Health is important to informal workers because their income relies on their ability to work. However, often they can't access the services they need to maintain good health or cope with injury and illness.
While poorer informal workers face the same problems in accessing health services as all poor citizens, they also face specific exclusions and barriers. Informal workers often “fall through the gaps” in health provision. Here's how:
Public health service provision—whether preventive, promotive, or curative—is generally oriented towards access for poor citizens, but not poor citizens who are workers. Services do not take into account workers' needs. Long waiting times at health facilities, cumbersome registration procedures, and difficulties in getting accurate information all hinder access for informal workers, who must prioritize time for earning income over their own health. Further, sidelining preventive and promotive health services has a particularly deleterious impact on informal workers, who lose essential income when sick or injured.
Municipal health systems play a central role in regulating the working lives and determining the working conditions of informal workers who work in urban public spaces. However, municipal health regulations often class informal workers as “nuisances” from whom the public is meant to be protected. Because these systems are not designed with a livelihood perspective in mind, health regulations often do little to protect informal workers from health and safety problems in their workplaces, and can actively work against livelihoods (for example when environmental health regulations are invoked to evict traders from their workplaces).
Occupational health systems, which often fall under the mandate of labour ministries rather than health ministries, do not cover many informal workplaces (road sides, markets, private homes, landfills and so on), and rely on the presence of an employer-employee relationship for enforcement purposes. Our Occupational Health & Safety for Informal Workers Project, which ran between 2009 and 2014, has a wealth of information.
WIEGO’s Informal Workers Health Project aims to provide a central point for information, research, activities & network building relating to the promotion of better health and better access to health services for informal workers.
- Learn how the Cuidar Project in Brazil is helping to understand and address waste pickers’ specific health risks.
- Read and share a blog post on informal workers access to health.
- Learn how SEWA created powerful innovations that connect poor women to health, nutrition and other programs in India.
- Find out how embracing participation helped Thailand achieve universal health coverage.
- Watch a video on innovative work being done by WIEGO’s partners to improve the health of informal workers.
- Hear five women informal workers talk about the challenges they face in accessing health services.
- Share our blog post on the Durban informal traders who are working with the municipality to improve their occupational health and safety.
- Find out why occupational health should be a concern for local governments.
- Read our working papers and policy briefs on informal workers and health systems in India, Thailand and Ghana.
- Read individual stories about health access for informal workers.
- See WIEGO’s Publication Series for working papers on workers’ health.