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Falling through the cracks: Iraq’s daily workers live without security, savings or support - June 2021

Ground Truth Solutions
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In 2020, an estimated two billion people earned their livelihoods in the informal economy, accounting for 62% of all workers worldwide.1 Prevalent in all countries, informality is broadly described as activity unregulated by labour laws, taxation schemes, and frameworks that ensure social security and decent work conditions. In Iraq, issues that favour this “grey economy” are rife, including urbanisation, displacement, low access to finance, and bureaucracy.2 An estimated two-thirds of all workers in the country are in the informal sector.3 Daily wage earners are a prominent component of the grey economy in Iraq. Often referred to as “daily work,” this kind of employment is frequently characterised by low pay, manual labour, and limited opportunities for career advancement. Daily workers are unable to rely on savings or supplementary sources, limiting their capacity to deal with shocks. Various studies conducted in 2020 identified daily workers as one of the groups most affected by COVID-19.4 To better understand daily workers’ profiles and experiences, as well as COVID-19’s impact on their lives and livelihoods, Ground Truth Solutions (GTS) partnered with the Cash Consortium for Iraq (CCI) to interview daily workers across four locations in December 2020.

We spoke to 47 men and women from urban and rural areas in Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din with facilitation support from CCI partners. For the purposes of this study, daily workers are defined as skilled or unskilled workers hired and paid to perform tasks at an hourly or daily rate for short periods. Our sample represents a diversity of occupations, including construction and agriculture workers, drivers, domestic workers, and service sector employees.

Key findings:

• Daily work is a necessity, not a choice. It offers people with low education or skill levels a fast and sure way to make ends meet.

• Young men constitute the majority of the daily worker labour force, while social barriers restrict women’s participation.

• Since the onset of COVID-19, daily workers have had to reduce hours, accept lower wages, and go into greater levels of debt.

• Access to medical care and education has worsened. People tell us they are unable to afford medication and technology to facilitate at-home lessons.

• Respondents are worried about the economy, their children’s well-being, and access to education.

Recommendations for the response

  1. Improve access to daily work. Facilitate linkages between workers and potential employers at the local level, through digital platforms, employment centres, or other connection hubs.

  2. Increase appropriate daily work opportunities for women. Work with local committees and support networks to reduce obstacles and identify low-risk income-generating activities – such as home-based businesses and farming grants – to bridge the gender gap in the day-wage workforce.

  3. Improve daily work conditions. Work in partnership with actors such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Iraq Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA) to advocate for decent work conditions at the national and the local level to reduce the potential for exploitation, unsafe working conditions, and unfair pay for daily workers. When humanitarian and development actors are facilitating access to employment opportunities, they should raise awareness for employees of their rights as workers, as well as with employers on labour standards. This should likewise include expansion of government social protection assistance to account for daily workers as a particularly vulnerable group with distinct needs for unemployment and old-age pension support.

  4. Support transition from daily work to better employment opportunities. In line with with the Iraqi government’s White Paper initiative,5 advocate with relevant government stakeholders and financial service providers at the local and national level to establish an enabling environment for private sector growth as an engine for increased employment. Value chain and market systems development may yield promising results when applied to sectors with high growth potential, such as agriculture, food processing, construction, manufacturing, and the digital economy. This should likewise include skills development programmes, where curricula design should consider social mobility and career progression opportunities for vulnerable groups (including those with low levels of education). Government-run technical and vocational education and training centers, as well as private providers, should be supported to expand, with focus on market-based curricula.

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