Exploring Worker Power across Formal and Informal Enterprises: Insights from Work Organisation in Waste Collection, Essential Oils and Clothing Sectors in South Africa.

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Lotta TAKALA-GREENISH, University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), United Kingdom
Exploring worker power across formal and informal small and micro-enterprises: insights from work organisation in waste collection, essential oils and clothing sectors in South Africa. (Lotta Takala-Greenish)

Discourses on the nature of informal work and appropriate policy responses remain driven by a number of misguided generalisations. Informal work is defined through registration or contractual status with underlying assumptions that informal workers are homogenous in their ability to organise and influence work structures and dynamics. For example, the ILO (2011) associates total employment with formal as well as and informal activities (unregistered) and informal employment (non-contractual or non-regulated). Similarly, policy solutions focus on registering and formalising informal workers and enterprises assuming to improve work conditions and enterprise growth. These misguided categorisations, assumptions and policy priorities are challenged by new interview-based evidence from urban waste recycling, clothing and essential oils sectors around Johannesburg, South Africa. The research highlights the heterogeneity of informal activities and a range of ability and opportunity to influence the nature and structure of work organisation. Looking at the different worker influence, innovative work organisation and multiple linkages (e.g. with suppliers, customers, support institutions and other workers) suggests there is great fluidity and overlap between formal and informal activities, and that informality takes very different forms across economic activities. These imply the need to understand multiple forms of worker power, capacity for innovative activities, and different constraints and policy needs depending on the work, enterprise or sector. This is in stark contrast to the dominant conceptualisations of informality and the policy discourses of regulation and formalisation. The evidence suggests that formal work does not automatically mean better work conditions, increased worker power, or employment or output growth and that supporting informal activities and workers with tailored policies may be more relevant.