Social Protection for Informal Workers

These basic facts are at the core of WIEGO's work around social protection.

Informal is normal. Informal employment accounts for the majority (61%) of employment worldwide (as high as 89 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa and 88 per cent in southern Asia).

Social protection is a right for all workers. Informal workers have the same right as formal workers to healthy and safe working conditions and to have access to social protection schemes. Such programmes should be designed to reach as many workers as possible.

For informal workers, social protection is a high priority. Most informal workers are poor. After increased, reliable income, they consistently list these as priorities:

  • access to health services
  • available child care
  • increased savings/security when older

Informal workers should be integrated, wherever possible, into formal schemes. To be most effective, social protection for informal workers should not involve small schemes built especially for informal workers. It is more desirable to integrate and mainstream informal workers' social protection.

Social protection is a responsibility of those who benefit from the labour of workers and the goods and services produced by them. Employers or owners of capital have a responsibility to provide social benefits for those who work for them, or those whose work indirectly benefits them, regardless of the formality of the working relationship. A mix of public and private provision is optimal for social protection, so long as the private provision does not erode the public provision.

Social protection requires a long term commitment. Social protection cannot be only a short term safety net. It must be a long term commitment to redressing poverty and inequality, and proactively creating pathways out of poverty. And it must be designed and provided in a way that ensures it is sustainable.

Gender equity is important. Gender is as important as class, race, and space in determining participation in the labour market, security and incomes at work, and access to social protection. There is gender segmentation within both the informal and formal labour markets. Women sometimes lack social status or legal rights, and thus are excluded from schemes. Social protection for women is especially vital, since women are usually responsible for child and family care. Women's responsibilities for unpaid care work lower their incomes while lengthening their (paid and unpaid) working days.

Informal workers must be included in policy formulation. Informal workers know their needs, their situations and their priorities best. These workers and their allies (e.g. associations of informal workers) should be included in policy development, design, implementation and monitoring of all programmes that affect them.

Place of work has an impact on the needs and risks of informal workers. The physical place of work for informal workers – for example: streets, private homes, waste dumps, forests, waterways – has been much neglected in the analysis and policy development of social protection.

Worker's vulnerabilities to risk and access to social protection are clearly determined by where they work, and who is responsible for the workplace.

Informal Economy Theme