Social Protection

Arab countries outline measures to enhance Social Protection Floors

ILO Social Protection Floor seminar concludes with delegates outlining measures towards rights-based, comprehensive social protection in Arab countries.

News | 15 May 2014
AMMAN (ILO News) – A regional seminar on social protection concluded in Amman on Thursday (May 15) with delegates agreeing to implement a host of measures aimed at achieving universal coverage across the Middle East and North Africa.

The three-day seminar, entitled Rethinking Social Protection in a Changing Arab Region, was organized by the International Labour Organization in collaboration with Jordan’s Ministry of Labour and Social Security Corporation. The event was attended by government officials, employer and worker representatives, as well as social protection experts from academia and civil society.

“This event was an important opportunity for delegates from countries across the region—as well as India, Mexico, South Africa and Thailand—to share their experiences in order to enhance our strategies and strengthen our advocacy moving forward,’’ said the ILO Regional Director for Arab States, Nada al-Nashif.

Some of the key recommendations to come out of the event include the need for Arab governments to progressively establish Social Protection Floors, nationally defined sets of basic social security guarantees aimed at ensuring basic income security and universal access to essential health care and other social services.

Delegates agreed that establishing Social Protection Floors can be achieved through a comprehensive examination of existing schemes to identify shortfalls and solutions that would progressively ensure higher levels of social security to as many people as possible. Experts noted there was no one-size-fits-all formula to create comprehensive social security protection.

Further details were discussed in working groups that debated extending social security as a universal human right, governance, the role of the state, financing, fiscal space, tripartism in the administration of social protection, as well as data and research gaps.

‘’We need to ensure that there is an exchange of experiences among the Arab States on their good practices. It is also important to look at how low-income countries from around the world have achieved sustainable social protection floors by examining specific schemes and building on these experiences,’’ said Kamal Maddouri, Head of the International Social Security Convention at the Ministry of Social Affairs in Tunisia who is also a researcher in European law and EU-North African affairs.

With the assistance of the ILO, countries were encouraged to carry out studies to estimate the cost and feasibility of providing a set of basic social protection guarantees and finding sources of financing or fiscal space. One of the main suggestions at the seminar included the establishment a regional fund for social protection. Participants also proposed that the extension of Social Protection Floors needs social dialogue between workers, employers and the government.

“Civil society groups in the Middle East should also have the space and enabling environment to support the design and implementation of social protection policies,’’ said Ziad Abdul Samad, Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development in Lebanon, which brings together non-governmental organizations and national networks from across the Arab world.

Even though national social protection floors should stimulate economic activity and boost formal employment, social security extension strategies should still cover both formal and informal economies. ‘’It is important to organize the informal sector so they can receive the benefits that the formal economy gets,” said Kamala Kanta Tripathi, Director of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act at the Ministry of Rural Development in India. “Poverty is a multi-dimensional problem, so you have to see where [the poor] are lacking in the informal economy in order to formulate an action plan and examine how best to spend resources.’’

The seminar called on countries to continue to raise awareness of Social Protection Floors at the national and regional level. Participants also urged the United Nations and the international community to increase support for evidence-based policies and greater coherence at the national level.