Workers' Health

Waste pickers Liberia Mapesmoawe (left) and Justina Mokoena (right) are both waste pickers on the Boitshepi landfill in South Africa and members of the growing Majakathatha Cooperative.

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.

Read Universal Health Coverage: An Informal Worker Perspective

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.

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Informal Economy Topic