Many of the workers on the front lines of the pandemic lack insurance and basic social protections. Photo: Olha Zaika

The “informal economy” is often seen as primarily daily-wage laborers, such as in the construction sector or housekeepers, but it also encompasses vast numbers of workers in short- term, usually contract jobs in the formal service sector such as hospitality, retail, and transport. It also includes those working in the new gig economy.

Their work is often characterized by uncertainty, instability and insecurity. As opposed to those in business or government employment, they bear the risks of their work and receive limited social benefits and entitlements.

The Asia-Pacific region accounts for around 60% of the non-farm global workforce, higher than in Latin America and Eastern Europe, ranging from about 20% in Japan to over 80% in Myanmar and Cambodia. They are twice as likely as formal workers to belong to low-income households and often live hand-to-mouth. If they cannot work for extended periods, their family’s income is at risk.

The informal economy is not a relic of the past or a sign of backwardness. It is also not a consequence of the failure of modernization strategies. Today’s informal economy is an essential feature of global production networks. It operates in an environment marked by complex formal and informal economic links, global economic cycles, and domestic economic concerns.

For many in the informal economy, savings are either nonexistent or extremely limited. Typically, they lack employment security, healthcare benefits, sick leave, pensions, and severance packages. Only some of these low-income households are beneficiaries of social transfer programs or other formal insurance arrangements. And here also coverage and adequacy of benefits remain an issue. In short, informal workers earn their living without a safety net.

Without these protections, informal economy workers, especially the poor, face a wide range of occupational, safety, and health risks. They are disproportionally affected by natural hazards and human-made disasters. When affected, the poor tend to lose a larger fraction of their wealth, given their lower ability to cope and recover from disaster impacts. 

Even those whose employment is technically on the books, such as Uber drivers, face a raft of disadvantages. Being classified as independent contractors, many struggle to win unemployment benefits because their employers fail to pay insurance premiums or report wage data to state agencies.

Today, many at-risk informal workers are classified as “essential” to keep the economy going during the pandemic even though they lack basic labor protections.

The private insurance sector should see this as an opportunity to contribute to societal development by designing and offering fit-for-purpose healthcare provision, pensions, and insurance solutions for the missing middle. 

The extension of social protection or insurance to workers in the informal economy often concerns households already relying on informal support and risk-sharing. Insurers should gain insights from the interactions between pre-existing informal risk-sharing networks, social protection schemes, and formal insurance markets while designing new solutions. The design elements must reinforce rather than undermine the positive aspects of informal support mechanisms in risk management. 

Often the potential to build on community-based insurance like cooperatives and mutuals is overlooked. A thorough understanding of these mechanisms can help create positive synergies to manage the idiosyncratic risks. For covariate risks, financing the extension of risk protection needs to be done via risk transfer. 

Microinsurance provides a credible option to balance equity and sustainability. Post-disaster, microinsurance products can cover the cost of health care, deaths, and burials, loss of livestock or crops, or business assets. They can also support the business or income-generating enterprises while the overall system recovers. 

However, limited access to a range of risk management mechanisms and data prevents insurers from offering access to affordable insurance. A case in point is the challenge of developing business interruption products post-pandemic due to a lack of legal documents, proof of inventory and income, and insurance providers’ misperceptions about the client group. 

Today, many at-risk informal workers are classified as “essential” to keep the economy going during the pandemic even though they lack basic labor protections.

The COVID-19 outbreak and accompanying disasters due to natural hazards have exposed the challenges in protecting informal workers and vulnerable households in Asia.

In the new normal:

Mutuals and community-based insurance need strengthening through regulatory and supervisory oversight as they play a critical role in insuring the missing middle. In doing so, the women’s position as the households’ risk manager can be reinforced further and recognized at the community level. 
Governments should consider linking social protection programs with insurance to provide a safety net response. The use of digital technologies to target social protection programs towards households most at risk and targeting the female heads of families would be necessary. 
Subsidies do not automatically lead to high take-up, although evidence suggests that they expand coverage in different contexts. The role of smart subsidies needs to be further explored. And the same goes for smart technology.
The viability of insurance is a direct function of an insurer’s solvency of following a large-scale catastrophe or sequential disaster events. Well capitalized and regulated insurers can diversify their portfolios via reinsurance and help in growing this nascent market.
The design elements of new insurance products need to address the informal sector’s risks and the gig economy workers. They must also consider access to existing risk-pooling arrangements to offer optimal protection.
There is little awareness or understanding of the merits of insurance for managing large-scale disasters. More awareness-building is needed to instill trust and to involve women as change agents. Home is the best school, and the mother is the best teacher. In this manner, one can instill the value of insurance in an entire generation. At the same time, stringent action should be taken against those who are mis selling. 

To address the future of work, a shift in thinking is needed about private partnerships and putting the elderly, women, and youth at the center of loss prevention and building resilience for the households. This will be the most effective way forward for developing future protection solutions.

covid, covid-19, coronavirus, novel coronavirus, corona virus, covid-19 response, communicable diseases, infectious diseases, emergency response, health response, outbreak, pandemic, covid-19 prevention, insurance, informal workers, informal labor, social protections, health insurance, vendors, day laborers, contract workersArup Kumar ChatterjeeArticle

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Early retirement packages are being offered to more employees as a result of coronavirus, but workers need to negotiate the best packages carefully, including health insurance and other non-financial benefits.

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May 1 is celebrated around the world as May Day or Labour Day. This year, the COVID-19 crisis is exposing uncomfortable truths about inequalities in societies around the world and stark contrasts in our lifestyles.


Some hop on to a chain of webinars, or discuss what movie to watch next, or share videos of exotic dishes cooked up in the kitchen. But the reality outside is grim for sectors and communities devastated by the pandemic.

The quotes in this compilation reflect gratitude to the spirit and dignity of labour across all ages and sectors. Their messages reinforce the importance of respect, solidarity, and human rights in these dark hours.

In this collection of quotes, we span a wide range of labour, including gig workers, contract labour, migrants, farmers, and the informal sector. We also look at concerns of inclusive workforce practices to empower more women, the differently-abled, and marginalised communities. Other perspectives include how emerging technologies like AI/ML will impact labour.

There are so many people to thank for making our world a better place, and whom we need to support even more during these months of crisis. Health professionals, cleaners, delivery staff, security personnel, NGOs feeding the needy – the list goes on and on.

Across the political spectrum, leaders and activists have varying perspectives of the rights and responsibilities of labour. What is clear today is that workers need food security and protection of health and livelihood even more so in the coming years.

The quotes in this compilation are drawn from YourStory articles and Storybites columns, as well as a range of online resources. See also our Resource Centre for Startups and SMBs, and our pick of 60 quotes on coping with a crisis.Also ReadOn Labour Day, we look at non-profits that equip workers against exploitation, ensuring fair pay and good working conditions

All labour that uplifts humanity has dignity. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Labour disgraces no man; unfortunately, you occasionally find men who disgrace labour. – Ulysses S. Grant

As we celebrate Labour Day, we honour the men and women who fought tirelessly for workers' rights, which are so critical to our strong and successful labour force. – Elizabeth Esty

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. – Mahatma Gandhi

There is a triangular relationship between poverty, child labour and, illiteracy who have a cause and consequence relationship. We will have to break this vicious circle. – Kailash Satyarthi

The Millennium Development Goals were a pledge to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity, and free the world from extreme poverty. – Ban Ki-moon

The labour movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. – Maratin Luther King, Jr.

The place of labour is side by side with the businessman and the farmer – and not one degree lower. – Harry S. Truman

Business, labour, and civil society organisations have skills and resources that are vital in helping to build a more robust global community. – Kofi Annan

Work is no disgrace; the disgrace is idleness. – Greek proverb

Take not from the mouth of labour, the bread that it has earned. – Thomas Jefferson

Workers' rights should be a central focus of development. – Joseph Stiglitz

Also ReadDignity of labour, the LabourNet way

A man is not paid for having a head and hands, but for using them. – Elbert Hubbard

Every historical form of society is in its foundation a form of organisation of labour. – Leon Trotsky

Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. – Thomas Jefferson

From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. – Karl Marx

Fundamentally, the basis of all modern progress is the efficiency of labour. – Charles M. Schwab

Human dignity is based upon freedom, and freedom upon human dignity. The one presupposes the other. – Rollo May

It is essential that there should be organisation of labour. This is an era of organisation. Capital organises and therefore labour must organise. – Theodore Roosevelt

It is not the quantity but the quality of knowledge which determines the mind's dignity. – William Ellery Channing

It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one's dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. – W. Somerset Maugham

It was the labour movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today. The 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans. The cornerstones of the middle-class security all bear the union label. – Barack Obama

Also ReadThis startup has made a difference to the lives of over a million daily wage workers through its platform

Overwork is repulsive to human nature-not work. – Pyotr Kropotkin

Schooling doesn't assure employment but skill does. – Amit Kalantri

The gig economy is empowerment. – John McAfee

There is no surer token of a little mind than to imagine that anything in the way of physical labour is dishonoring. – Orison Swett Marden

What we've lost sight of is that performing manual labour with your hands is one of the most incredibly satisfying and positive things you can do. – Nick Offerman

The most luxurious possession, the richest treasure anybody has is his personal dignity. – Jackie Robinson

When an individual is protesting society's refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him. – Bayard Rustin

Peace demands the most heroic labour and the most difficult sacrifice. – Thomas Merton

Why are you all wasting human labour and the world’s wealth in building machinery to commit mass murder? – Eden Phillpotts

Without labour nothing prospers. – Sophocles

Work isn’t to make money; you work to justify life – Marc Chagall

Also ReadRestoring childhood: Meet 5 women working against child labour through education and recreation

No race can prosper until it learns there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. – Booker T. Washington

Agriculture was the first occupation of man, and as it embraces the whole earth, it is the foundation of all other industries. – Edward W. Stewart

Agriculture is the noblest of all alchemy; for it turns earth, and even manure, into gold, conferring upon its cultivator the additional reward of health. – Paul Chatfield

Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness. – Thomas Jefferson

Farming is a profession of hope. – Brett Brian

Farming is inescapably a part of human life that it may provide a clue to what is most basically human, and so a clue to our place within the cosmos. – Stephanie Nelson

Farming isn’t a battle against nature, but a partnership with it. It is respecting the basics of nature in action and ensuring that they continue. – Jeff Koehler

A farmer is a magician who produces money from the mud. – Amit Kalantri

The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer. – Will Rogers

The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways. – John F. Kennedy

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. – Masanobu Fukuoka

To a farmer, dirt is not a waste, it is wealth. – Amit Kalantri

Also ReadThese five women-led farming initiatives are making an impact in India’s agriculture industry

Having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own. – Andy Warhol

Factory farming came about from a moral race to the bottom, with corporations vying against each other to produce more and bigger animals with less care at lower cost. – Matthew Scully

If the rain spoils our picnic, but saves a farmer’s crop, who are we to say it shouldn’t rain? – Tom Barrett

If you tickle the earth with a hoe she laughs with a harvest. – Douglas Jerrold

It is impossible to have a healthy and sound society without a proper respect for the soil. – Peter Maurin

Life on a farm is a school of patience; you can’t hurry the crops or make an ox in two days. – Henri Alain

Strong communities are built around local, real food. Food we trust to nourish our bodies, the farmer and planet. – Kimbal Musk

The cities are but the branches of the tree of national life, the roots of which go deeply into the land. We all flourish or decline with the farmer. – Bernard Baruch

We have neglected the truth that a good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist. – Wendell Berry

While farmers contribute to our survival, let us also do our part by showing them respect in form of not wasting food. – Mohith Agadi

When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civillisation. – Daniel Webster

Also Read[Year in Review 2019] From a startup improving the lot of dairy farmers to apps that help the dyslexic and blind learn better, read the top 20 social stories

Although women do two-thirds of the world's labour, they own less than one percent of the world's assets. – Isabel Allende

I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved. – B.R. Ambedkar

Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance. – Kofi Annan

No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens. – Michelle Obama

If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair. – Shirley Chisholm

Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult. – Charlotte Whitton

Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone's responsibility. – Ban Ki-moon

No man can call himself liberal, or radical, or even a conservative advocate of fair play, if his work depends in any way on the unpaid or underpaid labour of women at home, or in the office. – Gloria Steinem

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. – Audre Lorde

Gender parity is just not good for women – it’s good for societies. – Angelica Fuentes

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Give a woman a fish and she'll feed the whole family for a week! – Cameron Semmens

Life is not a competition between men and woman. It is a collaboration. – David Alejandro Fearnhead

Urging an organisation to be inclusive is not an attack. It's progress. – DaShanne Stokes

Only collective strength and action will allow us to be free to fight for the kind of society that meets basic human needs. – Roxanne Dunbar

Also Read5 Indian women whose activism has led to change

This pandemic is a collective crisis, more so for daily-wage workers who have been rendered without work and therefore meals. – K Ganesh

In the absence of a migrant labour workforce, our economy would come to a standstill. – Divya Varma

In the fight to end this crisis, we truly can't afford to lose anyone behind. – Priyanka Chopra Jonas

Let us all take a moment to thank everybody around the world who are helping to defend us against this pandemic. – Rachna Muralidhar

Now is the time for us to look after the people who work for us. When a company steps up at a time like this, it builds loyalty, commitment, and long-lasting teams. – Arjun Agarwal

The crisis is worse for healthcare workers and police personnel who must choose between caring for pandemic victims and caring for their own children. – Kunal Malik

The group most prone to coronavirus includes homeless people and migrant labourers, who commute from one place to another on a daily basis to make ends meet. – Priya Sogani

If you invest in people during tough times, you will earn their loyalty for the long term. – Kaur Sidhu

Immigrants show up. They've shown up for work, shown up for this economy, and shown up with their political and social will. – Tenzin Seldon

Also ReadUP’s transgender community feeds migrant workers as they return home due to coronavirus

Even if the lockdown is unlocked, with the reverse migration that has taken place, it will take another year to get people back. – Velumani A

Everyday we are hearing heroic stories of how those on the frontlines are working around the clock to protect the public. – Ruchee Anand

Gig economy workers, often paid by the hour and with no sick leave privileges, end up delaying visiting doctors until their health situation worsens. – Srikanth Chunduri

It's the era of gig workers, distributed teams, flexible working models and fishnet organisations with malleable structures. – Sanjay Kapoor

Companies should be focused on developing a strategic plan for workplace flexibility, digitisation, virtual collabouration, and well being in the workplace. – Anshuman Magazine

Everyone wants work-life balance, so employers should shape a differentiated experience to attract the best talent. – Paul D’Arcy

Globally, on average, for every 10,000 workers, there are 75 to 80 robots available. – Satyanarayana P

Human capital is the most precious of all forms of capital available. – Ajay Ramasubramaniam

Also ReadCoronavirus: Long walk home for migrant workers returning to villages on foot amid lockdown

In a vast country like India, where the unorganised sector is predominant, entrepreneurship can be a key enabler in employment generation. – Rajesh Agrawal

India thrives when small and medium entrepreneurial ventures succeed. – Nikhil Arora

Investments in skills and education can be directly mapped to a country’s commitment to economic growth. – Vineet Chaturvedi

It is a trap to be satisfied; one always needs to change the status quo. – David Gurlé

People in rural areas tend to migrate to cities in search of a better job and lifestyle, leaving behind ancient culture and art forms. – Kalyani Gongi

Several youngsters across India do not get a chance to work on their vocational skills due to outdated education systems, inaccessibility, poverty, and other external factors. – Namrata Baruah

SMEs are the backbone of the economy and if India is to continue to witness high growth, then supporting them is non-negotiable. – Harshvardhan Lunia

The impact of heat stress on labour productivity is a serious consequence of climate change. – Catherine Saget, ILO

The new normal will be that 20 percent of the workforce will always work from home on a rotational basis. – Kris Gopalakrishnan

Wanting to help those who are helping us by doing their job highlights the strength of humanity. – Atul Satija

You have to reinvent yourself every 10-20 years. – Harsh Mariwala

Also ReadCoronavirus: Omidyar Network India announces funds for organisations helping migrant labourers

Empowerment is not a fruit that someone gives you on a tree; it's a sense of belief that you are equal and you deserve equality in every walk of life. – Gul Panag

Women are no longer envisaged as mere homemakers. They are being seen as upcoming entrepreneurs possessing numerous abilities. – Anjali Mohan

If India has to become a $5 trillion economy, companies need to hire more female workers. – Jyoti Nath

By empowering communities to deal with the differently abled, we can create a society of tomorrow where we are respected for our differences and not judged on the same. – Ganga Changappa

Inclusion is a pre-requisite for a diverse workforce to function effectively. – Archana Sasan

No organisation/committee can, on its own, provide a safe or positive/inclusive workplace to any employee without the equal reciprocation of such values by the employees. – Ashwini Vittalachar

Ultimately, the greatest lesson that COVID-19 can teach humanity is that we are all in this together. – Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

Our life is about respectful cohabitation. – Sathya Raghu V. Mokkapati

Tough times call for tough measures, executed through compassion and empathy. – Agnelorajesh Athaide

The power of togetherness is the greatest power of all. – Iti Rawat

YourStory has also published the pocketbook Proverbs and Quotes for Entrepreneurs: A World of Inspiration for Startups, as a creative and motivational guide for innovators (downloadable as apps here: Apple, Android).

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)

How has the coronavirus outbreak disrupted your life? And how are you dealing with it? Write to us or send us a video with subject line 'Coronavirus Disruption' to [email protected]

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