Despite the prevalence of informal work in cities worldwide, little is known about the ways in which informal workers perceive their role in the economy and in society. As people whose voices tend to be marginalized and undervalued, informal workers' lived experience of vulnerability can shed light on current calls for renewed social contracts between the state, the private sector and workers. Considering the structural inequalities that perpetuate vulnerability among the working poor and that were laid bare by the pandemic, this paper draws on empirical data from the WIEGO-led 12-city 'COVID-19 Crisis and the Informal Economy Study' to identify three principles or dimensions of fairness emerging from informal worker leaders' perceptions that suggest some foundations for a new social contract: recognition, responsiveness and reciprocity. First, leaders identify the need for key institutional actors, including governments and private sector actors, to recognize the role informal workers play in sustaining households, communities and cities. Second, worker leaders identify the need for the state and owners of capital to be responsive to informal workers' needs and commit to opening dialogue and collaboration. And third, worker leaders identify the need for reciprocity, so that the value that informal workers create for households, communities and cities is met with some corresponding value from the state and the private sector and so that informal workers can avoid punitive or arbitrary arrangements. As principles of fairness, the "three Rs" introduce a pathway for building trust and relationships through a more balanced framework to connect and engage workers with institutional stakeholders.