On March 29th actors gathered around the table to discuss the challenges informal workers encounter to make a living. Framed by the introductory remarks of two very different actors: Vinicius Pinheiro, Director of the New York ILO Office and Eugene Gadsden informal worker, environmental activist, and founder of Sure We Can, the dialogue also explored how policies and actions to strengthen the formal economy can contribute to achieve the SDGs. Case studies from Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Liberia and Turkey were presented.
While emphasizing the impact of informal economy in some countries “the informal economy comprises half to three-quarters of all non-agricultural employment in developing countries”, Mr. Pinheiro said that informal jobs are part of the economy of all countries. “Although it is hard to generalize concerning the quality of informal employment – he continued – it most often means poor employment conditions and is associated with increasing poverty.”
Mr. Gadsen, who has suffered unemployment and had to enter the informal economy due to a lack of choice, spoke about canning (collecting cans and bottles to redeem their 5 cents value) as an honest and fair job. “I can work at my own pace, with no boss, I can take 50 breaks a day or no breaks” – shared Mr. Gadsen. After years working as a canner, Mr. Gadsen founded a redemption center in Brooklyn. ‘Sure We Can’ is a non-profit recycling center, community space and sustainability hub where canners bring the bottles and cans they collect to make a living.
Working for more than 16 hours a day, moving from place to place even when sick due to necessity, Mr Gadsen highlighted some of the difficulties him and his colleagues face every day.
When asked about ways to improve the working conditions of informal workers all participants agreed that social protection is crucial.