Membership-Based Organizations: the Heart of the Law & Informality Project
In 2006 WIEGO instituted a global project on Law and the Informal Economy with a pro-poor and pro-women perspective with pilot programs in India and Columbia. In partnership with member-based organizations worldwide, the program grew to include studies from Colombia, Ghana, India, Peru, and Thailand.
The project focused in particular on own-acount workers in the lowest segments of the informal economy. The country-specific outputs are compiled here, at right.
The Law & Informality Project continued its important work of developing a knowledge base of how laws and regulations—or their absence—affect informal workers, negatively or positively. The project idenitifed labour legislation, environmental laws, municipal laws, sector-specific laws (e.g. agriculture, fisheries), right-to-information laws and property laws as areas with significant impact on different sectors of the informal economy.
One important objective has been to build the capacity of informal worker leaders, especially women, to understand and engage in advocacy and negotiation for legal change. After pilots in India and Colombia, the project rolled out in Ghana, Peru, and Thailand between 2010 and 2013 and was extended to India and South Africa in 2014.
The project partner is the Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC). Group discussions were held with domestic workers, kayayeis (women headloaders), and street vendors to identify the legal issues and demands for each sector, while a review of court rulings revealed the dominant judicial attitudes towards informal workers.
Following consultations with workers, the GTUC and the expert group critiqued the draft Regulation on Domestic Workers and suggested amendments to a National Taskforce on Domestic Workers established by government. Meetings were held with the Accra Municipal Authority (AMA) on protection of basic rights of street vendors. The legal experts identified a need to amend the AMA by-law on street vending in order to designate specific streets for specific days for street vending. To help minimize the harsh sentences meted out by magistrates, the project engaged magistrates who committed to take the recommendations of the Ghana TUC into consideration when dealing with such cases.
As a result of the project, the Ghana TUC became interested in organizing new groups of informal workers, particularly kayayeis and domestic workers. Domestic workers have now formed their own union, the Domestic Services Workers Union. A new union of informal workers, Union of Informal Workers’ Associations (UNIWA), has also been launched (March 2015), which includes street vendor associations.
In 2014, the focus of the project turned to building the capacity of street vendors and domestic workers to engage with legal issues and, through a public campaign, to raise awareness of their need for rights and protection as workers.
The project partner was ISCOD (Instituto Sindical de Cooperación al Desarrollo, a Spanish trade union cooperation agency that works with informal workers), with PLADES (a labour NGO) also playing a role. After consultation with domestic workers, market porters, street vendors, and waste pickers, the project team focused on capacity building for worker leaders from different organizations. Training modules for workers were developed; courses on organizational skills and on the laws affecting particular groups ran weekly. Creative material was also produced and disseminated, along with a background paper on Law and the Informal Economy in Peru. A compilation of laws for each sector was made available in Spanish on a dedicated website.
The passing of a new ordinance for downtown Lima (May 2014) that governs how individuals are authorized to sell in public spaces was an important milestone. WIEGO directly supported a consultation process on the ordinance involving more than 150 street vendors’ associations.
The project partner is HomeNet Thailand. The focus is on the legal empowerment of both home-based workers and domestic workers. Research on contract farmers and street vendors will also open new areas for work.
HomeNet Thailand had successfully campaigned (with support from WIEGO in past projects) for the Homeworkers Protection Act, which entitles Thai homeworkers to minimum wage, occupational health and safety protection, and other fundamental labour rights. Read more about this campaign.
To understand obstacles to implementing these protections, the law project examined instances where homeworkers had attempted to access their rights. Research on the Act and its implementation was completed and a set of case studies produced. As well, a concerted effort was made to inform homeworker leaders and homeworkers about their rights through workshops with lawyers and government officials, posters, newsletters, and other documents. The capacity building has enabled women home-based worker leaders to demonstrate their knowledge and abilities and thus to be elected to the Home Workers Tri-partite Committee, set up under the Home Workers Protection Act. This Committee will have an important role in ensuring the implementation of the Act.
Local and national-level consultations with domestic workers updated them on the ILO Convention on Domestic Work (C189) and helped mobilize action to protect migrant domestic workers in the country. During the course of the project, the Thai Domestic Workers Network was formed, which helped pressure the government to pass the Ministerial Regulation for Domestic Workers in 2012.
The Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) was the partner in the 2014 project extension as well as the original pilot project. The focus was on identifying the legal and policy demands of women home-based workers, street vendors and domestic workers, and building their capacity to engage with legal issues. This was carried out through consultation meetings and capacity building workshops in five cities in India. Vendors focused on understanding and strategizing around the new Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vendors) Act, 2014, domestic workers on current legislation and C189 as well as the rights of migrant domestic workers; home-based workers on C177 and points that should be included in a National Policy on Home-based Workers.
Three brief reports give an overview of the situation and legal status of street vendors, home-based workers, and domestic workers.
In South Africa, our partner, the Social Law Project (SLP), based at the University of the Western Cape, worked with domestic workers and with street vendors unions and associations. The Social Law Project has a long history of supporting domestic workers (see D. du Toit, ed., Exploited, Undervalued – and Essential: Domestic Workers and the Realisation of their Rights).
The laws and regulations impacting domestic workers and street vendors are summarized in two reports. The project held interactive consultations and capacity building workshops with the two groups. Based on the inputs of the two groups, worker education materials consisting of manuals, posters, and leaflets have been printed and distributed to the organizations.