Informal worker organisation and social protection


Start date: 15 October, 2016 End date: 31 December, 2022 Project type: Research projects in countries with extended development cooperation (earlier Window 1) Project code: 16-05-RUC Countries: Kenya Tanzania Thematic areas: Production, industry and labour market, Lead institution: Roskilde University (RUC), Denmark Partner institutions: University of Greenwich (GRE), United Kingdom Mzumbe University (MU), Tanzania University of Nairobi (UoN), Kenya Project website: go to website (the site might be inactive) Project coordinator: Lone Riisgaard Total grant: 9,898,063 DKK

Project summary

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.


Midterm report:
This collaborative research project set out to generate new knowledge on the role of informal worker organisations in enabling access to both formal and informal social protection (SP) measures in Kenya and Tanzania, focussing on three sectors (construction, petty trade and transport).

In total, 1,462 survey interviews, 120 Key Informant Interviews, 24 Focus Group Discussions and case studies were conducted in the period between 2018 and 2020 in four urban areas in Kenya (Nairobi and Kisumu) and Tanzania (Dar es Salaam and Dodoma).

Findings from this rich empirical data has been published and disseminated through various outlets, but below we tease out key implications of our research:

There is a need to conceptually re-think and broaden both academic and policy discussions on SP in order to recognize and address the restrictive formal/informal dichotomy and one-sided focus on formalization as this bias renders most existing formal SP measures inappropriate and inadequate for the majority of the working populations.

Representation should be included in SP discourses as it is of key importance in terms of ensuring that informal workers have a say in the elaboration of SP policies and in issues affecting their work and living conditions.

Finally, the immense importance of informal workers’ own associations in meeting (even if inadequately) the SP needs of their members needs to be recognized but also help inform efforts to reframe national SP policies and systems.

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