“The informal sector makes up a significant portion of the South African economy, with estimates ranging from 6 to 18 per cent depending on the sector. Some 27 per cent of the South African workforce is informal, a total of over three million workers, according to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). In terms of non-agricultural employment, 36.84 per cent of all working women are employed in the informal sector, some 1.3 million as domestic workers. It is also well documented that informal workers have been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic due to their loss of incomes and jobs, and lack of access to social protection.

In a country with one of the highest levels of unemployment in the world, an official unemployment rate of 34.4 per cent in 2021, formalising the informal sector is a vital but formidable task. The progressive labour laws that organised labour helped to negotiate at the end of apartheid only covers those in full-time employment, leaving the vast majority of workers to fall outside of the scope of labour protections. As a result, the implementation of the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s Recommendation 204 (R204) on formalizing the informal economy provides a crucial framework to help governments, employers and workers’ organisations tackle decent work deficits in South Africa.

Equal Times spoke to Sizwe Pamla, the national spokesperson of COSATU about what the implementation of R204 looks like in South Africa as the world struggles to emerge from the ever-deepening inequality and socio-economic instability caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”