Editor’s Pick

Theme of the Month – Informal Economy

This September, SPRF looks at informal labour, the sector that singlehandedly employs over 92% of the total Indian workforce. As the economy attempts to grow from the setbacks of the pandemic, we review the sector’s current status, drawbacks, and its intersections with gender.

We’ve curated our top favourites from SPRF’s research on informal labour.

From SPRF Research


“As a result [of the pandemic], economic activity suffered and unsurprisingly, India’s GDP growth reduced by 23.9% in the first quarter of FY 2020-21. This was a significant decline. However, when viewed in isolation, this conceals the plight of the informal economy […] estimates show that in low-income countries like India, depleted labour incomes caused by the lockdown could translate into more than 56% of informal workers and their families living in relative poverty.”


“The Street Vendors Act 2014 identifies urban street vendors as constituting up to 2.5% of a city’s population. With a daily turnover of INR 80 crore, street vendors contribute to about 14% of India’s non-agricultural urban informal employment sector. Amidst rapid urbanisation, despite being a critical part of India’s vast informal economy, the everyday struggle of street vendors has intensified over the years. In the absence of a national policy for street vendors and the fragmented and inadequate implementation of relevant legislations, some grave structural issues affecting street vendors have come to the fore.”


“Initially, gig jobs offered food delivery workers decent salaries as part-time or full-time employees. However, this does not hold anymore. Companies employ platform economy workers on a hire-and-fire basis, with minimal or no social and health cover guarantees (Deloitte 2018). 2020 saw numerous strikes by gig economy workers employed across platforms like Uber, Ola, Swiggy, and Zomato (Ranipeta 2020). The workers demanded a revised payment structure and safety gear when stepping out for work during the pandemic (ibid). The lack of safety gear for the platform economy workers could be seen as a disregard for their rights to a safe life.”


“The spike in domestic workers is also amplified by economic processes such as industrialisation and urbanisation, which have led an increasing surplus of unskilled workers from rural agrarian economies to move to cities in search of better sources of income. While domestic work provides better opportunities and presumably a better quality of life to mostly unskilled rural women workers and the urban poor, its informal and highly deregulated nature creates conditions for poor work environment, low wages, routine harassment, and abuse.”


“Despite an improvement in women’s education and health outcomes, India’s formal and informal female labour force participation (FLFP) has declined in the last two decades. Since a large proportion of women are working in the informal sector, they are not covered under formal labour laws, which could include social security, healthcare, and minimum wage benefits. Thus, it is crucial for social security to be tied directly to workers and not indirectly through employers (Chapman et al. 2018: 4). Women, especially those that are migrants, must be provided with the infrastructure that makes them feel safe and secure.”

Curated by the SPRF Editorial Team.