Skip to main content

AAIN leads charge against the unacceptable informalization of labor relations

International Women's Day

AAIN leads charge against the unacceptable informalization of labor relations

The impact of informalization is felt most acutely by women workers within the informal sector. Often relegated to occupations associated with care work, women face heightened vulnerability, limited legal protection, and lower wages. The absence of social protections such as health insurance and maternity leave further exacerbates their plight, perpetuating a cycle of inequality and exploitation.

In the ongoing battle against the informalization of labor, ActionAid International Nepal (AAIN) took a significant step forward by launching a national campaign in 2019, led by informal women laborers. This campaign focused on five crucial demands: equal wages, safe workplaces, job security, occupational health and safety, and access to public services to alleviate care work burdens. Through relentless advocacy, progress has been achieved at local, provincial, and federal levels, including the networking and agency building of informal laborer for campaigning, establishment of labor desks, labor registration and labor monitoring initiatives empowering workers to demand fair treatment, recognition and social protection. Building on these achievements, ActionAid International Nepal aims to further amplify the voices and concerns of informal & gig workers advocating for their rights and protections on a global scale. The recently concluded 16th World Social Forum provided an opportunity from diverse country, local CSO, Trade Unions and informal workers to come together, collectively raising voices against inequality, injustice and exploitation of informal workers and gig and informalization of labor in a mission to combat it where ActionAid Strongly opposes the informalization of labor and works to fights against it. By bringing diverse experiences and voices from the global south to support a cause.

Interview with Sujeeta Mathema

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, we sit down with Sujeeta Mathema, Executive Director of ActionAid International Nepal, to discuss a pressing issue affecting women workers globally—the informalization of labor relations.

Can you elaborate on the concept of informalization of labor relations and its impact, particularly on women workers?

The informalization of labor relations refers to the trend where traditional employment structures blur, pushing a significant portion of the labor force into informal sectors characterized by precarious employment, lack of regulation, and inadequate social protections. This phenomenon, deeply rooted in the prevailing global economic system, exacerbates income inequalities and undermines the rights and protections of workers, especially women engaged in the informal sector and the emerging gig workers.

What initiatives is AAIN undertaking to address this issue?

In leadership of the Women workers agency collaborating with trade unions and other like minded organizations, we are advocating for global solidarity against the informalization of labor relations. Our collective efforts aim to amplify the voices of informal and gig workers, advocating for their rights and protections on a global scale. 

ActionAid is actively facilitating the movements of informal workers, empowering them to equip themselves for advocacy. Through various programs, ActionAid provides knowledge and skills for effective lobbying, negotiating, and organizing strategies for campaigning. This includes raising awareness about labor rights, training in negotiation techniques, and building capacity for grassroots organizing. Moreover, ActionAid is instrumental in pushing momentum for policy change and the effective implementation of existing laws. Despite the enforcement of laws like the Social Security Act 2075, many workers in the informal sector are still excluded from vital protections. They lack access to occupational health and safety measures, insurance coverage, and safe working conditions. 

What outcomes do you hope to achieve through these initiatives?

Our objective is to foster a collective movement that addresses discrimination, exploitation, violence, and inequality while advocating for social protection for all workers. We are dedicated to empowering informal workers to demand fair treatment, recognition, and social protections. Through these initiatives and global solidarity against informalization of labor, we facilitate momentum in labor issues, with a particular focus on women workers. We mobilize workers globally, build networks, and empower them to campaign, raise awareness, and hold governments accountable. Our continuous efforts involve advocating for policy changes that prioritize the rights and protections of informal workers. 

Can you explain more about the global context?

Globally, the informal economy supports around 60 percent of the world’s employed population, totaling approximately 2bn people. Women constitute a significant portion of this workforce, with a higher representation compared to men. This highlights the substantial role that women play in informal economic activities worldwide. 

In our nation, the informal economy is a dominant force, engaging over 70 percent of the economically active population. However, despite its prevalence, 16.9m working-age individuals lacked any form of social protection in the fiscal year 2020-21. This underscores the urgent need for identifying both traditional informal workers and emerging gig workers to implement effective monitoring and regulatory measures within the sector. Such actions should include robust data collection, tailored regulatory frameworks, incentives for formalization, stakeholder engagement, and capacity building to ensure better working conditions and social protections for all workers in the informal economy. We can see the increasing trends of emerging gig workers globally. 

Informalization has predominantly affected women globally, as per ILO Women in the informal economy earn significantly less than men, with the gender wage gap ranging from 30-50 percent according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The informalization of labor exacerbates existing inequalities and barriers faced by women in the workforce, limiting their ability to participate in collective bargaining, voice their concerns, and advocate for their rights. Addressing these challenges requires targeted efforts to empower women workers, strengthen collective organizing mechanisms, and promote inclusive policies that recognize and protect the rights of all workers, regardless of their employment status. 

AAIN’s impact on women laborers: A year of empowerment

In 2023, ActionAid International Nepal (AAIN) made significant strides in amplifying and strengthening the rights of women laborers, empowering them to demand fair treatment and just wages. Through a series of targeted initiatives and collaborative efforts, AAIN worked tirelessly to address the challenges faced by women in the informal labor sector and create a more equitable work environment.

AAIN's focus on organizing women laborers into groups and linking them with rights-based alliances proved instrumental in empowering women to advocate for their rights. Through the revival of REFLECT, a platform for collective and rights-based advocacy, women laborers found a voice to challenge injustices and discrimination in their workplaces. A total of 35 women laborer groups were formed, providing awareness on labor rights, wage disparities, and workplace safety to over 1575 women.

To equip women workers with the knowledge and skills necessary to claim their rights, AAIN conducted awareness, orientation, and capacity-building sessions on labor rights and legal provisions. Over 411 women workers were trained, empowering them to advocate for fair treatment and just wages in their workplaces.

Empowering laborers: Sita Parki’s advocacy journey

Sita Parki, a resilient member of the REFLECT Circle in Ward-4 of Dipyal Silgadi, has embarked on a remarkable journey of advocacy for the rights of laborers. Reflecting on the challenges faced by her community, Sita recalls, “Our struggles were often overlooked by local authorities. We endured the uncertainty of receiving inadequate wages and the constant fear of workplace accidents.”

Determined to bring about change, Sita and her fellow laborers engaged in a series of meetings and discussions within the Labor Women’s Group. Through these sessions, they deepened their understanding of labor laws and regulations, empowering themselves with knowledge and solidarity. Last year alone, 29 laborers, and this year, eight laborers successfully reclaimed their wages from unscrupulous contractors with the assistance of the police.

Leading by example, Sita spearheaded the movement to reclaim unpaid wages in Doti. Collaborating with other labor women, they submitted applications to local authorities and engaged in discussions with contractors and trade unions. Their collective efforts bore fruit when the police intervened, resulting in the recovery of Rs 659,825 from four contractors across both districts.

But their advocacy did not stop there. Through relentless campaigning, Sita and her comrades achieved equal wages determined by the district wage fixation committee. Monthly wages in various industries have seen a significant increase, with some establishments now providing a minimum of Rs 15,000 in compliance with labor laws. Encouraged by these victories, laborers from different sectors are joining their cause in solidarity.

This article was published in The Annapurna Express. (Click here to find the article link)