Informal and precarious workers


Most workers in the informal economy do not have access to social protection. In addition, many workers in precarious conditions are insufficiently protected. Expanding social protection coverage to these groups of workers can reduce their vulnerability, improve income security and health care access, enable them to plan ahead, and help facilitate their transition to the formal economy. The ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202) makes explicit reference to workers in the informal economy. In addition, the ILO Transition from the Formal to the Informal Economy Recommendation, 2015 (No. 204) provides guidance for improving the protection of workers in the informal economy, and for facilitating transitions to the formal economy.

The extension of social protection to workers in the informal economy remains a formidable challenge in many countries with high rates of informality. However, some countries have made impressive progress in covering more workers through contributory schemes. Some countries have done this by including previously uncovered workers in existing schemes; adapting benefits, contributions and administrative procedures to take these groups’ need into account; and by subsidizing contributions for those on very low incomes (e.g. social health insurance). In other countries, the extension of social security to larger groups of the population was done through a large-scale expansion of social protection mechanisms (e.g. social pensions) to previously uncovered groups, independently of their employment status, and largely financed through government revenue.

Human rights monitoring bodies have called upon States parties to take effective measures to ensure that informal workers are able to exercise their labour rights, including their right to social security without discrimination (e.g., Concluding Observations CESCR, E/C.12/PRY/CO/3 (CESCR, 2008); Concluding Observations CEDAW CEDAW/C/BIH/CO/4-5 (CEDAW, 2013) and CEDAW/C/DJI/CO/1-3 (CEDAW, 2011).

The Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights explicitly call on States to “take specific measures to ensure that persons living in poverty, in particular women and those working in the informal economy, have access to social security benefits, including social pensions, which are sufficient to ensure an adequate standard of living and access to health care for them and their families” (Principle 86 (c)).

Photo credit: “India 3 Gender” by Trocaire (CCBY 2.0 via Flickr).


Expert Commentaries

Incorporating the Informal Sector in Social Protection Programmes for Universal Realization of the Rights to Social Security

Informal economy workers: A heterogeneous group Informal economy workers are far from being a homogeneous group or a sector.1 Indeed differences in terms of income, sector (agriculture, industry for example), status in employment (such as employers, own account workers, casual workers, informal employees, sub-contracted workers) have been identified. WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and […]


Inclusion of Vulnerable Groups

As a human right that is intrinsic to all, the international community recognizes the need to design and implement social protection systems according to the principle of social inclusion, underlying the particular need to include persons in the informal economy (Recommendation No. 202, para 3e). Delivery systems should therefore be particularly attuned to the challenges […]

Legal Instruments

Ley 8.726

Reforma del capítulo octavo del título segundo del Código del Trabajo, Ley 2. Ley del trabajo doméstico remunerado. Define a las trabajadoras domésticas como aquellas que brindan asistencia y bienestar a una familia o persona, en forma remunerada, y que se dedican a las labores de limpieza, cocina, lavado, planchado y demás labores propias de […]

Ley 11.304

Permite al contribuyente que paga impuesto sobre la renta y emplear a una trabajadora doméstica, deducir de su declaración de impuesto a las ganancias conseguidas mensual del 12% a la Seguridad Social, en relación con la contribución del empleador. Regula los días de descanso y licencia por maternidad de las trabajadoras domésticas.

Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation, 2015 (No. 204)

This Recommendation recognizes the lack of protection of workers in the informal economy, and provides guidance for improving their protection and facilitating transitions to the formal economy. It also recognizes that decent work deficits – the denial of rights at work, the absence of sufficient opportunities for quality employment, inadequate social protection and the absence […]

Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202)

Recommendation No. 202 is the first international instrument to offer guidance to countries to close social security gaps and progressively achieve universal protection through the establishment and maintenance of comprehensive social security systems. To this aim, the Recommendation calls for (1) the implementation, as a priority, of social protection floors (SPF) as a fundamental element […]

Legal Cases

Access to courts and the right to work for informal traders in South Africa

Upon an urgent request, the Constitutional Court of South Africa intervened in a lower court affair to prevent the municipal government and Metropolitan Police Force from hindering what was asserted to be lawful activity by informal traders under the auspices of “Operation Clean Sweep”. Until the legality of the program that prevented trading in public […]


Approaches to Social Protection for Informal Workers: Aligning productivist and human rights-based approaches  

There has been increasing recognition of the growth of informal employment in the global South and North. Most informal work is precarious and low paid, with workers having little or no access to social protection. It is sometimes suggested that an approach that moves away from productivism – the idea of work as a pathway […]

Accounting for Income Inequality: empirical evidence from India

This paper decomposes income inequality using the regression-based decomposition technique. The paper analyses the role of education, experience, employment status, industry and their interactions in accounting for differences in income and its inequality in India over the past three decades. The results clearly show that education is the most dominant factor contributing to inequality in […]

Social Protection after the Arab Spring

When countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) achieved independence, formal social protection schemes established by former colonial powers were, to varying degrees, assimilated or mimicked by the State, particularly pension systems for government and formal-sector workers. These systems, however, have proven to be highly subsidized and regressive in terms of income distribution […]

On Your Own

This short documentary film focuses on the extension of social protection coverage to workers in the informal economy in Mozambique. It is a useful advocacy tool to raise awareness about the importance of increasing the coverage levels of these workers.

Implementation of International Labour Standards for Domestic Workers

There are approximately 67 million domestic workers worldwide, the clear majority of whom (80 per cent) are women. Many domestic workers, if not most, come from disadvantaged social groups, making them particularly vulnerable to discrimination and abuse at work.1 In 2011, to address these concerns, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the Domestic Workers Convention, […]

Social Protection for Informal Workers in Asia

Asia’s growing labor force needs innovative solutions to reduce risks and ensure social protection of workers in vulnerable employment with informal arrangements. This book examines the need to expand social protection coverage of the informal sector to support working age productivity, reduce vulnerability, and improve economic opportunity. Case studies from Bangladesh, the People’s Republic of […]

Practical Options for the Extension of Social Protection Coverage in Zambia: small scale farmers

The study explores the possible strategies to expand social protection to small scale farmers as well as the requirements for SHI scheme design adjustments to fit the income patterns and employment arrangements which prevail in the sector. The report also offers a case study on a possible linkage between the future SHI scheme and a […]

Practical Options for the Extension of Social Protection Coverage in Zambia: domestic workers

This report provides an overview of the nature and extent of social security benefits for domestic workers in Zambia and explores perception of benefits and willingness to contribute from both domestic workers and employers’ perspectives.

Practical Options for the Extension of Social Protection Coverage in Zambia: casual saw mill workers

The study focuses on reviewing the nature and extent of social security benefits provided by legislation to casual workers in the saw milling industry, understanding their patterns of income and specific employment arrangements and exploring innovative ways of providing social protection to workers in atypical form of work.

Non-Standard Employment around the World: Understanding challenges, shaping prospects

The report analyses the incidence and trends of non-standard forms of employment globally and explores the reasons behind this phenomenon, including changes in the world of work brought about by globalization and social change.


A Majority of the World’s Domestic Workers Lack Social Protection, Says New ILO Study

Social Protection for Domestic Workers, a new ILO study in the Social Protection Policy Paper series, finds that 60 million out of the 67 million domestic workers in the world (roughly 90 per cent) do not have access to social protection. Domestic workers generally are considered a “hard-to-reach” demographic by social protection practitioners and researchers. […]

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