Tunisia is among many countries around the world seeing rapid growth in their informal economies. In 2013, Tunisia’s informal economy accounted for 38 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), up from 30 percent in 2010.
A new study by the Tunisian General Labor Union (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT) and the Solidarity Center looks at factors fueling the expansion of Tunisia’s informal economy and offers recommendations for helping workers in the informal sector get job security and social protections they often do not have as domestic workers, street vendors and construction workers.
“The Current State of the Informal Economy in Tunisia as Seen through Its Stakeholders: Facts and Alternatives,” incorporates data from a field survey of 1,128 informal economy workers conducted by 100 UGTT young worker volunteers. The study, which also synthesizes information from available data, provides a rare look at a growing global phenomenon in which work is increasingly outsourced, subcontracted, temporary and part-time—leaving workers with no benefits or social protections.
Among the report’s findings:
• Workers in Tunisia’s informal economy lack basic decent work conditions such as social protection, health insurance, professional security and union rights and freedom.
• Young workers are especially vulnerable. Because they are concentrated primarily in the tourism sector, their wages are low and they have little job stability.
• The rapid growth of the informal economy has resulted in an annual 7 percent fiscal loss to the Tunisian national budget, badly impacting public spending and blocking the expansion of worker economic and social rights.
As UGTT Secretary General Houcine Abbassi says in a foreword to the report: “Because the informal economy neither contributes to the nation’s fiscal base nor offers workers social security protection, it is a serious challenge that must be addressed so as to ensure a national economic recovery and decent working conditions and social justice for all workers.”
Tunisia’s National Economic Dialogue Commission on the Informal Economy has adopted the study as an official reference document and has referred to it in its recommendations.