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Our impact, their voices

Telling serious things with humour: Mobile theater in Tajikistan campaigns against the informal economy

Two years ago the International Labour Conference adopted the Recommendation concerning the transition from the informal to the formal economy (No.204). Since then a global campaign has started in different parts of the world to formalize the informal economy. In Tajikistan, trade unions are using theatrics to illustrate the consequences of informal employment.

Feature | Dushanbe, Tajikistan | 08 June 2017
DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (ILO News) - The area in front of the KhimMash factory in Dushanbe is crowded. Passers-by stop and look with curiosity at a minibus decorated with a slogan, “Step out of the shadow! Work  formally!” A stream of people take leaflets before entering the clubhouse.

The hall, which can seat up to 300 people, is full. Workers in their uniforms sit alongside government officials and trade union activists. The audience also includes people from the street, who had begged to be allowed to see the show. Everyone in the audience is either employed informally or has an informal worker in their immediate family, or among their friends.
Informal employment in Tajikistan is widespread. According to the Labour Force Survey (2009), 49 per cent of workers were in the informal economy. The most affected sectors are agriculture, construction and services. Sixty-nine per cent of young people aged 15 to 29  work informally.

“The grey economy is found everywhere in the world, and Tajikistan is no exception,” says Emin Sanginzoda, First Deputy Minister of Labour, Migration and Employment of Population. “Recognizing the acuteness of the problem for our country, the Government has adopted the Comprehensive Programme for Reducing Informal Employment in Tajikistan for 2015-2017. One of the Programme’s priorities is to raise awareness in society about the consequences of informal employment.”

Not surprisingly, trade unions have taken the lead in the national awareness campaign. “Informal workers come to us every day for assistance and advise, and we at the trade unions probably know better than anybody else how heavily informal employment can affect people’s lives. I am talking about  the denial of rights at work, inadequate social protection, often poor working conditions, a lack of social dialogue – to name only a few consequences associated with informal employment, ” explains Qodiri Qosim, Chairperson of the Federation  of Independent Trade Unions of Tajikistan. “Trade unions are also best positioned to talk to workers right at their workplaces.”

“Why mobile theater?  It is deeply rooted in our traditions, its  language is concise and metaphorical, it has minimum stage props, it tells serious things with humour, and, finally, it can come to every workplace,” says Shodi Salikhov, artistic director of the mobile theater and People’s Artist of Tajikistan.

The success of the performance has exceeded expectations. Four episodes shown at the first show were an excellent combination of good humour and serious, even sad moments, like the episode about an accident at work, when many viewers literally had tears in their eyes.

After each episode, there was an interactive discussion moderated by the trade union representative. He explained the provisions of national legislation, the advantages of formal employment and called on workers to join trade unions.
A brief ‘exit poll’ after the show confirmed its strong impact on the viewers. Workers mentioned that it “made them think about the way they work” and said “they will discuss it with friends and relatives.” Other comments included that they will “come to see it again and invite colleagues” and would “consider joining a trade union.”

The Dushanbe performance was special in a sense that it was held indoors. For the rest of the project, when the mobile theater goes to the regions of Tajikistan, actors will  perform directly in the farms, local markets, construction sites, where their contact with the audience will be even closer.

The mobile theater is supported  by the ILO’s Finnish-funded project From the Crisis towards Decent and Safe Jobs that has already supported production of the informal economy cartoons in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

Gocha Aleksandria, Senior Specialist in Workers’ Activities at the ILO Decent Work Team and Country Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, welcomes the Tajik trade union initiative: “Two years ago the International Labour Conference (ILC) adopted the Recommendation concerning the transition from the informal to the formal economy (No.204). The mobile theater in Tajikistan is an example of a creative approach and one more excellent contribution to the global campaign against informality.”