Informal worker organisation and social protection
This project will investigate emerging collective forms of informal worker organisation in the Global South (focusing on Kenya and Tanzania) and their implications for social protection. Rather than seeing a decrease in informal work due to globalization, for most workers in the Global South informality is the norm, leaving workers in isolation with uncertain, precarious livelihoods. Dominant ideas about social protection are based on the notion that the attainment and allocation of social protection is linked to institutions and workers associated with formal sector employment. Unfortunately, this means that social protection is beyond the reach of most of the world’s workers who are found in the informal economy.
At the same time, a myriad of cases of informal workers forming collective initiatives are emerging, as a means of gaining better representation or for claiming rights to or providing alternative forms of social protection. Examples include the collective representation of informal transport workers in Tanzania, informal petty trader associations in Kenya lobbying for inclusion in the national health insurance scheme or construction worker cooperatives in Tanzania pooling resources and accessing credit. Potentially such forms of organising can help to provide informal workers with access to social protection measures leading to improved empowerment and welfare.
From a development perspective the question arises as to how informal workers are responding in ways that might challenge dominant processes and ideas of social protection, and how effectively. Our proposed research will fill major gaps in knowledge on the rapidly changing incidence, nature and effectiveness of collective informal worker organisation in East Africa. By employing a political economy approach and using mixed, innovative methods this project will generate new knowledge and expand capacity in the North and South.