Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Organization and Representation of Informal Workers in Sao Tome and Principe: State Agency and Sectoral Informal Alternatives

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Organization and Representation of Informal Workers in Sao Tome and Principe: State Agency and Sectoral Informal Alternatives

Article excerpt

Introduction

The size of the informal economy of Sao Tome and Principe, an insular microstate of the Gulf of Guinea with less than 200,000 mostly urban inhabitants, has never been accurately measured. (1) However, most of the estimates and perceptions about the informal economy, as compared to the formal economy, point to its preponderance, in proportional terms, in the set of income-generating activities of the population. According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), data collected in 2013 on the active population indicates that 62 percent were working age (resident population of fifteen or more years). The unemployment rate is estimated at 13.6 percent, reaching 19.7 percent of women and 9.3 percent of men. The occupancy rate, which includes both formal jobs and income generating activities and employment in the informal economy, is estimated at 54 percent of the population aged fifteen and over, and is much higher among men (67.7 percent) than among women (40.8 percent). (2) Formal jobs, calculated on the basis of data supplied by private companies and public administration regarding entries in the social security system, in 2010 numbered of less than ten thousand (9,602). (3)

Despite the importance of the informal economy, there are no studies or surveys which may serve as a source of the concrete number of workers belonging to the informal sector, both with respect to those living solely on income earned in the informal economy and those who complement and/or supplement their income through informal business and other activities. The common perception, namely obtained through qualitative field research, is that the chances of finding a job in the formal sector are very limited. On the other hand, those who have a (formal) job often receive such low wages that they need to supplement them with other (informal) income. One can therefore infer that the vast majority of the working population is dedicated to informal economic activities, creating their own forms of survival, their "employment posts," through their own business or through entry into existing hiring businesses.

The size and scope of organization and representation in the informal economy, as well as the protection provided to workers outside the formal system, is correspondingly little known beyond the aforementioned social security figures. Beyond the almost always precarious and irregular incomes, a number of other problems have been associated with the informal economy, related mainly to the lack of rights, poor working conditions, and lack of inclusion in a social protection system. In Sao Tome and Principe, as well as in similar contexts of developing countries, this lack of social protection and of income stability has led in some cases to initiatives aimed at changing the living conditions of workers in the informal sector through defense organizations. These materialized mainly in the form of informal workers' organizations, both established by the initiative of the workers themselves or as a result of incentives on the part of other bodies such as trade unions (in turn, supported by the state), NGOs or even state institutions and/or partnerships with civil society. In Sao Tome, both the bottom-up initiatives started by informal agents, or the top-down forms of organizing the workers, including most importantly the activities of the two central trade unions, resulted in the establishment of structured associations with the potential to support their respective members.

This article aims to analyze two types of processes dedicated to the organization and representation of the informal workers in Sao Tome and Principe--trade unions and sectoral initiatives--and provide some concrete examples of associations of the informal workers. In this analysis, the motivations for the establishment of such organizations are articulated together with the description of the actions and activities carried out by them, in order to compare their respective support for workers. …

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