To overcome barriers, informal workers need to be organized and their organizations need to be legally recognized and officially represented in collective bargaining, policy-making and rule-setting processes. They need to be able to participate in the development of appropriate policies, laws and regulations that recognize, validate and integrate their work and livelihoods.
WIEGO's work with membership-based organizations (MBOs) of informal workers has shown that having increased access to resources without the ability to influence broader external factors does not translate into more secure and remunerative livelihoods. For this reason, providing support to MBOs of informal workers is a key component of WIEGO’s work.
Materials and Resources
WIEGO and partners have developed materials and resources to support developing or existing MBOs with organizing, collective bargaining and negotiation strategies.
Organizing in the Informal Economy
Organizing gives the poorest segments of the working class – those working in the informal economy, especially women – a way to be heard by decision makers who can affect their lives. Organizing informal workers has a long history, although recent organizing among informal workers can arguably be traced back to the founding of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) of India in the 1970’s. SEWA is now the largest trade union of informal workers in the world with almost 2 million members.
Informal workers are organizing at local, national and international levels. For organizations of informal workers and their members, advocacy in international venues is greatly enhanced by the formation of global networks. Since 2000, several transnational networks of organizations of informal workers have been formed or consolidated:
- HomeNet SouthEast Asia (1997)
- StreetNet International (2002)
- HomeNet South Asia (2000)
- Latin American Waste Pickers Network (Red Lacre) (2005)
- Global Network of Waste Pickers (2009)
- International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN) (2009) which became the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) (2013)
- HomeNet Eastern Europe (2013)
- HomeNet International (2020)
In recent years, the global movement of organized informal workers continues to gain strength. However, despite the many benefits of organizing, the challenges are great.
- Read more about the need for organizing, and the economic, political, social and intangible benefits it can bring for workers.
- Read more about how informal workers have come together to amplify their visibility, voice and power, and how local organizations are uniting into federations and networks nationally, regionally and globally.
For practical guidance on how to address six institutional challenges in organizing the informal economy into trade unions and important lessons on how to integrate diverse groups of workers and operators into the formal structures of the trade union movement, read the 2019 ILO ACTRAV publication Organizing Informal Workers into Trade Unions - A trade union guide
Read about organizing experience by occupational group:
WAW - Wastepickers Around the World is the first global database on waste pickers.
Collective Bargaining in the Informal Economy
Collective Bargaining is usually understood as taking place between an employer and employees to achieve a collective agreement, primarily around wages and working conditions. (See the International Labour Organization’s definition of collective bargaining: C154: Collective Bargaining Convention, 1981 [No.154]).
However, workers in the informal economy engage in forms of collective bargaining through their membership-based organizations (MBOS) with a variety of entities who are not "employers". Street vendors most often negotiate with local authorities and with different municipal officials regarding space, fees, harassment and confiscation of goods. Waste pickers negotiate with local authorities for storage and sorting facilities or, more ambitiously, for the right to provide collection and recycling services for which they are paid. Many need to negotiate with buyers for better prices for recyclables.
Unlike workers in the formal economy whose rights are found in labour statutes, most informal workers do not have statutory collective bargaining rights. While the right has been acknowledged by the ILO (see Resolution and Conclusions Concerning Decent Work in the Informal Economy, ILC, 90th Session, 2002), including for own account workers, it has not generally been extended to these workers.
Increasingly informal workers are finding a place at the table, with national and local governments, or, in the case of domestic workers, in forums involving employers.
Resources on Collective Bargaining
- WIEGO Working Paper No. 38: Collective Bargaining by Informal Workers in the Global South: Where and How It Takes Place
- WIEGO Organizing Brief No. 9. (2013) Informal Workers and Collective Bargaining: Five Case Studies - WIEGO and the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center in the USA collaborated on research that looked at collective bargaining in the informal economy. A team of researchers analyzed five cases and produced case studies, which are summarized in this document by Debbie Budlender.
- Collective Bargaining in the Informal Economy: Street Vendors (2016) - This paper by Pat Horn builds on the above case studies, and on the work done by StreetNet International on collective bargaining in the street vending sector. It explores the range of collective bargaining arrangements and experiences of street vendors in different countries, many of whom are affiliates of StreetNet International.
- StreetNet has produced a series of case studies and a composite report on collective bargaining and representative forums for street vendors.
- StreetNet has developed a guideline document, “Towards a Model Framework for a Local Level Collective Bargaining System for Street Traders.” This framework will be used by affiliates of StreetNet in their struggles to set up permanent negotiating forums with local authorities.
- WIEGO and StreetNet have produced a handbook on Collective Negotiations for Informal Workers as part of the Organizing in the Informal Economy: Resource Books for Organizers Series.
- ITUC has produced “Collective Bargaining, Collective Voices.”
- In January 2017 Chris Bonner (former director of ORP) produced an article for the WIEGO blog “Strategies for Successful Collective Negotiations.”