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War on Want

Time for a new deal:
Social dialogue and the informal economy in Zambia

War on Want

July 2007

SARPN acknowledges Nachilala Nkombo as a source of this document:
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Decent work, social dialogue and the informal economy

The Decent Work agenda was initiated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1999 during the 87th Session of its Annual Conference, and included four strategic objectives: fundamental principles and rights at work, employment promotion, social protection against vulnerabilities and contingencies in work and promotion of social dialogue.1 Securing Decent Work worldwide became the primary driving force of the organisation and it not only included regular waged employees but also emphasised workers in the informal economy, e.g. unregulated wageworkers, the self-employed and home workers.The 90th Session of the ILO Annual Conference in 2002 focused specifically on Decent Work and the Informal Economy. During the conference, the ILO recognised that the concept of the ‘informal sector’ was no longer considered adequate, as there was no separate sector in the sense of a specific industry group or economic activity.2 The ILO suggested the term ‘informal economy’ was more applicable as it encompassed the heterogeneous group of workers in both informal work arrangements in formal businesses as well as in informal enterprises.Whereas the concept of the ‘informal sector’ implied the existence of a separate sector, the concept of informal economy encompassed any type of informal employment relationship, whether in formal or informal enterprises.

During the 2002 ILO conference, there was special recognition that one of the essential securities denied to informal workers was “representation security”.3 As stated in the report:

    Everywhere in the world, people in the informal economy are excluded from or under-represented in social dialogue institutions and processes. In order to secure and exercise an independent voice at work, workers and employers need representational security. Representational security at work is based on the freedom of workers and employers to form and join organisations of their own choosing without fear of reprisal or intimidation. […] Freedom of association and the right to organise constitute a fundamental human right. It is also a key enabling right. If workers or employers are denied the possibility of organising, they will not have access to a range of other rights at work..4
Promotion of social dialogue, and ensuring representational security for informal workers, is a crucial strategy towards achievement of Decent Work opportunities, and “it is the means by which rights are defended, employment promoted and work secured”.5 Social dialogue is defined by the ILO as:

    […] all types of negotiation, consultation or simply exchange of information between, or among, representatives of governments, employers and workers, on issues of common interest relating to economic and social policy. It can exist as a tripartite process, with the government as an official party to the dialogue or it may consist of bipartite relations only between labour and management (or trade unions and employers’ organisations), with or without indirect government involvement. Concertation can be informal or institutionalised, and often it is a combination of the two. It can take place at the national, regional or at enterprise level. It can be inter-professional, sectoral or a combination of all of these.The main goal of social dialogue itself is to promote consensus building and democratic involvement among the main stakeholders in the world of work. Successful social dialogue structures and processes have the potential to resolve important economic and social issues, encourage good governance, advance social and industrial peace and stability and boost economic progress.6
Social dialogue in the traditional sense has generally mainly involved formal workers. With the informalisation of labour and changing nature of work in the context of globalisation, however, new forms of social dialogue and collective bargaining need to be developed which can incorporate new types of workers, e.g. market vendors and street traders who are not represented in established collective bargaining systems. Often, it is argued that collective bargaining institutions do not apply to the informal economy as there is no employer to negotiate with.7 However, other negotiating partners have an impact on working conditions in the informal economy, such as local government which is often responsible for the imposition of fees and levies for rent of stalls in markets.

The overall objectives of this research project are:

  • to assess the current state of social dialogue in the informal economy in Zambia;
  • to identify factors which contribute to/inhibit effectiveness of street trader and/or market vendor organisations in influencing local and central government policies in Zambia.

  1. See: ILO (1999). Report of the Director-General: Decent Work, 87th Session. Geneva: ILO (available from:
  2. ILO (2002). Decent Work and the informal economy. Report VI. International Labour Conference, 90th Session, Geneva. Geneva: ILO, p. 2.
  3. See: ILO (2002). Report of the Director-General: Decent Work and the Informal Economy, 90th Session, p. 3-4, Geneva: ILO (available from:
  4. Ibid., p. 71.
  5. See: ILO (1999). Report of the Director-General: Decent Work, 87th Session. Geneva: ILO (available from:
  6. See:

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