Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC): Informal Workers & COVID-19: Impact and Vision for the Future

Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC): Informal Workers & COVID-19: Impact and Vision for the Future

Sixty-one per cent of all workers –2 billion people– are informally employed.  Many of those who work informally, live in slums and their homes also serve as places of work. The existing inequalities and infrastructural deficits within the informal economy have been brought into stark focus by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Regrettably, measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have had devastating impacts on the livelihoods of informal workers across sectors. Notwithstanding, this pandemic provides a critical opportunity to reimagine cities in ways that integrate and promote the inclusion of informal workers in the decision-making process.

The Urban Thinkers Campus is an initiative under the World Urban Campaign of UN-HABITAT. Representatives of UN-Habitat and the World Urban Campaign and partner organizations, as well as representatives of government, worker organizations and key policymakers and influencers, participated in the event.

On Wednesday, 14 July 2020, WIEGO in collaboration with the World Urban Campaign hosted the Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC): Informal Workers & COVID-19: Impact and Vision for the Future. During this virtual event, experts from WIEGO's Urban Policies Programme provided detailed insights on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on urban informal workers while exploring creative policy and planning responses. 

Mike Rogan, Director of WIEGO’s Urban Policies Programme, outlined some of the big picture projections about the impact of the crisis on key development indicators and positioned the informal economy within these projections. Mike also touched on the size and shape of the informal economy and described the main informal sectors that are the focus of  WIEGO’s work: the domestic workers,home-based workers, street vendors and waste pickers sectors. He also gave a broad outline of how the crisis is affecting the informal economy and ended with three broad suggestions for a way forward. 

Jenna Harvey, Focal Cities Coordinator, presented the findings of WIEGO’s rapid assessment, which was an immediate response to COVID-19 crisis and its lockdown measures to understand how the pandemic and the related public health measures were affecting informal workers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It showed the impact on informal workers’ livelihoods was sudden and severe and, in many cases, led to a permanent loss of income. The findings are recorded in the e-book Informal Workers in the COVID-19 Crisis: A global picture of sudden impact and long-term risk, which  was launched during the Urban Thinker Campus. 

Sonia Dias, WIEGO Sector Specialist, Waste Pickers, gave an overview of WIEGO’s actions to support waste pickers in the current pandemic. She presented the findings of the study Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Inclusive Recycling in Brazil that is based on a Google survey and news tracking. The report –which is summarized in a briefing– looks at the functioning of cooperatives of waste pickers during COVID-19, the impact on the trade of recyclable materials from the perspective of cooperatives of waste pickers during the pandemic, and the health situation of waste pickers.

Caroline Skinner, WIEGO Urban Research Director, highlighted informal traders’ contributions to our cities’ economies and talked about the impacts of a lockdown on these workers. She also presented some examples of workers’ creative suggestions, responses and policies requests to local and national government officials in response to the crisis. Caroline ended her presentation with some tangible recommendations to help frame the questions the WIEGO team posed to the audience during the roundtable session.

Pilar Balbuena, WIEGO’s Urban Advocacy and Media Specialist, concluded the campus by presenting WIEGO’s 4Rs approach as a set of recommendations to move forward and beyond the pandemic: Relief, Recover, Rebuild and Reset. Here is what those Rs stand for:

  • Relief – Do no harm and direct income support.
  • Recover – Informal operators need income assistance to restart. Grants and credit for inputs must be extended down to these small players.
  • Rebuild – Address long called for infrastructural needs: for example in housing, water and sanitation, but also worker group specific infrastructure (such as street and market trader and waste pickers) and long needed incorporation into social  security systems.
  • Reset to more inclusive, just and equitable cities – This is our opportunity to re-imagine the cities we want.

Focusing on Rebuild and Reset, Pilar presented WIEGO’s proposed 10 step agenda for inclusive cities:

  1. Build from what already exists: informal workers are providing/producing/distributing essential goods and services
  2. Payment for essential goods and services
  3. Protection for essential workers, occupational health and safety, adequate infrastructure, basic services and capacity building for safety
  4. Locally suitable technologies: pro-poor modernization of city systems for food supply, waste management, transport and energy, instead of capital-intensive technologies
  5. Social protection: access to health, emergency cash grants, childcare, pensions
  6. All-inclusive policies: covering non-nationals, organized and non-organized informal workers
  7. Gender sensitive approach: interventions to alleviate women’s additional burdens/responsibilities
  8. Non-stigmatization of informal workers campaigns: in times of pandemics there is a great risk of blaming workers and their workplaces as vectors of disease
  9. Sustainable livelihoods: plan for livelihoods and monitor and evaluate impacts
  10. “Nothing for us without us” – participatory urban governance through multi-stakeholder platforms 

Video recording: Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC): Informal Workers & COVID-19: Impact and Vision for the Future

Chair  

Presenters 

 

Further reading

Informal Workers in the COVID-19 Crisis: A global picture of sudden impact and long-term risk. By WIEGO. In an immediate response to COVID-19, WIEGO conducted a rapid assessment to understand how the pandemic and the related public health measures were affecting informal workers in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

In photographs and text, this e-book shows the global picture WIEGO found, the health risks and responses, and the mobilization and organization by civil society, governments and others.

Overview of the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Inclusive Recycling in Brazil

By Sonia Dias, Ricardo Abussafy, Juliana Gonçalves, João Pedro Martins. This briefing looks at the functioning of cooperatives of waste pickers during COVID-19, the impact on the trade of recyclable materials from the perspective of cooperatives of waste pickers during the pandemic, and the health situation of waste pickers.

Tax Justice and the Informal Economy: A Review of the Debates. By Michael Rogan. This working paper offers a broad overview of how informal workers are currently taxed, why there is growing interest in taxing these workers and their enterprises, and whether and how informal workers (particularly the self-employed in the informal sector) should be included in the tax net.

For World’s Street Vendors, Life May Never be the Same after COVID-19. By Pilar Balbuena, Caroline Skinner. Street vendors provide essential services in cities across the globe, particularly in Africa, Asia and South America, where residents rely on them for basic needs. They are part of a vast informal food system that keeps much of the world from going hungry. But the pandemic has devastated the...


Article by WIEGO 
Photo credits: WIEGO (CC)