Organising informal workers

The power of informal transport workers

Working conditions for informal transport workers are poor: they lack employment contracts, have few benefits or social protection, receive low wages and work long and irregular hours.  The risks and responsibilities of work are transferred from the employer to the worker, who faces constant uncertainty and insecurity about their work, hours and pay.

The informal workplace - whether on the streets around stations, airports, dock gates, or other busy transport hubs - may at first glance seem chaotic and disorganised. But a closer look will almost certainly reveal a high level of organisation, perhaps built up over many years.  

The power of informal transport workers

The ITF has been working to improve the capacity of unions to organise and represent informal transport workers, to increase the visibility of informal women transport workers and for unions to develop inclusive union policies and agreements for informal transport workers.

The power of informal workers film is also available in French and Spanish.

The ITF’s informal workers project, which ran from 2013-2016, adopted an innovative method of working with and through ‘mentor unions’. Mentor unions from East and West Africa, South and South-East Asia and Latin America, who have experience of organising informal workers, shared their learning with each other and mentored other unions wanting to organise informal workers.   The project was coordinated by the Global Labour Institute.

The unions involved in the project adopted the informal transport workers charter which provides an organising and campaigning tool for unions wanting to take action.

The use of workplace mapping was a successful way to introduce union leaders to informal transport workers, encourage their recruitment and increase the visibility of informal women transport workers. 

In three years, the project has seen a large rise in trade union membership, development of new union constitutions and organising policies to include informal workers, signing of collective agreements, greater visibility of women workers and the formation of new unions.

An evaluation of the project with recommendations for prioritising the organising of informal transport workers was published in January 2016.

Download the executive summary of the evaluation report –available in Spanish, French and English.

Read the full evaluation report (English only). 

ITF education officer and Our Public Transport programme lead Alana Dave said "ITF unions have made a real difference in the way they reach out to informal transport workers and encourage them to realise their collective power through organising and joining a union. The report shows where things have gone well and, vitally, what more we still need to do.

"The ITF’s Our Public Transport campaign will also give these informal workers a voice in shaping urban transport systems."

Read more about the Our Public Transport campaign and use #OurPublicTransport to find photos and videos on Facebook and Twitter.

To find out more, visit the informal workers blog.

To watch interviews with the unions and workers involved in the project, visit the ITF informal workers project YouTube channel

To read ITF news about the project:

Mentor unions key innovation helping informal workers build power

Informal workers winning in Africa, Asisa and Latin America

Thanks to FNV Mondiaal for their support of this work. 

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