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Employment Relationships and Organizing Strategies in the Informal Construction Sector

by Jill Wells and Arthur Jason


The expansion of self-employment, casual labor and outsourcing in the construction sector around the world and the growing involvement of intermediaries has led to an increasing complexity of employment relationships. The paper discusses the implications of this complexity for collective organizing, drawing on recent studies of informal labor in the construction sector in three cities in Africa (Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, and Cape Town) and a fourth study in Nepal. Recruitment through intermediaries clearly limits the opportunity for trade unions to organize the workers. As the greatest divide seems to lie between the intermediaries and the large contractors, however, there may be scope for collaboration among the intermediary agencies and the workers, who together can put pressure on the large contractors to get better deals for workers. The paper then takes a closer look at the Tanzania case, where informal construction workers have come together into groups for social security and economic purposes. The relationships within the groups and the role of the leaders is discussed. These dispersed groups have recently formed an umbrella organization, the Tanzanian Informal Construction Workers Association. The paper discusses its agenda, achievements, targets, and the diverse range of allies and actors with whom the association engages.

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Jill Wells was formerly construction specialist in the International Labor Organisation and is now a programme officer with Engineers Against Poverty.

Arthur Jason was formerly employed by United Nations Volunteers as the social scientist working on the Informal Construction Workers’ project in Dar project in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from 2001 to 2004.




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