Labour Exploitation

In a research article published in the Arts and Social Sciences Journal entitled Economic Informal Sector and the Perspective of Informal Workers in India, the authors explore various dynamics that characterise the informal economy. Some of these include aspects covering job security, social security, rural urban migration, child labour, and exploitation of working women. They further point out a common phenomenon that is common with the informal economy whereby the lack of reliable statistics on the size, distribution and economic contribution of the informal sector has for long been a major constraint in providing a realistic understanding of its significance as well as working conditions in the sector. This has often led to its neglect in development planning.

(Source: http://www.worldpolicy.org/sites/default/files)

Most of those engaged in informal activities are mainly the underprivileged in society and opt into the sector as of an alternative source of employment and income, in a quest to better their livelihoods. The authors go on to say that some of the reasons as to why people choose to run businesses in the informal sector vary from the lack of a basic level of education and skill sets that enable them to get jobs in the formal sector, to the prevalence of poverty in the communities in which they exist. These factors, coupled with those such as rural urban migration that is driven by the quest for better living conditions and job opportunities, are drivers for the rapid growth of informal sector businesses in third world countries. The precarious situation that most of these individuals end up being caught up in involve working conditions that leave them vulnerable to various forms of abuse and exploitation.

According to a briefing paper by the Overseas Development Institute, the informal sector has its own obstacles, particularly for those working illegally or without registration. Some of these include inadequate access to credit, bureaucratic licensing requirements and regulatory restrictions, as well as overzealous policing which entails the removal of informal vendors, demolishing kiosks, confiscating stock and denying licences. In their view, informal work is a mixed blessing depending on context. On one hand it can be seen to offer an escape route from poverty in areas where informality is the norm due to the high demand for goods and services within such a community. On the other hand, instances where informal workers are more isolated exposes them to various systematic legal obstacles. This ideology is supported by the fact that urban areas differ in their economic diversity and their ability to respond to higher concentrations of consumers.

They argue that costs are likely to be higher in cities that are experiencing economic growth, because growth entails higher monetisation of basic services and other non-food items such as housing, transport, and informal payments to maintain livelihoods. While costs of living are higher in rapidly-growing cities, there may also be more income-earning opportunities. However, it is not necessarily clear that more opportunities translate into better working conditions or remuneration for the poor. Further, the flow of people into cities can be destabilising and push urban wages down. As a result, a growing number of migrants live in the informal sector, confined to unskilled, low-paid and low-security work.

It is clear that the informal sector is grappling with the issue of the wellbeing of workers that are engaged in it. Most importantly, giving a voice to the plight of those that are engaged in the sector with a view to actively engage governments and organizations in conversations on how to best address this challenge, is a positive step forward in seeking a credible solution to the problem.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

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The Cost Of Informality

In a quest to formalise informal businesses, there are certain factors that stand in the way of this goal. It is clear that a good number of informal enterprises operate the way they do due to the underlying socio-economic background in which they find themselves working. For example, most of these are formed in areas where poverty is prevalent. In a bid to make these businesses formalise and hence become viable and profitable entities, some of these factors need to be taken into consideration as they can be used as catalysts or incentives to formalisation.

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The International Labour Organization points out the fact that informality inhibits investment in bigger business ventures because they lack the necessary capacity and size to fully exploit economies of scale. One factor that drives this notion is their low levels of productivity due to poor access to skilled labour. However, this is not the case for larger formal enterprises for they are in a better financial position to access high-skilled labour and can hence fully exploit economies of scale which enhances their profitability.

The lack of secure property rights especially for micro and small enterprises deprives them access to credit and capital. This is a huge hindrance whenever they try to expand their business operations in the sense that their businesses do not possess the legal title deeds to the physical residences on which they conduct business. In this sense, their businesses cannot be used as collateral whenever they try to get loans from financial institutions. This mode of operation also makes it difficult for them to access legal and judicial systems to enforce contracts.  This aspect for example impedes them whenever they try to participate in the tendering processes of bigger companies or even government business.

Another obstacle for informal businesses is that most of them lack social protection. The fact that a vast majority of these are not registered units puts them in a situation where they are not recognised by governments under which they operate and hence fall outside of the official regulation network. This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation for they are not protected by social and labour legislation. Corrupt government officials often demand bribes to ensure that they remain in business, which is an unnecessary expense in the long run.

What comes out clearly is that some of the mitigation strategies that need to be embraced and implemented revolve around issues that deal with capacity development especially upskilling as this is a crucial requirement for boosting the productivity of informal businesses. Also, the development and harmonization of informal organisational structures should be done in a way that enables them to own the working spaces under which they operate, be it on a collective or individual basis.  More importantly, the improvement of conditions of employment in the sector in as far as occupational safety and health policies are concerned is another area that needs to be addressed. This includes looking into the promotion of labour rights, the extension of social protection to reach the most vulnerable and a favourable regulatory environment that discourages corruption.

In a bid to encourage formalisation, the above factors need to be strongly considered. The most viable way to tackle the problem and move forward would be to target top tier small and micro businesses in each of the sub sectors in the informal economy and engage these in a pilot programme. This  would then be used to precisely map out the challenges faced on the path to formalisation with the aim of developing and implementing tailormade strategies for the different business sizes in each sub sector.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst.

 

 

An Overview of the Informal Sector

The informal economy is characterised as micro and small businesses whose main reason for being established is that they offer an escape route from the tough economic conditions under which the entrepreneurs live. During the past decade, the sector’s growth has mainly been propelled by the shrinking availability of formal employment opportunities. This limited access to formal employment causes most of them to venture into alternative forms of self-employment as a means to making ends meet. As a result, there has been a change in the way people perceive the informal as being traditionally one that was the preserve of those who had attained a basic level of education. There has been a gradual shift in its perception whereby it was fondly referred to as the ‘Jua Kali’ sector, towards one which presents itself as an option for those locked out of formal employment opportunities.

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The Micro Small and Medium sized Enterprises (MSME) Survey 2016, a report released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics established that there were about 1.56 million licensed MSMEs and 5.85 million unlicensed businesses. The findings of the survey also show that total number of persons engaged in the sector was approximately 14.9 million Kenyans. Further, the Kenya Economic Survey 2017 indicates that the number of new jobs created in the economy was 832.9 thousand. Of these, 85.6 thousand were in the formal sector while 747.3 thousand were in the informal sector. The share of jobs in the informal sector represents a 5.9 percent growth from 83 percent in the previous year to 89.7 percent, or 13.3 million people. The problem is that employment in the informal sector is characterised by numerous low quality jobs.

Some of the challenges that informal businesses face include low capacity in as far as financial and technical skills are concerned. This makes it difficult for them to access financial collateral from financing institutions and produce materials that are not standardised. Poor and substandard physical working environments as well as inadequate protective gear means that they are less advantaged when it comes to attracting customers to their establishments and are exposed to health hazards. Limited access to market opportunities is another hurdle that those engaged in informal businesses have to contend with.

The Rockerfeller Foundation puts the number of informal workers who live in extreme poverty around the world at 700 million people, contributing to their vulnerability to poor health. Most informal workers have few resources, which makes accessing health care a challenge as it requires leaving work, which reduces their income and adds to health care expenses. As alluded to above, some of the common problems that Informal workers face include poor working conditions which puts them at a high risk of getting injuries. Most employees in informal establishments have no sick time which accentuates their job insecurity, and a majority of them do not have health or social protection.

Another important element of the informal economy is small scale farming. There needs to be a more proactive approach geared towards making it a formidable employer as opportunities for growth in this area are immense. Making farming inputs competitively cheaper, as well as capacity development through the provision of access to technical services as is in the case of agricultural extension officers will go a long way in ensuring that small scale farmers attain higher quality yields. Another area that would be worth considering is that of supporting small holder out-grower enterprises that are in a dependent, managed relationship with an exporter. These include farmers who do not own or control the land they farm or the commodity they produce as they produce relatively small volumes on relatively small plots of land. A good example in this case is that of French beans farmers who sell their produce to horticultural export companies. This move will go a long way in improving product quality that will enhance the competitiveness of Kenyan produce in the export markets thus ensuring a sustainable and equitable growth in that sector.

 

An angle that clearly presents itself as far as the rapid growth of the informal economy is concerned is that of a focus on making the sector a formidable employer by raising the quality of its employment. This can be achieved by changing the societal stereotypes whereby students who pursue vocational training are seen to do so as a second option after failing to secure university admission. The role that tertiary institutions such as polytechnics play requires a keener rethinking in as far as their significance to the provision of a strategically skilled workforce for our budding industries in the informal economy goes. Also, training in financial skills is another key factor in building up these businesses in a way that they will be well equipped to manage their growth. By developing a culture of documenting financial dealings, informal businesses will be better placed to access loans and grants from financial institutions. Further, more can be done to make it easier for informal workers to access affordable healthcare.

There is increased recognition that much of the informal economy today is linked to the formal economy and contributes to the overall economy; and that supporting the working poor in the informal economy is a key pathway to reducing poverty and inequality. To maintain sustainable growth in this sector, there needs to be flexibility in the way government operates so as to accommodate and support a hugely untapped taxable avenue. Key issues that would have to be looked into revolve around the formalization and recognition of their business operations. That being said, given the proper support and plan, the informal sector in our economy will provide an avenue to the growth and development of indigenous industries.

 

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst.

Economic Survey 2017

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) released the Economic Survey 2017 which presents an analysis of the key sectors in the Kenyan economy. In relation to the informal economy, the survey only focused on the employment angle of the sector. The rest of data on the informal sector was extracted from the MSME 2016 Survey. Getting comprehensive up to date data on the informal economy is still a big challenge.

(Source: http://www.procurementandlogisticsonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/IMG_20170419_121944)

The 2017 survey indicates that the total number of new jobs created in the economy was 832.9 thousand. Of these, 85.6 thousand were in the formal sector while 747.3 thousand were created in the informal sector. The share of new jobs created in the informal economy represents a 5.9 per cent growth from 83 per cent to 89.7 per cent or 13.3 million people. Wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants industries continued to absorb the highest number of employees, accounting for 59.7 per cent of total employment, while the manufacturing industry had a share of 20.4 per cent in informal sector employment.

A continual growth of the informal sector can be attributed to factors such as the shrinking availability of formal employment opportunities as well as the resilience of the Kenyan citizens. Informal sector growth in the country is however a problem due to the fact that most jobs in the sector are of substandard quality. This is because most are characterised by low wages, no social benefits as well as poor working conditions such as the lack of protective gear in most labour intensive businesses and operating in areas with insufficient social amenities such as access to water and toilets.

There were a number of statistics on the informal sector that were not highlighted such as an updated position on the key sub sectors. It would be useful to have information on the number of businesses that operate in the sector, as well as the overall contribution made to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This will paint a clearer picture of the sector in a way that can enable policy makers to adequately formulate strategies that would be beneficial in enhancing qualitative growth of this crucial component of the economy.

One of the suggestions on how this can be done is by starting out with a pilot project in one of the counties with a vibrant informal economy whereby data collection focuses beyond sifting through the records at county offices. This will allow for the concentration of efforts towards the conducting of a deeper statistical analysis of each of the sub sectors. Once this has been achieved, it can then be used as a benchmark for conducting a similar program countrywide. The gathered data would provide a clearer way forward when it comes to making informed decisions on how to channel the efforts towards implementing a sustainable plan that deals with the informal sector.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

 

 

Lessons from informal business

Formal employment opportunities have been on a steady decline. Over the past two years, a number of institutions in Kenya have laid off staff as a cost cutting measure. This coupled with a constantly increasing level of unemployment, especially among the youth, has resulted in the mushrooming of small businesses that enable those that are caught up in such circumstances to make a living in the tough economic times. Most have opted to start-up small businesses which are predominantly informal in their mode of operation that enable them to provide for their families.

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(Source:http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2016/11/10/msmes-need-facilitation-not-regulation_c1452719)

Despite the fact that a vast majority of informal businesses are perceived in a negative light due to reasons such as a good number of them not paying taxes, inadequate social security structures as well as poor internal financial infrastructures, there are lessons that one can learn from their operations.

Unity of purpose is one of the ways in which informal businesses have managed to grow and stay afloat. Given the scarcity of resources that they have to contend with, be it financial or technical, majority of them pool resources so as to achieve their goals. A good example can be found in instances where such businesses come together to form associations through which they tackle problems that they face. These range from interacting with government authorities and financial institutions to sharing skills and equipment. Interacting with government authorities and financial institutions in this manner puts them in a stronger bargaining position when it comes to negotiating for better terms of engagement.

Also, informal businesses are often pioneers when it comes to innovation. The growth in the rate of unemployment is one factor that has led to the growth of the informal sector. This, coupled with increasing poverty levels has pushed the informal economy to become the top employment segment in sub Saharan Africa. In Kenya, it accounts for 81% of the total employment demographic. In a bid to remain relevant and competitive, those that are engaged in informal businesses develop products and services that enable them to stay in business. Given that a majority of those engaged in informal businesses tend to be the youth, they contribute new and innovative ideas and technologies to industries that have for long remained traditionally rigid.

Another aspect that can be learnt from informal businesses is their resilience. This can be seen in their widespread presence. In Nairobi for example, if you need to have your car fixed quickly, there is always a garage around the corner. Supermarkets and grocery stores have been overtaken by the numerous “Mama Mboga” shops.  In the beauty and cosmetics industry, informal salons are currently available in every neighborhood. This factor has contributed to the exponential growth of this sector.

With all this said and done, the informal economy is still largely characterised by the presence of poor quality employment opportunities. Efforts should be made to support businesses in this sector of the economy as it will be a huge step in the right direction in easing the burden of poverty.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst 

 

Working Poverty

During the past decade, there has been a rise in the number of people pursuing alternate means to employment as a means of raising their living standards. This can be largely be attributed to the high levels of unemployment as well as the rising number of people that are engaged in poor quality jobs. The informal sector creates poor quality jobs and is an avenue for a large percentage of the population to find an extra source of income.

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(Source:http://d34elvfuwuckt2.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2015/08/Africa-Unemployment-South-Africa-apprenticeship-05102012-620×350.jpg)

In the light of this factor, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has released the World Employment Social Outlook 2017 report. It focuses on trends in job quality, paying particular attention to working poverty and vulnerable employment. What come out clearly is the contrast in the growth of the regional economies over the past decade vis-à-vis the employment and poverty trends. The report states that Sub-Saharan Africa continues to report the highest rate of youth working poverty globally, at almost 70 per cent in 2016, while facing rapid growth in the number of youth in the labour force.

It further states that Sub-Saharan Africa’s unemployment rate is forecast to be 7.2 per cent in 2017, unchanged from 2016. While the unemployment rate remains stable, the number of unemployed is expected to increase from 28 million in 2016 to 29 million in 2017 due to the region’s strong labour force growth. Poor quality employment, rather than unemployment, remains the main labour market challenge in the region. With this in mind, the lack of productive opportunities for youth and adults alike meant that 247 million people were in vulnerable employment in 2016, equivalent to around 68 per cent of all those with jobs.

Statistics from the report show that an additional 12.6 million youth in the region will enter the labour force over the next four years. Due to growth in the working-age population, the number of people in vulnerable forms of employment is expected to increase by 14.6 million. Further, the outlook is particularly challenging for women, who are more likely to be in vulnerable employment, largely as contributing family workers. The share of female workers categorized as contributing family workers, at 30.6 per cent, is more than twice the rate for their male counterparts, at 14.0 per cent, with women additionally over-represented in informal non-agricultural employment.

The issue of vulnerable employment is linked to that of working poverty. The report adds that Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be characterized by elevated rates of working poverty, with 33.6 per cent of all employed people living in extreme poverty in 2016 – i.e. on less than US$1.90 per day – and an additional 30.1 per cent in moderate poverty – i.e. between US$1.90 and US$3.10 per day. This corresponds to over 230 million people in sub-Saharan Africa living in either extreme or moderate poverty.

These numbers are a strong indicator as to why the informal economy continues to consistently grow in the region. The downside to having a large informal economy is that those that are involved in the micro businesses cannot afford to access proper medical attention as well as other social welfare benefits. It would be prudent for policy and decision makers to look into and implement strategies that grow the capacity of informal businesses to enable them to become profitable entities. This will reduce the high levels of poverty by providing sustainable incomes to a vast majority of households.

litualex@gmail.com 

Informal Economy Analyst