Protecting vulnerable workers – a book on bringing social protection to the informal economy

Protecting vulnerable workers – a book on bringing social protection to the informal economy


In the frame of a European Union funded programme, the Research, Network and Support Facility (RNSF) launched a book that brings together ideas from researchers and practitioners on how to extend social protection coverage to workers in the informal economy.

People who work in the informal economy are mostly excluded from or not sufficiently covered by available social protection mechanisms. They are therefore exposed to a range of risks and loss of income (illnesses, work-related accidents, maternity, etc.), increasing their vulnerability.

The informal economy can be broadly defined as comprising all workers – both wage earners and self-employed – who lack formal contracts, do not have social protection and do not pay work-related taxes. In countries where formal jobs are scarce, women, migrants and other vulnerable groups of workers who are excluded from other opportunities have little choice but to take informal low-quality jobs.

The informal economy comprises half to three-quarters of all non-agricultural employment in developing countries. Therefore, having these workers excluded from social protection systems increases their individual vulnerability, but also undermines the economy as a whole.


A unique and inclusive process

The book was developed as a result of a workshop held in Kenya, earlier this year. The workshop brought together researchers, public officials, civil society representatives and practitioners from ten countries, all working in the area, in order to find solutions to the challenges of ensuring those that work in the informal economy are not excluded from social protection.

This unique process of gathering insights from academics, practitioners and stakeholders on social protection is being spearheaded by the EU’s Research Network Support Facility, and will be utilised for other topics in the future.


Protecting vulnerable workers


Solutions for this vulnerable group of workers

Recognising that social inclusion is one of the main challenges of our time, it is hoped that this publication can show how to increase social protection coverage for this highly vulnerable group of workers. The book provides guidelines and recommendations on what may work, with a focus on the legal and institutional framework, access to social protection, and community-based social protection.

The book looks at whether existing legal and institutional frameworks cover populations that depend on the informal economy. It also sets out approaches to strengthen existing frameworks for social protection in order to make them more inclusive to workers in the informal economy, and their families.

Existing barriers that prevent access to social protection by informal workers are outlined. It recognises that the most marginalised people need more tailored approaches that take into account their specific needs in order to access social protection. It argues that social protection may need to be adapted to address the real needs of vulnerable populations.

Finally, community driven social protection is looked at as an effective approach with recommendations on how to strengthen the role of communities in delivering social protection. Here, governments, donors, and civil society, all have a role to play.

The book is available to download on the Informal Economy Support Facility’s (IESF) community of practice on Capacity4Dev.

Watch a short video on the regional workshop. Also, watch a video presenting the book.