Research project: Informal and precarious workers in Africa - job profiles in action


Most people in Africa work so-called “informal jobs” or in precarious low-paid jobs that can’t cover their cost of living. They often don’t have a contract, don´t pay into a social security system, and lack a lot of safety and privileges that workers in the global north might take for granted. One of the ongoing projects ACCESS has carried out is something we call our “Job Profiles” project. We want to understand everyday life for workers that might otherwise be invisible. We interviewed hundreds of workers across our six partner countries to get answers to some pressing questions. What kind of jobs are they doing? How many hours do they work, and how much money do they make? What happens when something like COVID happens? Most people globally, to some degree, belong to the so-called informal economy, and we must understand its characteristics and how it works. Look at some of our interviews below to get an idea about what we have learned.


Tunisia: The case of the cell phone shop

Mohamed is a worker in a cell phone repair shop. Here is what he had to say,

“Hard work requires high concentration, but it hurts the eyes. I live in the countryside of Jendouba, I wake up at 5 am and at 8 am I arrive in downtown Jendouba. I work in a phone repair shop. I repair phones, I change displays, I sell batteries, I repair the main board. I repair the known brands of phones like Samsung and Huawei and iPhone. I had training in this field. I studied for two years, BTB, in the field of electronics and phones. I have been working for the last 5 years. I have experience. For a period, I stopped working, and then I continued working. I am not the owner of the shop, but, inshallah, I will have my own project. 

Replacement: Of course, this person must have a degree in electronics and know how to repair phones. It is his responsibility when someone comes asking to fix his phone; he should not play … play with people’s phones. It means he must be educated and, of course, should have experience. Like all people, he will start to learn to be a worker. Only later, might he be able to open his own shop. The first time, he will be controlled by his boss, and they give him easy tasks, such as cleaning screens or repairing displays. Then, step by step, he will learn, and the boss will allow him to engage in more complex tasks. 

Covid: During the quarantine period, we stopped working and returned to work in May. And as you know now there is curfew and no work like before. At 4 or 5 pm I will have to close the shop because of the curfew, as you know about the public transport during the curfew… and that is all. Of course, it has had huge negative effects … the virus, because we work fewer hours, and we have fewer clients. Now, before a client enters the shop, he should wash his hands using disinfectants, and I then check his temperature … as they do in all the administrations, for my safety and the customer’s safety.”

Tunisia: The case of Hassan and the call centre

This is Hassan’s story. He works in a call centre and is trying to start his own business.

Hassan works as a call centre agent. He states: ”This is a fatigue and headache service. My days are the same: there is monotony, and there is routine. I wake up in the morning, I wash my face I eat my breakfast and I go to work… public transport, noise, and sound. As you know the public transport in Tunisia… I work… files and so on, in the evening the same thing, I go back, public transport. I live in the countryside. I take the collective taxi to go to work, this is my job, we should do this. So I arrive home tired and sometimes I eat dinner and just after that I will sleep, because I am so exhausted. What can I say about this job? It is better than being in need … than demanding money from other people. I work 8 hours per day. Only on Fridays and Saturdays do we finish work earlier. And most of the time we take a break of one hour. I take my lunch with me. I receive a weak income so I cannot buy a sandwich every day … clean food, that is all. 

Replacement: Of course, I cannot put someone in my place if he does not meet the criteria. First of all, mastery of language, he must have the minimum of culture; he must understand how to use computers, at least he knows how to use Excel. I work in the call centre and the operation is technical assistance, it is about machines… maintenance. He must have a French accent and a professional level of speaking French; otherwise, how can he talk with customers? Our partnership is with France. 

Covid: Many people are complaining. For those who work in textile factories or as drivers, during the coronavirus period, there was less movement. In contrast to this, some businesses have increased, like digital marketing; they did not experience a recession … because people need money to live, so they chose marketing. They stay at home and they gain money… We continued working, of course, we did not stop. Those who do not belong to the marketing team did not work in that period but those who had other projects continued working. I work in a call centre, and I have a project in the field of marketing, it is helping me to gain money. I have two jobs. I work in a call centre, and I have my own project in the field of marketing. They are separate.”

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