Investing in holistic human development in Africa

Investing in holistic human development in Africa

How a regional event promoted social protection for workers in the informal economy

three boys smiling during daytime

Today, informal workers dominate the employment landscape in Africa. More than 85% of work is done informally. Nine out of 10 young workers are not in the formal labour economy.

But what if the majority of people were in decent work that offers social protection?

That’s what the Regional Dialogue for Accelerating Social Protection Coverage and Sustainable Financing in Africa, held on 8 April 2021, set out to accomplish.

Governments, employers, workers, and civil society came together to discuss policy options and fiscal space for social protection in each country. This kind of positive, forward-thinking social dialogue builds on strategies such as the AU Social Protection Plan for the Informal Economy and Rural Workers (SPIREWORK) and the AU Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.

Key takeaways

George Okutho, Director of the ILO Country Office for Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique, laid out a clear way forward for accelerating social protection coverage and sustainable financing in Africa.

To improve coverage, we must work together and:

  • Initiate a social protection acceleration programme for each country
  • Establish a Regional Financing Facility to accelerate social and health protection coverage at the same time
  • Organize an annual Regional Dialogue to discuss progress toward the goal of 40% social protection coverage in Africa by 2025
  • Develop an engagement framework for private sector and other stakeholders on their funding priorities for Africa
  • Create a Social Protection Data Initiative for Africa
Promoting sustainable change

Social protection is a human right, but 53.1% of the global population is still unprotected. That means 4 billion people are not covered by any social protections at all. In sub-Saharan Africa, the problem is worse: there, more than 90% of people live without social protection.

Much work has already been done to improve the situation. International labour standards – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202) and the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation, 2015 (No. 204) – clearly support extending social protection coverage.

Now, it’s time to take decisive action about the future of social protection. On the agenda: prioritizing closing coverage, comprehensiveness, and adequacy gaps; enhancing resilience; and reinvigorating the social contract.

The power of social dialogue

The Regional Dialogue event was an opportunity for relevant stakeholders to discuss policy options to extend social protection to workers in the informal economy and create more fiscal space for social protection.

“It is particularly encouraging to have thousands of people participating in this online discussion from all over the world, because it shows the level of engagement with what is happening and is a clear sign of optimism regarding our ability to take the country forward in big leaps.” 

– Cynthia Samuel Olonjuwon, Assistant Director-General, Regional Director for Africa, International Labour Organization

This was just the first of many initiatives in a regional social protection strategy. Together, we can help extend sustainable social protection and make impactful and lasting change for the millions of workers in informal economies in Africa.

“I wish to emphasize the priority for the African Union Commission to build a broad partnership for the acceleration of the implementation of our SPIREWORK and the AU-ILO join the ground on decent work for the transformation of the information economy 2020-2030.”

H.E. Amira El Fadil, Commissioner for Social Affairs, African Union Commission

Outcomes of the talks

Extending social protection coverage to workers in the informal economy is within reach. There are some inspiring examples of success stories, focused on two broad policy approaches:

  • Allow informal workers to access existing social insurance schemes by changing laws, removing administrative obstacles, adapting contribution rates and benefit packages, and/or harnessing linkages to other policy areas
  • Combine non-contributory and contributory mechanisms

We can also increase fiscal space for social protection in different countries by:

  • Increasing social security contributions
  • Reallocating expenditures
  • Raising tax revenue and allocation of earmarked taxes to social protection

To make these important policy changes, national social dialogue is crucial. That requires constructive collaboration between governments, workers and employers, and civil society. And the result could be an optimal mix of public policies for social protection in Africa. 

woman with baby
Toward a better future
  • On the pandemic:

Addressing social protection coverage and sustainable financing, as other sustainable development issues, are key to recovering better from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Munyaradzi Chenje, Regional Director for Africa, UN Development Coordination Office

  • On extending social protection coverage:

The current COVID-19 emergency response presents an opportunity to advocate for inclusion of previously omitted groups, especially the informal economy.

– Dr. Damaris Muhika, Programme Officer, COTU-Kenya and Trustee of the Kenyan National Social Security Fund, Kenya

  • On formality:

“The job is the best form of social protection. It is important that we move workers to formality so that they can contribute to more established schemes.” 

– Mr. Douglas Opio, Executive Director, Federation of Uganda Employers, Uganda

  • On the informal economy:

​​​​​​​“The informal economy is a big part of the African economy. We must think about social protection as critical for unlocking the potential of that economy.

– Joy Kategekwa, Africa Bureau Senior Strategy Advisor, UNDP 

Want to learn more?

Explore all social protection initiatives at the ITCILO.