July 01, 2013 | Contribution by
Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
International Coordinator, WIEGO Network
Home-based pottery workers in India. © Martha Chen.
In the developing world, where the informal workforce is at least half of the total workforce, a major debate centers on how best to help these workers. The big problem is that informal sector work is associated with low incomes, high risks, no formal contracts or benefits, and limited economic rights and a representative voice. We recently spoke with Martha Chen, a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the International Coordinator of the WIEGO Network — a global action-research-policy network that seeks to improve the status of the working poor in the informal economy, especially women.
In Part 2 of this two-part series, she asserts that the ambition to create more formal wage jobs is "desirable but not all that realistic." Thus a high priority should be improving informality by reducing the decent work deficits faced by informal workers along with increasing their productivity and making their earnings more secure. And doing so will involve pinpointing which laws and regulations affect which informal workers, including sector-specific laws and regulations such as those regulating agriculture, construction, transport, solid waste management, and the use of urban space. She also predicts that in developing countries — like India and Bangladesh — we're likely to see more informal employment in the cities — not less — in the near future, especially in cities which are de-industrializing.
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