. However, many countries fail to translate these rights at the national level. WIEGO’s The Law Programme supports informal workers to use international instruments for advocacy at the national level to realize their rights.
We carry out this work in partnership with international networks of informal workers associations and their local affiliates, across four occupational groups: domestic workers, home-based workers, waste pickers and street/market vendors. Read more on our work with garment workers, domestic workers, waste pickers (the Waste Pickers and Human Rights Project) in this field.
Engaging in Global Agenda-setting Processes and in Research
To challenge mainstream assumptions about law and informal workers — that informal workers operate outside the law, or that their work is criminal — we engage in global agenda-setting processes and through research and publishing. Read more about our engagement in global agenda-setting and our research: Legal Briefs, Technical Briefs, Working Papers (Law), and Law & Informality Insights.
Empowering Domestic Workers
At the request of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), we are exploring whether the community paralegal model could promote access to justice and legal empowerment of domestic worker organizations and their members. We have mapped community paralegal programmes across the world and interviewed domestic worker organizations to learn about the legal needs of domestic workers. Read a brief analysis of the findings and learn more about the paralegal project here.
Learn more about the Law Programme Past Activities here.
Marlese von Broembsen
Director, Law Programme
Pamhidzai H. Bamu