Since 2016, WIEGO’s Law Programme and its Organization and Representation Programme has partnered with the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector (MUFIS) to promote the implementation of R204 (the ILO Recommendation concerning the transition from the informal to the formal economy) in Malawi.
WIEGO chose to support the implementation of R204 in Malawi because it is one of a few countries that allow informal workers to register a trade union. In addition, MUFIS holds a seat as a workers’ representative on the country’s social dialogue institution, the Tripartite Labour Advisory Council. WIEGO’s collaboration with MUFIS has focused on street vendors, who form the majority of MUFIS’ members.
The Labour Market in Malawi
The Malawi labour market is fragmented, with a very small majority of workers in the formal sector and most employed workers (89 per cent) engaged in the informal sector. The agricultural sector accounts for the largest share of employment in both the formal and informal sectors. Street vending is an important source of non-agriculture employment in the informal sector.
Street vendors in Malawi experience several challenges and have outlined their demands to improve their working conditions. These include:
- designation of adequate space for trading
- appropriate infrastructure, including shelter and storage space
- provision of adequate water, electricity, toilets
- frequent cleansing and refuse removal
- child care facilities within markets
- safety and security services within markets.
Workers have also demanded that local authorities be more accountable and conduct their responsibilities in a transparent manner.
The WIEGO-MUFIS partnership aims to strengthen MUFIS leaders’ capacity to engage in collective bargaining and negotiations with national and local authorities. This will enable them to articulate their demands for national and local government to implement R204 by addressing issues such as child care, occupational health and safety and social protection for informal workers.
We have identified three focus areas for our work with MUFIS, namely:
- laws and policies affecting informal workers
- collective bargaining and informal economy budget analysis (IEBA)
- child care
Our approach in supporting MUFIS in these three areas has been to:
- identify the problems as articulated by the workers
- conduct capacity building and facilitate the development of a strategy to address the issues
- develop worker-friendly resources to support worker leaders
Outcomes and Lessons
Laws and policies affecting informal workers
Workers learned about national laws and bylaws that impact their livelihoods. They have also learned about R204 and how it can be used to demand the recognition of their rights and changes that could improve their circumstances.
Collective bargaining and informal economy budget analysis (IEBA)
We seek to equip informal workers with an understanding of all stages of the negotiation process and to enable them to negotiate successfully, to involve all members in the negotiations process and to follow up on negotiations. In addition, workers have learned about IEBA to analyze the extent to which local government budgets cater to the needs of street vendors. They are learning to leverage opportunities to participate in local authorities’ budgetary processes and to demand the allocation of resources to benefit informal workers.
Workers—especially women—clearly and strongly articulated the need for child care centres located in markets and operating during convenient times for traders. They then formulated strategy on how MUFIS could take forward WIEGO’s child care initiative. WIEGO supported the translation of the WIEGO Child Care Campaign materials into the local language, chiChewa.
Overall, the capacity-building workshops have been the most valuable activities in this project. The capacity-building workshops have brought the leaders from all four regions of Malawi together, and built a spirit of solidarity among them. Participants have vowed to continue working together across regions to address their priorities. The workshops have also provided an opportunity for traders from different regions to tell their stories of successfully challenging authorities, and to share negotiating tactics and ideas with each other. This has underscored the significance of the participants’ knowledge for the workshop’s success.