Law Seminar with informal workers: Closing the gap between law and justice

Sithulisile Moyo

The ILO reported that around 2 billion people in the world work in the informal economy. That is more than 61% of the world’s economically active population. In South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the informal employment ratio is well above 80%. In developed countries it is only around 18%. The informal economy  secures livelihoods and a future for those who have no access to formal employment. Moreover, to many second generation traders with no vocational qualifications, informal employment is the only opportunity to acquire work experience and skills.

The informal economy is fraught with challenges – both at the individual and societal levels. For various reasons, informal workers are more exposed to poverty. Because of systemic shortcomings and insufficient access to capital, productivity of informal businesses is low. Accordingly, incomes tend to be lower and less secure than in the formal sector. Informal workers are some of the most vulnerable urban workers, with limited access to resources and no social protection. They are often treated with hostility and contempt by the local authorities.

That is evident for those working in public spaces within Durban. In the informal sector, the scope for state control and regulation is excessive. Education and rights training are crucial factors in facilitating and building capacity for informal workers in public spaces.

In partnership with  ProBono, a public interest law organisation, Asiye eTafuleni hosted a seminar for informal workers in Warwick Junction to empower and capacitate informal workers on remedial and legal discourse in rights violations. Public space is the working environment for informal workers who are faced with a myriad of challenges ranging from confiscations, harassment and all forms of work related prejudice. Apart from being workers, they are matrimonial partners, caregivers, primary guardians etc . An opportunity to interact with attorneys in private practice closes that gap between law and justice.

“This is an amazing opportunity for us, as street traders to directly interact and learn from legal experts.”

Ndlovu, trader in Brook Street, Warwick Junction.

Realising the rights enshrined in the Constitution entails equitable access to redress mechanism’s including street level realities and advocacy. More than 30 informal workers had the opportunity to learn about available legal redress mechanisms in cases of rights violations. Cities are seeking answers to the critical questions about what hurdles need to be overcome on a municipal level, how business and civil society can be engaged, and what the key benefits of incorporating circular economy principles are for stakeholders. There is a dire need and urgency to open up spaces for dialogue, capacity-building, co-learning and collaboration within involved stakeholders in informality; informal workers – local government – ancillary stakeholders.

[Feature image: Law Seminar 19 May 2021. Photo: Misiwe Maphamulo]