INCLUDE Platform

Andrea Floridi

ORGANISATION: International Institute for Social Studies
TITLE: PhD Researcher
WEBSITE: http://www.iss....

Andrea Floridi is a PhD researcher at ISS-EUR. He has experience in informal economy and in evaluation of international cooperation initiatives and projects. He published evaluations of international cooperation projects on the OECD website, and on the Italian cooperation website. His research interests reach from informal economy to entrepreneurship, from institutions to economic behaviors.

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Question of the Week 7 2016-08-23 10:25:31
Promoting the enforcement of informal workers’ rights needs joint efforts by several actors ranging from the local government to the private sector, from unions to the informal workers themselves including international organizations and NGOs. However, these actors clearly have different priorities and agendas. Therefore implementing informal workers' legal rights requires that the different actors be brought together at the negotiating table. In our opinion, the role of formal workers' union and informal workers’ associations might be particularly crucial.
Formal unions have a clear and defined structure and focus mainly on promoting safeguards for formal workers. Yet, informality is very prominent in Africa. In some African countries such as Benin and Burkina Faso the formal unions also cover informal workers (Tsafack-Nanfosso, 2014). The example of the Nigerian textile union and the Tailors’ Union also shows that formal unions can bridge the formal-informal divide (Lindell, 2010). Formal unions can strengthen their position considerably by recognizing informal workers and promoting their rights. That such a process of integration of informal workers into formal networks is not without challenges is undoubted. But we argue that the gains from integration exceed the costs mainly because there is a simple quantity effect. By including informal workers, the unions can increase their number of members considerably, potentially resulting in a bigger say and more negotiation power vis-à-vis the state and the private sector.
In addition there is a plethora of informal associations and networks that tend to be very different from formal unions. They are rather like community-based organizations and might have less clear structures (Tsafack-Nanfosso, 2014). Yet, these organizations are largely influential as they are created by individuals out of need in order to render services to the members of the group. In Africa, community-based organizations play an important role in the daily lives of the people because of the manifold (economic and social) activities they are involved in and the manner in which they extend an individual’s social network beyond the family (Wagner and Arcand, 2016). Thus, far from being actors without any agency, informal workers themselves and their associations might play a crucial role for the recognition of informal work. While these informal organizations are often overlooked in the academic and policy debate they are important de facto networks. To date, these associations and networks are the cornerstones for organizing collective actions of informal workers. Existing evidence suggests that these organizations contribute to making the informal workers visible to local governments and conventional labor unions. Moreover, these collectively organized initiatives of informal workers are further on the rise all across the developing world (Lindell, 2010). Governments and formal actors can no longer ignore these associations. While informal workers might be economically poor, their modes of organization are institutionally rich and diverse. The full potential of these associations might not yet have unfolded. But the possibilities of modern technology and knowledge transmission also reach these associations and news about successful strategies to promote the rights of informal workers spread quickly through these channels. Therefore, we expect that the informal associations will further gain influence and will grow in importance.
Thus, the international organizations promoting workers rights and NGOs engaged in the sector should collaborate with formal and informal worker’s associations to further strengthen their role and to make them heard in the political arena. Clearly, there is the danger that informal associations --if left by themselves-- will be overruled by undemocratic processes. Therefore, the international actors should build capacity and give voice to informal associations and formal labor unions that work towards bridging the formal-informal divide.