How to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 crisis on informal sector workers


How to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 crisis on informal sector workers

Ten organisations representing informal workers in South Africa say the coronavirus crisis is already taking a toll on close to 5 million people working in the sector.
The group represents informal workers in several sectors, including domestic work, waste picking/reclaiming in the streets and on landfill sites, street and market traders, home-based craft and garment work, community care work, the taxi industry, and artisanal fishing.

Informal workers constitute 30% of working people in South Africa. Some of the informal workers have employers and others are self-employed. In a statement issued on 20 March 2020, the network of worker organisations said the most vulnerable of the informal workers with employers are domestic, agricultural, and taxi workers who aren’t registered for employment-related social security schemes such as Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA). Additionally, there’s widespread non-compliance with relevant labour laws, including the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) and sectoral determinations.


“Nearly one in every five of all workers who have an employer, are informal in this sense. This means that in the current coronavirus crisis, where our jobs are at high risk, we have no social security to fall back on. And most of our employers ignore the law with regard to paid annual and/or sick leave. We have little or no expectation that our employers will follow either the COVID-19 Advisory or the Workplace Preparedness Guidelines published by the Employment and Labour Department…”

As of 20 March, 202 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in South Africa. The work of some 1.8 million who are self-employed people is already seriously impacted by the crisis, says the worker’s network:

“We too have nothing to fall back on. We provide affordable goods and services to communities, some of which, like the collection of recyclables, create huge savings for municipalities. But none of the statements from the Employment and Labour Department address the fall-out we are currently experiencing, and which we know will get much worse.”

The organisations have called on the government to establish a “Living Cash Grant” to all informal workers to enable vulnerable groups to take the outlined coronavirus prevention measures where feasible, and without losing their livelihoods.
The group suggested some potential sources of funds for such a grant facility, including UIF surplus and cancelled events.

The interventions required

The organisations say informal workers have to continue to work to survive and want the government to help make their work safer through the following urgent interventions:
  1. The mass provision of protective masks and gloves to all informal workers, especially those working with members of the public, organic and waste materials, and where cash exchanges hands;
  2. The mass provision of water, soap and sanitizers in public spaces, and especially the workplaces of informal workers
  3. Health guidelines directives for different sectors of the informal economy
Other demands in the statement include intensified inspections by the Department of Employment and Labour to ensure enforcement of labour laws and workplace directives for COVID-19; a voice at NEDLAC going forward, recognition of all informal workers in line with the International Labour Organisation’s Recommendation 204.

 “Our voices must be heard in finding solutions to the current COVID 19 crisis, but also in finding lasting solutions to the long term crisis of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Now is the time for worker and community solidarity the likes of which we have never seen before.

Issued by: South African Waste Pickers Association; South African Domestic, Services and Allied Workers Union, African Reclaimers Organisation;  South African Informal Traders Alliance; Johannesburg Informal Traders Platform; SA Public Transport Workers Union; Durban Fishermen’s Forum, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance; Community Health Workers KZN; Women in Informal Employment, Globalizing and Organising, WIEGO; and South African Self-Employed Women’s Association.
Picture creditGround Up

Watch: How reclaimers bargain – The struggles and successes of a worker organisation

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