Organising and training informal economy workers in Africa

Over the last few decades, the number of people dependent on the informal economy for a living has seen a significant rise in West Africa. In many countries, the number of informal economy workers now represents over three quarters of the active workforce. In Africa, and, above all, the countries of French-speaking Africa, the current environment is much less favourable to the creation of jobs for young people and women in particular. As a result, thousands of young people and women have no choice but to work in the informal economy to make a living. As a general rule, these workers have to cope with poor pay and conditions, precarious employment and no social protection.

ITUC-Africa, CSN (Canada) and the CFDT (France), through the Belleville Institute, joined up to conduct a three-year social and solidarity economy project. The project was carried out with trade union organisations in three countries: the CSTM of Mali, the UNSAS of Senegal and the CSTT of Togo. The objective was to support the organising and trade union representation of informal economy workers, to build the capacity of trade union organisations to operate in the informal economy and to develop or improve the tools within the social and solidarity economy in order to support collective entrepreneurship in the informal economy.

Photo by Mark Fischer

Summary of the country reports

  • For the CSTM of Mali, the project went well and the results it achieved testify to the self-empowerment capacities of the beneficiaries. The activities involved dyers in Kayes, sand and gravel workers in Koulikoro and women fishmongers in Mopti. During the awareness raising campaign in Koulikoro, Kayes and Mopti, over three hundred people (women and men) joined the CSTM. Three offices, each staffed by twenty-five people, were set up (75 officers in total). Twenty-one CSTM officers received training in micro-enterprise management.
  • The UNSAS, in Senegal, feels it has strengthened its social base in the informal economy. The organising and representation of informal economy workers improved, in particular with regard to social dialogue. Tools have been introduced to strengthen and support collective entrepreneurship in the informal economy. Two recruitment campaigns were carried out among 35 women in five sectors (tanning, fish and seafood processing, street vending, cereal processing and the restaurant and catering trade). The strategy for the second year is geared towards peer mentoring and recruitment. The UNSAS has achieved good results: 239 new recruits, 120 women trained in trade unionism, social dialogue and management techniques.
    A solidarity fund of CFA200,000 was transferred to each sector and was refunded in total, and 70% of the solidarity fund was saved.
  • With the CSTT in Togo, the project targeted representatives from 11 organizations in various sectors: motorbike taxi drivers, tailors and dressmakers, barbers and hairdressers, building materials traders (SYVEMACOT), wood, forestry and associated workers (SYTREBACT), motorbike mechanics, jewellers, the fish processing women’s group FETRAPO, MUSA/CSTT, MUCEL/FTBC and MUPROSI/FTBC. Information, awareness raising and training modules and manuals have been designed and made available to informal economy workers. The CSTT has set up a unit to manage informal economy workers’ activities, which is now in operation. Informal economy workers’ administrative, financial and entrepreneurial capacities have been strengthened. Seven production co-operatives have been set up at the CSTT. A national policy document on traditional micro-enterprise is available in Togo. Fourteen tontine and solidarity groups have been established to provide easy access to inclusive financing and services for the members.

Future prospects and opportunities for synergies

In light of the various assessments on the work achieved over the last three years, the complex nature of the informal economy and the ongoing need for training, support and/or financial assistance, as well as the need for wider access to training and information tools, a new agreement will allow this project between the partners and associated trade union organizations to continue and will determine the activities and the financing linked to it in the coming years.