Promoting Workers’ Rights in the Informal Economy in Central America

Throughout the Western Hemisphere, unemployment, informal labor relations, economic exclusion and discrimination continue to be all too common.  In some countries, 60 percent or more of the economic population works in the informal economy -- often disproportionately impacting women, youth, and migrant workers.  They lack access to basic social protections like health insurance or unemployment insurance. In addition to the impact on individual workers and families, employment relationships that exacerbate income inequality by reducing workers’ wages and subjecting them to temporary or part-time work do not contribute to rapid economic growth. 

Promoting inclusive economic growth and rights for workers in the informal economy are priorities for the U.S. government.  In Central America, we’re supporting the work of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to test new strategies to do so.  Recently, I had the chance to meet with government and civil society partners from El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica to discuss their successes and challenges in this area.  

The enthusiasm and support expressed by both local and national government officials for these efforts, as well as the stories of workers that had been empowered to advocate for their rights and work toward formal employment, were particularly memorable.  For instance, members of newly developed dialogue tables created videos that showed how young workers were being trained for formal employment.  Women that work in local markets shared their stories about learning how to create menus and price quotes, as well as better principles of cost management for their small businesses.

Participants in dialogue tables in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Honduras showed how workers at the local level -- through municipalities -- can and should be included in developing and implementing the solutions that will help change their community.  They have already helped complete an entrepreneurial program and develop individualized business plans by workers in the informal economy, and are working to expand to other municipalities in each of the three countries.

As Vice President Biden noted, “the security and prosperity of Central America are inextricably linked with our own.” It has been a rewarding experience supporting the ILO activities under this project and as a result having a chance to play a small part in advancing these goals.  Along with other colleagues at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, I look forward to continuing to work with the ILO and other civil society stakeholders to promote inclusive growth and the rights of working men and women throughout Central America.

About the Author: Marrissa Brescia serves as a Program Officer in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL).

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Anupama S.
California, USA
April 28, 2015
Interesting that officials recognize that the success and prosperity of Central America affects the success and prosperity of the US. With a more prosperous Central American economy there will be fewer people trying to access the US illegally, and the US will be able to work with countries in Central America in order to benefit both the US and places like Honduras and Costa Rica. Hopefully efforts like this will be expanded and developed in the future.
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