COVID-19 and the World of Work

Progress in organizing the informal economy in the Pacific

The Informal Economies Recovery Project is providing informal sector workers in the creative and agriculture sector an identity, a collective voice and opportunity to influence national COVID-19 recovery policies.

Project documentation | 30 May 2021
On 31st May 2021, the ILO in collaboration with its Bureau for Workers Activities (ACTRAV) organised the 2nd session of the Pacific Union’s webinar series on “Organizing the informal economy in the context of COVID-19”. The 1st session was held on February 18th 2021 and focused on preparing Pacific Unions by learning from best practices and to build their capacities and for the first time, reach out to informal sector workers.

Three months from project supported activities, the 2nd session provided a spot light on national workers organizations from Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu to share their progress, best practices and challenges. In opening the 2nd session, the ILO Director for the Pacific Island Countries, Mr Matin Karimli said “ an important point I would like to highlight here is that it was based on the recommendations of the UN Social and Economic Impact Assesmeent (UNSEIA) and your respective ILO supported Rapid Assessments (RA), that this project was designed. I highlight this, because it clearly demonstrates the ILO and UN’s commitment in ensuring that your policy recommendations, which are anchored in evidence, are actioned to ultimately benefit you and contribute to ILO’s mandate”.

Traditionally informal sector businesses and workers, including women, youths and persons with disabilities, have not had adequate and equal access to decent employment and social protection. This despite the fact that pre-COVID-19 the informal employment share of the labour force was 60-80% in the Pacific and specifically, was 66.2% in Fiji, 66.9% in Vanuatu and 75% in Tonga. COVID-19 is inflating the informal sector bulge. The results from Rapid Assessments (RA) on the impact of COVID19 in the Pacific indicate masses of affected workers and micro business owners transiting to the informal sector for business and employment opportunities.

“In Tonga, we have established a total of seven informal sector associations, for the creative and agriculture workers. We now have a total of 2,000 members and the executives of the associations have met with the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Economic Development to highlight their issues and challenges”, said Ms Mele Amanaki, the General Secretary of the Tonga Public Service Association. She added that the first time establishment of informal sector workers associations and through that, getting access to key policy makers was very empowering for the informal sector worker and the union movement in Tonga.

“With Fiji experiencing the 2nd wave of COVID-19, the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) share the challenges of organizing the informal sector due to establishment of containment zones, lockdowns and curfews. “Many of our formal sector members are now in the informal sector. We are now also trying to focus on supporting livelihoods of workers impacted by the containment zones and lockdowns”, said Ms Jotika Sharma, the Executive Officer for FTUC.

Vanuatu is taking a top down approach by aligning its organizing to the National Sustainable Development Plan (NSDP), the Recovery Plan and Decentralization Policy. “While we are focusing our work on Santo and potentially the Northern Provinces, we want to ensure that we have the by-in and support from Government’, said Dr Basil Leodoro from the Vanuatu Council of Trades Unions (VCTU). He added that for the first time in many years, the Government and Police had approved an application for a march to celebrate Labour Day on 1st May, in Santo.

The ILO Specialist for Workers Activities, Mr Ravindra Samithadasa provided technical contributions to the excellent progress made by Pacific Unions. He also emphasised the need to ensure the informal sector associations are empowered including ensuring the sustainability of the associations.
The 3rd session of the Pacific Webinar Series is planned for late July 2021 and will focus on Solidarity Economies and Sustainability.