An analysis of the ILO’s role in organising informal workers as a means to enforce and safeguard labour rights

  • Balgiisa Sheik Ahmed

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis conducts an examination of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to determine how it can best address the global issue of informality, particularly with regard to the lack of sufficient labour rights available to such workers when compared to those in the formal economy. The chapters argue that by adopting a more effective means to utilise its social dialogue tools, the organisation’s tripartite structure will better represent the interests of those in the informal economy through the direct involvement of marginalised workers – predominantly vulnerable women. This, in turn, will allow the ILO to regain its legitimacy as a tripartite organisation representing states, employers and workers with a mandate to set, enforce and promote labour standards. The thesis aims to look at the multifaceted problem that is informality, including the gender dimension, the barriers to the current understanding and enforcement of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights and how the ILO’s current focus on economic and development goals at times overlooks the classic purpose of international labour law – the empowerment of workers. Later chapters examine the barriers to empowering informal workers within the ILO, barriers such as the oversimplification of the relationship between workers’ organisations and the informal economy; the perception of informal workers as being incapable of organising without the aid of those in the formal economy; and the organisation’s focus on the ambitious but ultimately flawed Recommendation No. 204. The examples set by grassroots informal workers organisations may be used to improve the higher-level representation at ILO and provide a lesson for those aiming to organise in a time of renewed importance for the role of labour organisations yet global decline and resistance.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDavid Salmons (Supervisor)


  • international labour law
  • ILO
  • informal economy
  • labour law enforcement
  • worker organisations

Cite this