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Le secteur informel en Europe de l’Est

vendredi 1er juin 2001, par Nicolas Bégat

Texte intégral en anglais

The informal sector has grown in all regions of the world over the past several decades. In developing countries, the share of the informal sector in the non-agricultural workforce ranges from nearly 60 percent in Latin America, from 45-85 percent in different parts of Asia, to 75 percent in Africa. Many developed or industrialized countries have experienced an unexpected rise in informal employment. Yet our understanding of the conditions under which people work in the informal sector is limited.

Eastern Europe and Central Asian economies have also experienced an unexpected rise in informal employment. A dramatic increase in self-employment has marked the transition process in former centrally planned countries of Europe.The first period of extensive rise in informal work in CEE/CIS took place immediately after the changes in 1998/1990 when the internal COMECON market broke down and the first measures of economic transformation were taken such as price liberalization, privatization of state-owned enterprises and budget cuts. An economic and financial crisis with declines in economic output led to de-industrialization, ’de-agriculturalization’ and breakdown of internal and external markets. The most affected sectors were know-how intensive sectors whereas labour-intensive ones survived as subcontracted production for Western buyers. Rampant inflation eroded the wages. The great unemployment could not be absorbed by the emerging private sector. In the absence of serious social safety nets, informal and subsistence economy provide the only opportunity for survival.

In the 1990s, own-account workers made up one-fourth of total employment in Poland, one-fifth in Romania and one-tenth in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia. In the second half of the 1990s transition processes and EU accession linked up with global economic trends. Flexibilization of labor is one of these trends taking place in the region. There is accumulating anecdotal evidence regarding the growth of industrial subcontracting work in a number of export-oriented industries such as garments, footwear and electronics. Yet informally employed workers, especially home-based workers, are not being properly counted in official statistics and the conditions under which their work takes place remains poorly understood by policy makers and researchers in the region and around the world.

Women’s share of informal sector employment has remained high, estimated at typically 60 to 80 per cent, although in a few countries men dominate urban informal sector activities. However, women most probably number much more than reflected in available statistics. They comprise most of unpaid family helpers and home-based workers, and thus fall easily through gaps in enumeration. Productive but unpaid work is often confounded with household work. In many cases, women themselves do not view themselves as workers. The widespread strategy of subcontracting production and services to family enterprises and home-based labor has contributed to the further integration of women’s home-based labor into the formal production system under informal, flexible employment arrangements. Informally employed women tend to be concentrated in a narrower range of activities or occupations (common stereotyped activities are food processing, garment sewing, domestic services), in tasks that pay less. In addition to constraints with regards to assets, markets, services and regulatory frameworks, women face additional gender-specific barriers (e.g. restrictions to entering into contracts, insecure land and property rights, household and childcare responsibilities) in the informal economy.

The formal economy :
People who work in the formal economy are those who own registered businesses, or those who work for wages, have employment contracts and are protected by labor laws.

The informal economy :
People who work in the informal economy are those who earn an income outside the formal economy. They may be self-employed, or employed by the owners of small, unregistered businesses or under contract to large businesses. For example :
* Street vendors :
Street vendors are those who belong to the informal economy and who trade in the streets. While some street vendors are comparatively wealthy trading in luxury goods at flea markets, etc. others are much poorer and working for a survival. The majority of poorer street vendors are women. For example :
* Home-based workers :
Home-based workers are those who belong to the informal economy and carry out remunerative work within their homes. There are two types of home-based workers :
&Mac183; independent own account workers
&Mac183; dependent subcontract workers (’homeworkers’)
* Independent own account workers :
Independent own account workers are those who work at their home and deliver their products or services to any prospective buyer. Their characteristics are those of the self-employed. Most of the development literature on microenterprises means independent own account workers when they refer to home-based workers. For example :
* Dependent workers (’homeworkers’) :
The term homeworker is a subcategory of home-based worker referring to workers dependent in their decision-making over the choice of products, markets, pricing, working hours, work intensity and disposal of the income from their work. Homeworking should not be confused with unpaid housework or subsistence production. It is work carried out by a person :
&Mac183; in his/her home or in other premises of his/ her choice, other than the work place of the employer ;
&Mac183; for remuneration ;
&Mac183; which results in a product or service as specified by the employer, irrespective of who provides the equipment, materials or other inputs used, unless this person has the degree of autonomy and economic independence necessary to be considered an independent worker under national laws, regulations and law court decisions.

Examples of informal work in eastern Europe
Informal Cross-Border Traders : Suitcase trade is used to describe the informal cross-border trade carried out by mainly women "tourists" visiting Turkey, Greece and Italy mainly from Eastern and Central European countries like Lithuania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Romania in the 1990s. These cross-border traders buy large amounts of consumer goods, mainly food products, textile and apparel, and household goods. According to the official balance of payment figures reported by the Turkish Ministry of Finance, revenues from suitcase trade were US$8.84 billion in 1996.
Craft workers : There is a lot of handicrafts in all of these countries (glass work, silk work, carpet, silverwork, ceramics, leather work). There are women carpet weavers, women doing crafts, and food processing in a lot of Central Asian countries. Similarly the women members of minorities and the poorer ethnic communities in Eastern Europe (Tatars in Ukraine, Gypsies in Romania, Turks in Bulgaria, etc.) are involved in such handicrafts, and food processing activities. An immediate issue is low prices and lack of markets, particularly with the collapse of state marketing structures. The ’Aid to Artisans’ organization recently produced a small book which is only a directory of handicraft organizations in Hungary.
Food processing : Especially in rural areas women use existing skills, such as food making/preserving to earn an income. While some of this is homebased, it is almost always combined with selling. A lot of bartering takes place in the market places where people exchange goods. There is documentation of rural women in Central Europe who pick mushrooms and fruit, and add some value to it by processing it for sale to large Western European multinationals.
Piece-rate home workers : At the other end of the scale is the piece-rate homework, done for modern industries, in subcontracting chains. There is lots of subcontracting and informalization in the garment and footwear industry. Clean Clothes Campaign reports that the piece rates in Vlady-Voztok are among the lowest in the world. Household members in Poland work on assembling small electrical components for European firms. Research on the leather footwear industry in Europe, shows evidence of Italian shoe industry shifting production to the Balkans. In leather footwear production, the sewing of the uppers (by machine or hand) is being done by homeworkers in the Balkans (including Turkey).
Home-based services : Home-based restaurants, and cafeterias are being opened in the region mainly for local consumption. These are family-units. Women do a lot of the household chores such as cooking, cleaning, etc. A lot of women do child care in their own homes. There are new women owned catering businesses. In tourism, a lot of women are running bed and breakfast places. This type of service is not necessarily for expatriate consumption only.

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