Representatives of labor organizations from around the world are urging governments to provide protections for workers in the so-called informal economy, who generally have no social security or representation to look after their interests.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) says the informal sector accounts for many of the new jobs created in recent years. In Africa, for instance, the ILO says, informal work accounts for almost 80 percent of non-agricultural employment, over 60 percent of urban employment and over 90 percent of new jobs.
Participants at a weeklong conference on the issue say these workers are very vulnerable, because they lack the protections and security of regulated employment, such as social security and representation.
Pat Horn is coordinator of StreetNet International, a federation, which promotes the rights of street vendors worldwide. She says, in order for informal workers to attain these rights, they need to be organized.
"It is a reality that the informal economy is growing, and the issue is that the workers who are working in the informal economy are unprotected, and they need protection," she said. "So, in the developing countries, the proportion of workers in the informal economies is even greater, although it is also growing in the developed countries, where there is massive inequality. There are migrant workers and irregular workers, who are in the informal economy even there, and all those workers need to be protected, because of the vulnerability under which they operate."
Kofi Asamoah, the deputy secretary general of the Ghana Trade Unions Congress, which co-organized the conference, stressed the importance of international solidarity in providing a voice for workers in the informal sector.
"Again, we have also decided that we build a network, a network of informal economy organizations, both the formal trade union, and also in the informal economy workers," he noted. "We also think that we should also come together in finding a way of ensuring the informal economy operators' representation in the international forums, like the ILO, the WTO, so that we can push the interest of the informal economy workers in the international arena."
The participants also agreed to lobby governments to put laws and policies in place, to protect people working in the informal sector.
The conference was organized by the Ghana Trades Union Congress, Nigeria Labor Organization, StreetNet of South Africa, Self Employed Workers Association of India and HomeNet Thailand.