An analysis of informal work: The case of SubSaharan scrap metal waste pickers in the city of Barcelona

Victor Climent, Julián Porras Bulla


Object: To analyse the framework within which the informal labour market operates and the social implications of this market by conducting a case study of sub-Saharan scrap metal waste pickers – chatarreros – in the city of Barcelona.

Design/methodology: The study compares and contrast theoretical findings drawn from the literature about informal work and the social and living conditions of Barcelona’s chatarreros. Our primary data are collected from twelve interviews (ten with scrap metal waste pickers and two with neighbourhood leaders) and from ethnographic fieldwork conducted between February and August 2013.

Contributions / results: Barcelona, in common with many other cities in the northern hemisphere, has experienced a growth in informal work directly linked to the tourism sector, the city’s main economic activity. This growth was especially marked in the Great Recession (2008-2015). Traditionally, informal workers have been systematically ignored, recognition being saved solely for those legally or formally employed. But the major economic changes of the last 20 years have led to the transformation of labour markets and to the segmentation and precarisation of work, and with it the growth of the informal sector. Here, we analyse three elements that are critical for understanding this sector: recognition of work, its capitalisation and the relation between the individual and work.

Limitations: This study, for reasons of space, limits itself to an examination of one group of informal workers in Barcelona, namely the chatarreros; however, there are many other groups that are worthy of study, including, the city’s street vendors, and street artists: buskers, living statues, caricaturists, etc.

Originality/added value: The study serves to fill the gap in knowledge regarding the reality of informal work and its social consequences. Specifically, it facilitates understanding of the theoretical concept of informality, illustrating, by means of a case study of informal recyclers or scrap metal waste pickers, the economic and social condition of informal immigrant workers characterised by poverty, discrimination, disembeddedness and subsistence.


Informal work, poverty, working conditions, immigration, discrimination

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Intangible Capital, 2004-2024

Online ISSN: 1697-9818; Print ISSN: 2014-3214; DL: B-33375-2004

Publisher: OmniaScience