Informality and transitions to formality


The number of workers engaged in informal employment has increased in many parts of the world. In many developing countries, workers in the informal economy represent the majority of the labour force. Workers in the informal economy are not covered by labour regulations and lack of access to social security coverage, which make them more exposed to shocks. However, experiences from many countries demonstrated practical ways to extend social protection to workers in the informal economy, and to facilitate their transitions to the formal economy.


Photo credit: “Does financing benefit African women?” by Africa Renewal (CCBY 2.0 via Flickr).

Legal Instruments

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 […]


ILO Resource Package on “Extending Social Security to Workers in the Informal Economy”

The ILO policy resource package “Extending social security to workers in the informal economy: Lessons from international experience” serves as a reference for policy makers, workers’ and employers’ organizations and other stakeholders engaged in the development of social protection strategies, or the planning, design, implementation and monitoring of systems and schemes. This practical tool can help in […]

Universal social protection for human dignity, social justice and sustainable development: General Survey concerning the Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202)

The ILO’s General Survey 2019 , compiled by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR). The Survey (published under the title Universal social protection for human dignity, social justice and sustainable development) focuses on the ILO’s Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202), which calls for basic income security and essential healthcare […]

Informal is the New Normal: Improving the lives of workers at risk of being left behind

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has given a new urgency to efforts to confront deficits in employment. We take up the call to improve the working conditions of informal workers who face being left behind given that processes of formalisation are unlikely to incorporate them in the near term in many countries. […]

Active Labour Market Programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean: evidence from a meta analysis

We present a systematic collection and assessment of impact evaluations of active labour market programmes (ALMP) in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The paper delineates the strategy to compile a novel meta database and provides a narrative review of 51 studies. Based on these studies, the quantitative analysis extracts a sample of 296 impact […]

Work-related social protection for informal workers

The informal workforce is growing worldwide, and changes in the global structure of employment and in places of employment mean that work is a source of hazard and ill-health for many poorer workers. Yet informal workers do not have access to work-related social security. They face high work-related risks, but have little or no access […]

The informal economy and decent work: supporting transitions to formality: a resource guide

This practical Policy Resource Guide is the first initiative to bring together a synthesis of knowledge, policy innovations and good practices facilitating transition to formality. Chapter 8.1 deals specifically with the extension of social security to persons in the informal economy. Link to the resource guide Link to chapter 8.1

The transition from the informal to the formal economy, 103rd and 104th Session of the International Labour Conference

The informal economy is significantly impacting the world of work, with as much as 40–80 per cent of the labour force in developing countries working within it. Increasingly, transition to formality has emerged as a priority policy agenda in developed and developing countries, and new policy initiatives and approaches are taken in different regions that […]

Social Protection and Human Rights