Informal workers are involved in a myriad of complex and heterogeneous work relationships, including for example complicated supply chain structures, externalised labour and casualised regimes. These workers may be exposed to special and specific social risks, while the prioritisation of their social protection needs may present itself in a manner which is different from what is applicable to other worker categories. The assumption that informal employment constitutes only a small fragment of total employment is not valid for most countries in Africa and many parts of Asia and Latin America. This fact has major implications for the nature and quality of work, employment and social security of informal workers and employees. It implies that regulation and protection afforded by the state for formal employees often does not extend to informal employees and workers. As a result, many informal workers are engaged in survivalist enterprises and remain in precarious jobs – even though there is compelling evidence of large numbers of entrepreneurial persons working informally, also in emerging contexts. From a broader perspective, several principled considerations arise – in particular whether informal workers should be included in mainstream or in specialised/distinct modalities of regulation, protection and coverage, and whether the solution lies in formalising/upgrading the informal economy.

Trade unions do not have a good record of reaching out and protecting informal workers and employees. This has resulted in other organisations stepping into the breach. The question is whether or not this is occurring to a significant extent, alternatively whether the majority of informal workers and employees are in fact left to fend for themselves?

The World Congress invites papers that help to shed further light on the situation of informal workers and employees as well as forms of organisation and strategies that address their plight, addressing any of the following sub-themes:

  • Defining and describing/circumscribing the informal economy/sector, informal employment and informal workers (including characterisation of informal employment relationships, value chains and links with the formal economy): Definitional and statistical approaches and evidence
  • Unpacking the challenges of informal employment, including social protection risks and needs assessment, working conditions and occupational health and safety
  • Innovative forms of organisation and sources of power emerging in the context of informal and precarious work, including collective engagement and representation structures
  • Value and contribution of informal employment to labour market and economic development
  • Formalising/upgrading the informal economy: Reflections on the state of play
  • Appropriate institutional and strategic support mechanisms, as well as legal, including labour law, and social security protection
  • Gender and informal employment: Implications for policy development